Worldbuilding with Tricia Zoeller
Today I want to welcome Tricia Zoeller to the blog. Tricia is a YA/Fantasy author and the mind behind The Darkling Chronicles. Today Tricia is treating us to lesson in worldbuilding as well as news on her latest releases!
Building your World
Nose in a book. Deep in a series. The outside world doesn’t exist. Bam, a plot hole or pitfall strikes you right between the eyes and blasts you back to reality. You squint from the harsh light and shake your head, disoriented. You attempt to return to the world, but you can’t ground yourself in the story.
“It just doesn’t makes sense.”
We’re only human. Some of our favorite series have plot holes and nonsensical worlds. We love them anyway. We name our cats and dogs after the characters or get a tattoo of a symbol on our right shoulder that means nothing in our world but everything in theirs.
We choose to overlook a flaw because we love the story, the characters, and the world, overall.
But sometimes, we just can’t come to terms with it. Disappointed, we drop the series right in the middle because an aspect of their world is so off-kilter, it makes us crazy. There’s no resolution because we can’t accept what the author is presenting, and we can’t change the book.
As writers, we cringe. We hate to make the one error that knocks our readers out of the gravitational pull of our words and our story.
How do we prevent that? Start by turning on your inner child—the really annoying one who wants to know how everything works.
Is this earth? An alternate earth? If not, where, when, how did this planet or world come into being? If it’s an alternate earth—when, how, and why did it divulge from our traditional construct? What’s the origin of the culture or society and how does it impact behavior and thought?
Do create a world rich in diverse cultures. Don’t oversimplify and create a homogenous culture with a one-dimensional belief system. It’s easy to overgeneralize. Remember how diverse regions can be and how a mere mile or two can change a people’s history and life experiences, even their origin story. Cross the river. Perhaps, you’ll observe a different use of dialect/language, body language, and customs, attitudes, and traditions. Avoid the cookie cutter approach.
In your world, what groups have traditionally been rivals? What weapons have developed as a result of conflict/wars? How has language changed? Has a group assimilated into another based on the outcome of war? Why and how did the various people end up where they are in your world?
What are the physical parameters of the world: land masses, bodies of water, and planetary system? Consider climate and geography. Include flora and fauna and your characters’ interactions with it. Have their actions or customs impacted the land?
How has the land/climate impacted your culture both physically in their stature/physical attributes and in their thought patterns and language?
Physically does their skin pigmentation give them a selective advantage for survival in that clime?
Do they have 400 different words for types of snow, tracks in snow, and conditions in the use of snow because of their harsh world?
Are the people shaped by the environment or at odds with the environment, which can make an interesting plot point. How have they changed the terrain to accommodate their own physical strengths and weaknesses? What result does this have on their industry, technology and economy?
Don’t forget your animals and magical creatures will also interact with the habitat. Where do they live? How do they shape the land?
Robin Hobb in the The Rain Wild Chronicles does an excellent job of describing how the emergence of dragons in the world impacts the terrain and land. In turn, the polluted rivers cause the people and animals to evolve and mutate.
Economy/Material Culture/Means for Subsistence/Technology
Do you have an aristocracy? Who works the land? What trades do your people practice? Does the technology make sense for the time period and fit with their habitat and natural resources?
Understand your world’s geography so you create a clear picture of the industry and economy. Even if you need to render a map by hand with your kid’s crayon, do it. Place your characters by rivers, oceans and mountains. Make sure they have access to the resources necessary for the technology you describe.
If magic plays into their subsistence, make sure you establish rules in how the technology and magic interact and be consistent.
In The Darkling Chronicles, the satyrs live by the sea. They are anglers, shipbuilders, and artisans. I have their magical abilities enhance their trade—they can manipulate the winds.
The nymphs live by the river in more grassy terrain with open stretches of farmland. They lead a pastoral way of life enhanced by their magical ability to bend light and control plants and nature. This ability impacts their practice of medicine—they heal through the use of herbs.
As you consider the economy and subsistence in your world, don’t forget to decide on modes of transportation, the architecture in the various locations, forms of entertainment, and the means of communication.
Kinship and Social Structure
(Matriarchal society, clans, peer groups, and social strata)
Shape your various cultures and subcultures. Who rules? Who’s the low man on the totem pole? What kind of chaos can you the writer create by mixing up this social strata?
