Monday, November 29, 2010

Author Guest Post:

I'm excited to introduce you all to Philippa Ballantine, the author of the wonderful new release of Geist the first book in A Book of the Order.  I enjoyed reading this book.  Review HERE, if you missed it.

Philippa has a wonderful post for us today; I do hope you all enjoy, say hello, and take a moment to check out Philippa's site (link at bottom of post) as she has a wonderful site and other wonderful sounding books she has written.

Chicken or the Egg- which came first world building or character building?

For fantasy writers in the creation of a world is a task that they can’t ignore. If you want to play with magic in the epic or high fantasy genre, there isn’t really a choice but to build a world for your characters to play in.

There are two camps when it come to world building: those that create the world first and then drop the characters in, and those that create the character first and let the world evolve around them. I fall into the latter portion of writers.

I know there are a lot of us out there that spend a great deal of time world building. In fact some of them spend so long world building that the writing is almost secondary. They fill reams of paper (both real and virtual) on the history, the cultures, the landscape of their world.

I enjoy a well constructed world as much as the next person, but to me it is always about character.

For example I had a concept for my book Geist, about a powerful female character, bought up in an isolated community, which made her both a little arrogant and entirely socially inept.

The second fact I determined was that I wanted it to be in a world where the paranormal was an everyday and accepted fact.

Yes, for me it is definitely chicken (the character) and then the egg (the world) very close afterwards. To my mind you have to have a good chicken for people to empathise and enter the world through.

The world falls into place around the character. It grows from the challenges and dangers I want to give them to deal with. I fill it in with details—but not too many—of what I have read about in history, and places I have seen in my travels.

World building should be subtle, and so integral to the story that it is seamless. I remember reading a story that—no joke—talked about the geology of the landscape that the characters were passing through. That didn’t exactly lend itself to my enjoyment of the story—in fact it bored me. Such things seem very indulgent and self-serving—like it is more important to show off the work that the author has put into his world building than moving the story forward.

To me, such efforts are about as useful as a tailor flipping the suit they have created inside-out to show how amazing their seams are. We don’t care about that sort of work—we only want it to be a great fit.

For example the runes that the Deacons use in Geist are an important part of the world. They are the only weapons that work against paranormal creatures, but I did not want to dump a whole lot of information on the reader from a great height. So each of the ten runes of Dominion are gradually revealed throughout the book as they are used by the main character, Sorcha Faris. Only later in the book do I explicitly give a laundry list of them. It’s not just about holding back on the dreaded info dump, but also to give the reader a sense of discovery as they go along—and a feeling of an accomplishment as they unravel the story.

A little mystery is not the worst thing to have in your world after all.

We should experience the world through the eyes of the character, and it should only reveal itself in that way. It should never hit us in the face.

So for me it will always be character first, and then the world evolving around them; a world that will challenge them and bring out the best—and worst—in their personality. That is what I find truly interesting—and hopefully my readers do too!

Philippa Ballantine is a fantasy writer hailing from Wellington, New Zealand. In the coming year she will have three books hitting the real and virtual shelves. The first of which a supernatural fantasy, Geist is available now from Ace books. Find out more at and


Melissa (i swim for oceans) said...

Love the chicken or the egg type question! That's so clever! Great interview and I loved the author's insightful :)

Unknown said...

Excellent post by Philippa!
This should be a must-read for every fantasy author on world-building. Especially on how the world should be revealed through the character and not info dumps.
All the best,

Nate said...

I agree with Philippa that your characters should guide a reader through your world. Save the geography descriptions for the encyclopedia you publish later on when your franchise has gained power.

However, I'm deffinitely more into the world building side of things. I've always seen the novel/film as a way into your world. So it needs to be enticing.

Blodeuedd said...

Nice post, I must say that this book sounds so very cool and I just love that cover, and I do wonder why that big lion is there. I guess I would just have to read and find out

Simcha said...

Great post! I'm really looking forward to reading this book.

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

Great post. I love a book that is character driven first. Plus with a great world that you seem to have built... this has to be a win! Yep, need to read this book.

Melissa (My words and pages) said...

Melissa - Thank you so much. :) Glad you liked the post idea. And Philippa did an amazing job with the post. :)

RK Charron - So glad you enjoyed the post. I have to agree with you, it should be a must read for fantasy authors. I love a great world but the characters have to blend with it, or vise versa... ;)

Nate - Thank you for stopping by!

Blodeuedd - So glad you are enjoying what your hearing of the book. :) For me it was a great read. I hope you get a chance to check it out.

Simcha - Hi! Thank you for stopping by! I do hope you enjoy this one when you get to it. :)

Melissa (Books&Things) - Yep. You will need to read this one. :) I think you would enjoy it. :)

Melissa (My words and pages) said...


You did an amazing job with this post! Thank you so much. I have read books that give all details of the landscape which does get very boring. I love how the world here is shown through the characters actions and eyes. The characters have really made the world here. :)

Oh and the Runes... Okay, first I have to say I'm a post it note person. I started to post-it all the runes as you introduced them and was so happy when I came to the list. But I still noted them as there where little extras I got from those areas.

I am looking forward to learning more in this world and of the characters.

Thank you again!

Philippa Ballantine said...

Thanks for giving me a chance to post on your site Melissa- it was a blast putting my opinions on this into words.
Also you made me giggle with the runes- I knew I had to put a list in there somewhere or people might get a little mad! :)

Melissa (My words and pages) said...

Hi Philippa,

Oh, glad to make you smile. :) I should send you a picture of the side of my book. Just so you can see all the color stickies sticking out. I have this need to do so, so I can find what I want to reread later. It's kind of an OCD thing... ;)

It was a pleasure having you by. And glad you enjoyed doing the post. Looks like many here agree and feel its something to keep in mind. We'll have to schedule something in the future again to have you by.

Thank you again.