Friday, 14 March 2014

Guest Blog: Worldbuilding for the Erebus Sequence - Den Patrick

With his first full length novel out today (previously we reviewed Den Patrick's Elves and Orc's War Fighting Manual, we thought it was time for readers to get to know the author. So without further ado, here is Den with how he constructed the epic world for "The Boy with the Porcelain Sword."

Creating new worlds for Fantasy novels can be a double edged sword, pun intended. At one extreme you need to have a clear idea of what the world contains and how those different elements interact with each other. The other end of the spectrum means you can leave things so vague the reader never really feels immersed in the setting. What’s the use of Fantasy if you can’t indulge in the ‘Wow!’ factor every so often?

Once created the temptation is write large sections of text telling the reader just how amazing it all is, demonstrating how much work you’ve done. No one loves an info dumper, unless you’re reading a source book for a Dungeons and Dragons setting, or War-Fighting Manual. Far better to explain the world as the protagonist experiences it, skewing it with their opinions and bias.

The world building for The Erebus Sequence was very light initially. The vast castle of Demesne is arranged like maltese cross, each spoke home to one of the major families, Fontein, Contadino and Prospero. The exception to the rule is House Erudito who are a gathering of scholars, rather than a hereditary family. At the center of this cross is the vast circular keep where the king resides in seclusion. Each House and keep of Demesne is seven lofty stories of gothic architecture, with courtyards thrown into the mix. Labyrinthine corridors connect the many apartments, kitchens, pantries, great halls, practice chambers and classrooms. Some corridors lead only to cobwebby dead ends and few if any are sufficiently lit else Demesne bankrupt itself buying candles.

The great Houses also shelter minor Houses under their roof, forming alliances with other estates, scattered across the island of Landfall. I wouldn’t ‘discover’ these estates until I’d written book 2. There wasn’t any need for this information, and so it remained uninvented. I’d written a good deal of book two before the final edits of The Boy with the Porcelain Blade were turned in, so I was able to go back and seed this new worldbuilding into descriptions and conversations. I ret-conned my own world in a minor way, but only the handful of test readers, my agent, and my editor could tell the difference.

Possibly the greatest part of worldbuilding is not the world itself, but the traditions of Landfall. The Orfano are misshapen foundlings, discovered on the steps of the great Houses every few years. So why aren’t they killed or left to the elements? No one wants an extra mouth to feed, and physical difference has ever been barrier to acceptance. On Landfall, and specifically in Demesne, the king has passed an edict declaring that Orfano must be cared for by a great House until their sixteenth birthday where they may apply to be adopted by another House. This is an important distinction as the Houses are divided by function. Contadino, the famers. Fontein, the soldiers. Prospero, the merchants and artisans. Erudito, the seat of learning. But why has the king set the edict at all? It’s good to set up mysteries, questions that will receive answers over the course of the novel.

I’ve always loved creating and interacting with fictional worlds. From Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay to the grim darkness of the 41st millennium, from Greyhawk to Forgotten Realms, and the city of Corvis in the Iron Kingdoms will always have a place in my heart. It’s by studying these fictional worlds (and not discounting our own) that we can become inspired to try and play God ourselves. And there are the worlds in books. The Erebus Sequence owes a debt to Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, but also to the culture and mood of Florence and Sienna (I visited these long before the first coders started on Assassin’s Creed). The Houses of Landfall were inspired in part by the feuding Atreides and Harkonnens of Dune, but quickly took on their own personalities and histories.

Landfall wasn’t created in seven days, or even seven months. I hope I’ll continue unearthing new facts about this fictional world, I hope I leave in plenty of mystery too. I hope you’ll join me in discovering it.

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