I am writing and revising two high fantasy novels. They are set in the same location in sequence but as the second progresses I have added new locations and new characters to push the story forward. Already, I am stumbling over consistency in my geography, my topology and the political layout of the map of my imagined realm. Inventing a world is not easy.
Lindsay Buroker, who is my favorite fantasy and science fiction author, seems to create worlds for the fun of it. I have traveled with her through three of them so far (and looking forward to more). Each one is full and rich as well as consistent and distinct, peopled with characters who are as distinct as their environments. I could not imagine Amaranthe from The Emporer’s Edge series strolling down the capital of Iskandia any more than I could see Ridge Zirkander from Dragon’s Blade flying over the skies of the Empire. Ms. Buroker is a generous author. Not only are her city- and countryscapes richly described and rendered, but every character is fleshed out with a full and complex personality. Each is given a full share of humanity, complete with strengths and many weaknesses. As such, I would recognize Maldynado or Cas or any of her creations if I met them in real life.
Recently with uncharacteristic daring on my part, I contacted Ms. Buroker to see if she would be willing to share some of her experience in writing fantasy novels. After my initial (and obligatory) gushing, she agreed to answer a few brief questions. There are dozens more I could and should have asked and I hope for an opportunity someday, but for now please enjoy her responses:
Q: When you are working in a series, do you meticulously plan the world that your characters inhabit or do you discover it along with them as the plots unfold?
LB: Oh, I’m not meticulous at all. About anything in life. ;) I do try to plot out the basics of a series and have an idea how things will end before I get started, but I find that new ideas crop up along the way, so I like to leave room to explore them.
Since I tend to do a lot of world-building as I go, I’ve started writing the first two or three books in a series before going back to edit and publish them. This gives me more time to discover the world and add some depth. I did this with the series I launched with my pen name last year, and it worked well, so I’m doing it again right now with a science fiction adventure series that I plan to launch this summer.
Q: How do you maintain the distinct voices of your characters?
LB: This is a challenge as I write more and more books. I’m up to 30 full-length novels now and I don’t know how many novellas and short stories. From series to series, I think my heroines will often have a lot of me in them and perhaps be a little similar in that regard, but I try to give all of my characters distinct backgrounds and quirks that make them feel a little different from each other.
Q: In addition to very strong female characters, your books always include well-developed male characters as well. Do you find any difficulty in writing the opposite gender and any tips for doing so?
LB: Thanks! I think there’s always some guessing and a bit of the unknown when it comes to writing the other sex. I tried listening to the audiobook version of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus once, but mostly I just remember what it was like being in the army. I was the only woman in my platoon for a while, so I was inundated with the guy humor and the guy perspective on life. That scene where Maldynado pees his name in the snow? That happened on a field exercise. :D (The guy had a shorter name, so it wasn’t quite so impressive of a feat.)
For tips? I would just say eavesdrop on some all-male conversations. And the same goes for male authors: listen to some all-female conversations. We often edit ourselves when the other gender is present. You get the genuine stuff when they don’t know you’re listening!
(Lindsay Buroker’s books are available at bookstores and online. For more information and excerpts, I recommend her blog at www.lindsayburoker.com).