Crafting a kingdom – Part 1: The Setting

I’ve been doing a lot of world building these past few weeks with my writing students. These are older students, so I’m really pushing them to think about and develop all of those little details that go towards creating unique and distinctive societies.

I can’t emphasize how important world building is to me. I spend months (and often years) on this aspect of writing! I’m amazed when people say to me (many of them writers): “Oh, you’re a fantasy writer. That’s easy. You just make it all up.”

My response? “Actually, writing fantasy is terribly difficult. Because you have to make it all up.”

When it comes to teaching world building to my students, I usually break it down into five key areas. In this post, I thought I would tackle the first of these areas: Setting. I believe you have to ask yourself these questions if you are writing any fictional story, but they particularly apply to fantasy writing. The key questions are:

Where is the world?

What are the borders and boundaries?

How do you get there (if you can)?

What are the important landmarks?

How are places named?

How does the setting effect the people? (For example, people who can fly don’t live under the sea!)

The number-one technique I encourage my students to use is mapping—not only of an entire world, but of specific locations. First of all, it can serve as brainstorming, helping you come up with details that you might not normally realize until you see it visualized on paper.

Here’s my rough map of the Land of Een, the central setting in my Kendra Kandlestar series:


When I show students this, they laugh. Of course, this wasn’t meant to be shown to anyone. It was meant just for me, so that I could get a feel of my own world. I ended up fleshing out this world even more, and did a final version that is included in the final books.



I have a little story for pretty much every town, grove, and corner in this world. While those stories are not a part of my actual published books, I like to think that by writing them they helped me create a well-rounded world.

Drawing a map can also help you plot out a journey (and thus give you ideas for complications). But, most importantly, I think it really helps the author gain a different perspective of an environment and helps us avoid major flaws in logic.

Last year, I was on a work trip with my colleague, author and editor Kallie George. She has a new series coming out with Disney/Hyperion about a magical animal adoption agency. The key location, of course, is the agency. But one of the comments she received from her editor while we were traveling was that the agency itself didn’t seem to make any logical sense. When Kallie reviewed her own manuscript, she realized that the way she wrote it actually had characters bumping into (or walking through) walls! Most readers wouldn’t discern such details, but, of course, these are the things an author should know top to bottom.

So Kallie sat down and I made some rough scribbles of the layout:


It doesn’t look like much! But it was a starting point. Afterwards, I made a more formalized diagram of the agency for Kallie. Here it is, with some of Kallie’s notes:


The above wasn’t the final version. We went through several iterations. And, of course, this diagram won’t be used in the final book—it was just to help Kallie get a sense of the physical space in her own setting so that she could realistically and accurately put it into words.

To end off this post, I thought I’d post the map that one of my students is working on. I adore her lettering!


Next post, I’ll talk about another important element of world building: Culture.


Meet the Rumblers

Given that there is a promotion running this week on amazon for Kendra Kandlestar and the Shard from Greeve (click here for details), I’ve been reflecting on the creation of that book. Yesterday, I wrote a post on my inspiration for the Rumble Pit itself—that dastardly gladiator arena where different mythical creatures are forced to fight for survival.

I had a lot of fun thinking about which characters old and new would end up in the Rumble Pit. Many of the “rumblers” were only mentioned by name, or shown with an illustration, but the truth is that I had developed little mini back-stories for each of them. I like to think that many of them could have novels all to themselves, chronicling how they ended up in the gladiator trenches. The truly fun part was that so many of the rumblers had completely different motivations.

Here are my favorite rumblers . . . whom would you choose to fight by your side?


Name: Kendra Kandlestar

Species: Een

From: The Land of Een

Tool: Enchanted wand of Eenwood

Cleverness: High

Strength: Low

Motivation: To rescue her brother from the pit



Name: Trooogul

Species: Unger

From: The Hills of Horm

Tool: Claws and fists

Cleverness: Medium

Strength: Medium

Motivation: To steal the Shard from Greeve



Name: Prince

Species: Peryton

From: Mount Zephyr

Tools: Horns, hooves, and wings

Cleverness: Medium

Strength: Medium

Motivation: To fight with honor in the Rumble Pit and impress his father



Name: Leerlin Lurk

Species: Een

From: The Land of Een

Tool: Shadow cloak

Cleverness: High

Strength: Low

Motivation: To steal the Shard from Greeve



Name: Uriel

Species: Unicorn

From: The Forests of Grink

Tools: Hooves and horn

Cleverness: High

Strength: Medium

Motivation: To escape the Rumble Pit and return home



Name: Krackle

Species: Dragon

From: The Skies of Elan

Tool: Fangs, claws, and fire breath

Cleverness: Medium

Strength: High

Motivation: To vanquish all in the Rumble Pit



Name: Darius

Species: Centaur

From: The Plains of Eradeen

Tool: Hooves and mace

Cleverness: Medium

Strength: High

Motivation: To survive the Rumble Pit and return home



Name: Xerxes

Species: Serpent

From: The underneath

Tool: Coils and acidic venom

Cleverness: Low

Strength: High

Motivation: To feed her belly



Name: Akillé

Species: Gryphon

From: Ireshook

Tool: Beak, claws, and wings

Cleverness: High

Strength: Medium

Motivation: To escape the Rumble Pit and return home



Name: Grolf

Species: Giant

From: The Valley of Krodos

Tool: Fists

Cleverness: Low

Strength: High

Motivation: To smash everything he sees


Inspiration for the Rumble Pit

Since this week there is a promotion for the Kendra Kandlestar and the Shard from Greeve on amazon, I thought I would delve into my archives and show some of the research that I did for this book.

