Creating a New World: Inside the Mind of Author RJ Anderson
Posted by inkpopbecki on July 14, 2010
Interested in how to create new and unique worlds? Check out our live chat today 5 p.m. EST with Fantasy and Science Fiction author RJ Anderson forums here on the inkpop fourms. For a sneak peek at tonight’s discussion, we sat down with RJ Anderson, author of the new book Wayfarer, to ask her what it took to create a world of faeries known as Oakenwyld.
How did you come up with the idea for the world of the Oakenwyld?
It started with a mental picture of a huge hollow oak tree – which seemed like a perfect place for my faeries to live. But I knew there had to be more. My books were going to involve contact between faeries and humans, so there had to be at least one human house in the area. But I also wanted the Oakenfolk to be threatened by predators like crows, owls and foxes – so there needed to be woodlands and meadows nearby as well.
I also felt strongly that I wanted these stories to take place in the modern world, not in some fantastical fairyland or quaint historical setting. I wanted my faeries to have to confront all the hazards of modern technology and human development, and not be able to hide away from it. So gradually my vision expanded, from that lone oak tree to encompass the House, the garden, and all the other facets of the Oakenwyld.
What do you have to do as a writer to create a believable “other world”?
The main thing is to carefully think through the consequences of every choice you make. It’s not enough to tell the reader, “faeries are different from humans,” and leave it at that; the reader needs to know exactly how they’re different, and the ways those differences affect their society. If the Oakenfolk have no magic and no contact with the outside world, how do they feed and clothe themselves, and what do they use to light their dwellings? If they have no male members, how does that affect their concept of love and family? How would they react to encountering a group of faeries with completely different social structure and ideals from their own? Figuring out the answers to those questions gave me a host of little details with which to make my stories more interesting, internally consistent, and real to the reader.
What does it take to write really compelling fantasy?
I think that a deep love of fairy tales and mythology, as well as a broad acquaintance with the classics and most popular works of the genre, is an excellent foundation for a fantasy author to build on. That way you know the roots of the ideas you’re playing with, but you also know what’s been done (done well, done badly, or just done to death) and can consciously look for ways to do something fresh and different.
Still, I think it’s key to remember that the most important part of fantasy is not the worldbuilding, but the characters who live in that world. If their personalities and struggles are not relatable and real, no amount of magical window-dressing is going to save the story.
In general, what do you think is the hardest part of being a writer?
The discipline of spending long chunks of time alone, day after day, to get words on paper. Especially when those words just don’t seem to be coming together in the right order, and your dialogue seems clunky and your characters flat, and you wonder if you’ll ever be able to write anything worth reading again. There are lots of other challenges and discouragements involved in a writing career, but for me the fear of writing badly – or not being able to write at all – is the worst.