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Guest Blog: Cinda Williams Chima (The Gray Wolfe Throne)

Cinda Williams Chima


  • The Warrior Heir
  • The Wizard Heir
  • The Dragon Heir
  • The Demon King
  • The Exiled Queen
  • The Gray Wolfe Throne
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Han Alister thought he had already lost everyone he loved. But when he finds his friend Rebecca Morley near death in the Spirit Mountains, Han knows that nothing matters more than saving her. The costs of his efforts are steep, but nothing can prepare him for what he soon discovers: the beautiful, mysterious girl he knew as Rebecca is none other than Raisa ana’Marianna, heir to the Queendom of the Fells. Han is hurt and betrayed. He knows he has no future with a blueblood. And, as far as he’s concerned, the princess’s family killed his own mother and sister. But if Han is to fulfill his end of an old bargain, he must do everything in his power to see Raisa crowned queen.

Meanwhile, some people will stop at nothing to prevent Raisa from ascending. With each attempt on her life, she wonders how long it will be before her enemies succeed. Her heart tells her that the thief-turned-wizard Han Alister can be trusted. She wants to believe it—he’s saved her life more than once. But with danger coming at her from every direction, Raisa can only rely on her wits and her iron-hard will to survive—and even that might not be enough.

The Gray Wolf Throne is an epic tale of fierce loyalty, unbearable sacrifice, and the heartless hand of fate.

Worldbuilding—It’s More Than a Map
by Cinda Williams Chima

The term “worldbuilding” is often associated with fantasy fiction, because fantasy writers have so many options when it comes to setting.

Yet all novelists engage in worldbuilding, even for stories set in the so-called “real world.” My Heir Chronicles contemporary fantasy series is set in Ohio. Yes, there’s less ‘splainin’ to do about a contemporary Midwestern world, but I can’t assume that all of my readers have been here. And even if they have, it’s detail and specificity that will bring them back.

Also accuracy. If you get something wrong in a real-world setting, you will receive emails. Any reader who spots an error will be thrown completely out of the story and spend the rest of the book looking for the next mistake. Whether you write contemporary real-world fiction or epic fantasy, the reader must have confidence that you know what you’re doing.

Although I’ve been to most of the settings used in The Heir Chronicles, I still spent time researching so I could get it right. In one of the scenes in The Warrior Heir, the warrior Jack Swift and his Aunt Linda take refuge in St. Margaret’s Church, a real church next to Westminster Abbey in London. I’ve been to St. Margaret’s, but I couldn’t remember whether or not there were pews in there. I spent considerable time on the church website and travel sites, trying to find an interior view of the church.

World-building goes beyond landscape to social and cultural elements. Seph McCauley, one of the characters in The Wizard Heir, is Catholic. I don’t happen to be Catholic, so I did some fact-checking with my Catholic friends.

By now, you’re saying to yourself, “Maybe I’ll write high fantasy set in a made-up world. I won’t have to do any research and I won’t get any emails.”

Sorry, but no. Epic fantasy writers have to work much harder to put the reader in a world they’ve never been to and entice them to stay. It’s even more challenging because, like as not, the writer has never been there, either. The old adage, “Write what you know,” doesn’t work here.

Or does it? How do you go about creating a world that the reader believes in? You mingle the familiar and the fantastic.

My Seven Realms series is “high” or “epic” fantasy, set in a medieval fantasy world with a few twists. (You can often spot these stories because there is a map on the flyleaf of the book.) I’ve not been to the Seven Realms, or to the Fells, a mountainous queendom where much of the action takes place. But I have been to the Canadian Rockies, and to New Zealand, and to Yellowstone. I can use sensory details from my memories of those places to make my world real to the reader.

I build my castles on the page using architectural elements from medieval European castles. I’ve researched medieval warfare and weaponry and used those details in my world. I’ve researched topics such as “How far can a horse and rider travel in a day?” because if I get it wrong, no horse-person will trust me or my stories again.

A world is more than geography and climate—it’s an organic whole that must have an internal consistency. How would people who live in a rocky, cold, northern mountainous realm make a living? Not through agriculture, surely. Maybe they would engage in trade and mining and metalcraft. Those along the coasts may make a living from the sea.

Where would they get their food, then? What do they eat? What is their clothing like, and how would that be affected by trade, climate, and agriculture?

How would all of this affect the size of their cities? Where would most people live? What tactics would be useful in warfare in a mountainous setting? What kind of horses would they ride—or would they ride horses?

Who are their neighbors? What’s going on there and what are the consequences to your characters?

As the Seven Realms series opens, the kingdom immediately to the south is embroiled in a civil war. That has disrupted trade in the Fells, so food is in short supply. As a result, Han Alister, a reformed thief, is having trouble feeding his family without resorting to crime.

Who has power in your world? Is there gender equality? What are the standards of beauty? What are the rules of marriage and courtship? Who has access to education, and how is it delivered?

Schools are great places for conflict, because they bring diverse people together. In The Exiled Queen, my characters meet on neutral ground at the Academy at Oden’s Ford. It’s known as “the great leveler” because students are admitted based on merit.

What is the magical system? Who has power and what kind of power do they have? What are the limits on magic in your world?

What is the history of your world? How does past history drive current events? In a sense, the Seven Realms is a post-apocalyptic world, changed forever by a magical disaster a thousand years ago. It’s a diverse world, where social, racial, and cultural differences fuel ongoing conflict.

Although I’ve never been to the Seven Realms, I spent three years there before I began this series of novels. You see, it’s a used world, actually. I created it for an adult high fantasy series called The Star-Marked Warder. Though I never finished it, I’d written 500,000 words. I knew this world really, really well. I had a map, a history, and characters that I loved.

One you’ve done the prework needed to bring your world to life, the challenge is resisting the temptation to bury the reader in all of that rich detail. Hemingway described the “iceberg principal” of fiction. Most of what the author knows remains under the surface. The reader only sees an eighth of what the writer knows. But what’s under the surface supports what appears on the page.

Not everything you know will—or should—make it to the page. But time spent up front creating a social, historical, magical, and geographic architecture will pay off in the authenticity of your fantasy world.

Patricia Wrede has posted a fabulous list of questions for world-builders on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Site. Answer Patricia’s list of questions, and you may know more about your fantasy world than the one you live in now.

Cinda Williams Chima has authored two best-selling fantasy series: The Heir Chronicles (The Warrior Heir, The Wizard Heir, The Dragon Heir) with two books forthcoming; and the Seven Realms series (The Demon King, The Exiled Queen, and the newly-released The Gray Wolf Throne) with more forthcoming. You can find information about her tour for The Gray Wolf Throne and other upcoming events on her events page.

More information and excerpts from each book are available on her website. Help for writers can be found under Resources/Tips for Writers, including a document called, “Getting Started in Writing for Teens.”

Chima also blogs, where you’ll find rants, posts on the craft of writing, and news. Visit her Seven Realms Facebook Page and Heir Chronicles Facebook Page.

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Guest Blog: Cinda Williams Chima (The Gray Wolfe Throne) + novel