As many of you know, the Shard of Greeve involves a gladiator arena. So, back in 2008 when I was working on this book, I really wanted to make my way to Rome to check out the Coliseum. I just couldn’t make it—but, as luck would have it, I found myself in England that summer and was delighted to find the ruins of a theatre in the old Roman town of Verulamium, located at St. Alban’s, just north of London.

So, one rainy afternoon I trudged across the soggy soil and check out the site. It’s pretty humble in comparison to the Coliseum, but no one else was there, so I was really given an opportunity to breathe in the air, to trod the ground, and to simply try and let imagination take me back to the time when the arena was fully functioning.

Here’s a picture I snapped of one of the signs at the site, showing a good illustration of what the theatre would have looked like back in the day:

Verulamium sign

The original must have been quite impressive! However, you can see by the photo below that there is very little left:

Still, I found the ruins fascinating. There were areas for seating, performance, and for preparation, all of which informed my designs for the Rumble Pit in my book. The arena at Verulamium was not only for theatrical performance. It was apparently a full-functioning gladiator arena, just on a miniature scale. According to the literature I read at the site, they even shipped in lions from Africa to participate in the grisly affairs.

Of course, you won’t find lions there now. You can see the most dangerous creature that now exists at Verulamium in the photo below:

Dangerous critter at Verulamium

These little guys were everywhere—and they somewhat dampened my experience, only because here I was, trying to imagine myself amidst a chaotic battle filled with roars and shrieks, and then . . . boing, boing, boing!

Upon reflection, I should have drawn additional inspiration from this experience and put a fierce rabbit into the Rumble Pit (you know, in the spirit of Monty Python and the Holy Grail!)

Would you survive the Rumble Pit?

Rumble Pit battle.Kendra Kandlestar and the Shard from Greeve is free until September 25th on amazon (click here!) so I thought I would help celebrate by posting one of my most popular quizzes.

Imagine that you have set off an adventure to search between the cracks of here and there for the Land of Een—you take a wrong turn and end up in Queen Krake’s dreaded Rumble Pit! Will you survive? Just answers the ten multiple-choice questions below to find out! (If you want one to print out, just click here).

1. Your Rumble Pit nickname is:

__ Crodan the Crusher
__ Wulfclaw the Warrior
__ Dinner
__ Bonespur the Barbarian


2. As you charge at an enemy, you are known to yell:

__ Die, worms, die!

__ Humph!

__ Don’t think of pickles!

__ Eek! Who’s charging?


3. If you could take one item into the Rumble Pit it would be:

__ A handful of Ratchet Ringtail’s Snore Galore

__ Jinx’s trusty poker (as good as any sword!)

__ A change of underwear

__ Shard from Greeve, the stone of dark power


4. If you were wounded in the Rumble Pit, you would most likely:

__ Stitch yourself up with a piece of bone and some string, then keep fighting

__ Tell your companions to leave you behind so as to save themselves

__ Suck on your thumb and cry for your mommy

__ Find a wand of Eenwood and heal yourself


5. Your best move in the Rumble Pit:

__ Float like a pixie, sting like a skarm 

__ Back flip over your enemy and stab him in the back

__ Full-throttle assault, like a fly on dragon poop

__ Drop your sword, pee your pants, and flee for the nearest exit


6. The Rumble Pit warrior you’d most like to fight is:

__ Grolf the giant: brain like a pea, fists like hammers

__ Buttercup the kitten: fur as soft as snow, nose as pink as pansies

__ Krackle the dragon: breath of fire, scales of steel, tail like a whip

__ Xerdes the serpent: venom that sizzles and burns, coils that twist and constrict


7. The Rumble Pit warrior you’d want on your side is:

__ Uriel the Unicorn: shy and timid, horn like a javelin

__ Agent Lurk: fingers like talons, cloak of invisibility, mysterious intentions

__ Pugglemud the Dwarf: fly-encrusted beard, breath like a sewer, would boil his own mother in ketchup if it meant his escape

__ Juniper Jinx: grasshopper in shape and size, but heart of a giant, with a tongue as sharp as her many swords


8. An opponent falls to his knees, begging for mercy, and you:

__ Spare his life; ask him to fight by your side

__ Roll him in raw meat and use him as dragon bait

__ Hug him and pet him and call him George

__ Drop an ogre on him


9. If given the choice, after a rumble, you’d prefer to sit in your dungeon cell and:

__ Plan your strategy for next time

__ Get your horns sharpened (wait, why do you have horns?)

__  Sit in the corner, whimper quietly

__ Get a nice facial with perfumed cream


10. You last cleaned your gladiator gear:

__ Yesterday

__ In the days of Een, when the Wizard Greeve cast his curse

__  Last week

__ What’s cleaning?

After you finish answering all the questions, you can find out if you survived by downloading the answer key. But no cheating in the Rumble Pit!