I made the nymphs in my world a matriarchal society. This stemmed from their history with a violent leader, which resulted in a rift between the males (satyrs) and females (nymphs) in their culture.
The dragon lords in Shadowland rule over the darklings on the east side of the river. The varying levels of power among the darklings shape their social structure. The dragon lords rule. The shadowcasters are the talented, powerful, and admired citizens. The nonshadowcasters are considered more ordinary, less powerful and dependent. They perform more menial yet pragmatic roles in the social structure.
How are the various peoples governed in your society? What kind of political systems develop and break down? How is crime handled? What is the legal system?
Language and Dialect
Do the different groups communicate or have a different lexicon by region because of their specific habitat?
Some of my characters communicate telepathically. This method works with their lifestyle and ability to remain secluded from the other cultures.
Consider dialect and use of slang for your culture. What colloquialisms make sense for the world/environment? How does it differ from one region to the next and from one social class to the next?
What do they believe? How does this impact the value system within the different cultures of your society? How does this create strife/conflict?
In The Darkling Chronicles an event called the Blessed Incursion impacts the creatures. It shapes their theology and belief system to the extent it is a catalyst for the dragon lords’ rise to power and ability to hold sway over the towns people (darklings).
Not everyone will agree on the same belief system and share the same faith. Again, you want to create a polychromatic world.
Aspects to consider: what’s their calendar, what are their holidays/special events? How does the belief system affect their social structure and their legal system/punishment of crime?
People and Customs
I've covered most of this in the categories about social structure, language, and rituals, but here are a few more aspects to consider. How big is the population? How do they meet, greet, and eat? What do they wear, and does their wardrobe reflect their origin, environment, social status, economic means, and morals/religious beliefs?
Establish your rules and stay consistent. Who in your world can do magic? How do they do magic? Is there a specific language used to perform spells? What are the varieties of magic used (ritual, necromancy, herbal, alchemy, potions).
What are the repercussions of their magic? In Anne McCaffrey’s series The Dragonriders of Pern, “going between” with their dragon results in physical side effects to the rider and loss in time.
Are there magical means of travel such as teleportation, carpet riding, or dragon riding? What about communication—is telepathy used?
What is the balance of technology and magic? Does it enhance it? Has it affected the type of weapons they’ve developed? Has the development of magic replaced technology or supplemented/enhanced it?
Pitfalls to Avoid
Static World—your world should change as should your characters, weather, and climate.
Perfect World—look around you. Everything is not perfect in our world. So many of our systems and methods are irrational. Make sure your world isn’t some sterile, perfect, completely logical place. There should be rational and irrational methods. Your setting and characters should have flaws.
Hidden World—if part of a world has been hidden from another for years, there should be a logical reason their existence has stayed a mystery: a giant expanse/stretch of land, cloaking abilities, an army of flesh-eating trolls that divide them. If you say it’s merely a wall, it makes no sense for a character not to see technology or evidence of the other world. If there are airplanes in the sky, the characters only have to look up and ask, “What’s that?”
Abandoned World/Abandoned Details—you’re in a dystopian world with vacant buildings full of resources. Your characters are wandering the streets clueless. Unless some traumatic event has resulted in brain damage, your character should not be in dire straits with resources all around him. Make sure your fantasy character isn’t the dumb kid in the horror flick who asks “who’s there” and walks into the dark, creepy basement. Don’t put something in the world, describe it for your reader, but not have your characters interact with it.
Science Manual—you did tons of research on steam technology. Perhaps you have twenty pages of notes. Don’t describe a system completely to indulge yourself. The knowledge helps you build a believable, fictional world, not write a science manual for your reader.
Thanks for reading. I’ll leave you now to build great worlds. That first step is the hardest. Go on. Listen to that inner child with the incessant questions. Let her ramble in your mind as you consider every angle and bring your world to life.
You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So…get on your way!
~ Dr. Seuss, Oh The Places You’ll Go!
The Darkling Chronicles #1
At the age of four, Patrick Benjamin Solomon becomes Anka Rehmling’s human charge. By eight, he can SEE her. At thirteen, he breaks her heart, and by eighteen, she finds herself fighting for his life.
As a darkling shadowcaster, Anka casts shadows in the human world, harnessing some of the earth’s UV light to bring back to Montenai—a world full of darklings, nymphs, satyrs, phantoms, and dragon lords. Her job is crucial to preserving the vitality and balance in her town of Shadowland. However, Anka has trouble following the strict rules set by the Shadowland Council, a ruling body comprised of three dragon lords.
The lords’ decree states all shadowcasters will abide by the rules or face the penalty of harsh punishment, banishment, or death. Torn between her world and Ben's, Anka must choose to defy the Council or turn her back on love.
The Darkling Chronicles #2
As a darkling shadowcaster, Bianca Rehmling works under the three dragon lords of the Shadowland Council, casting shadows for her human charge on the earth’s plane and harnessing energy to bring back for the balance and wellbeing of her kind. She’s always been a law-abiding darkling, as opposed to her younger sister, Anka. When Anka broke shadowcasting rules over the summer, she suffered the wrath of the council, something Bianca never wants to witness again.
To protect her sister, Bianca harbors some dark secrets, ones that could cause the decline of Shadowland. When a deadly illness called Shadow Fever strikes the village, Bianca fears her own rule-breaking has caused a fatal imbalance in the world of Montenai. She hasn’t been doing her job, her duty, and the dragon lords suspect.
Family or duty? With loved ones suffering, and the dragon lords breathing down her neck, Bianca keeps her nymph friends close and her enemies…closer. When an unlikely ally offers to help, Bianca must decide whether to trust him or brave the heat alone.
The Darkling Chronicles #3
Natcha is a creature of fire, drawing in shadow to cloak herself from the dangers of the world. She has never known what she is or where she came from, but she knows her wings and claws make her different. The sea cliffs of Montenai are her home, the Aglatian Sea her playground, and the phantoms her family.
All her life, she has hidden in the Faunlier Mountains with her sister Nalene. Only the oath she swore as a child to a darkling father to watch over his son draws her toward the turmoil in Shadowland.
When unrest among the darklings, satyrs, nymphs, and dragon lords begins to bleed into her own life, Natcha wagers the welfare of one against the welfare of many. To protect all she holds dear, she must incur the wrath of Shadowland’s leaders and become… the Thief.
BLURBS FOR THE COVER REVEALS
The Darkling Chronicles #4
So much pain to bear for something new to come.
Despite a rocky start in life, Nalene has survived twenty years in the sea cliffs of the Aglatian Sea. She struggles daily to master her water energy rather than succumb to it. An icy constitution has forced her to rely on her sister for care, protection, and guidance.
But the tides are turning and powers shifting in Montenai. Once a sickly creature with no purpose, Nalene emerges a strong, willful guardian. This reclusive orphan has everyone’s attention, including a new seer who predicts “only one can survive” the battle to come.
Challenged by dragon lords, championed by outcasts, Nalene meets strife at every turn. As a crisis of faith wages within her, she forges ahead because she won’t give up on hope. What is she willing to sacrifice to fulfill her destiny?
The Darkling Chronicles #5
A family tragedy at the age of twelve thrusts Serena into the world of shadowcasting. She relishes the dragon lords’ protection and training but loves her new job and human charge even more.
Because of her great-great-grandfather’s alliance with a vicious nymph queen, Serena finds other Montenaians refuse to trust or accept her. It doesn’t help that she has the same birthmark and orange spark in her eyes as the relative who brought shame to the Brisson name.
Stepping through the portal to Paris allows Serena to escape her family’s reputation as well as her mother’s harsh traditions. Every day Serena pushes to be “worthy of the dragon,” regardless of her brother warning her the path leads to horrible loss.
For years, the lore of dragon and astrei has molded the practices and beliefs of Montenaians. No one has felt this more than the phantom, Serena. This Drifter’s history is the key to Shadowland’s fate. Can she protect them from a dangerous future and still find her way home?
Tricia Zoeller writes fantasy stories filled with mystery, magic, and mayhem. After a decade of working as a speech-language pathologist, she succumbed to the voices in her head and wrote her first book, urban fantasy FIRST BORN, published in May 2013. FIRST BORN is a paranormal mystery about a shapeshifter in Atlanta. It is the first book in the Lily Moore Series.
THE DARKLING CHRONICLES is her young adult series that delves into alternate planes, portals, and mystical creatures.
She lives in Marietta, Georgia with her husband, Lou, her little yappy dog, Lola Belle, and her big orange mutant cat, George. Her two stepsons, Joseph and Robert, make stopovers as well, making sure to keep life an adventure.
Writing has always been a part of her life—like breathing and chocolate. For more information about Tricia and her books, visit: