Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Guest Post: Meagan Spooner on Making Fantasy Real

Today it is my very great pleasure to welcome Meagan Spooner, author of the debut novel SKYLARK, to my blog! Meagan's a great author (and PS, doesn't SKYLARK have a pretty cover?!), and she's talking today about world building and fantasy. Make sure to read the whole post...and enter the giveaway at the end for a signed, first edition copy of SKYLARK!

Quick Links:
Meagan Spooner grew up reading and writing every spare moment of the day, while dreaming about life as an archaeologist, a marine biologist, an astronaut. She graduated from Hamilton College in New York with a degree in playwriting, and has spent several years since then living in Australia. She's traveled with her family all over the world to places like Egypt, South Africa, the Arctic, Greece, Antarctica, and the Galapagos, and there's a bit of every trip in every story she writes.

She currently lives and writes in Northern Virginia, but the siren call of travel is hard to resist, and there's no telling how long she'll stay there.

In her spare time she plays guitar, plays video games, plays with her cat, and reads.

She is the author of SKYLARK, coming out August 1 from Carolrhoda Lab/Lerner Books. She is also the co-author of THESE BROKEN STARS, forthcoming from Disney-Hyperion in Fall 2013. 

Vis in magia, in vita vi. In magic there is power, and in power, life.

For fifteen years, Lark Ainsley waited for the day when her Resource would be harvested and she would finally be an adult. After the harvest she expected a small role in the regular, orderly operation of the City within the Wall. She expected to do her part to maintain the refuge for the last survivors of the Wars. She expected to be a tiny cog in the larger clockwork of the city.

Lark did not expect to become the City's power supply.

For fifteen years, Lark Ainsley believed in a lie. Now she must escape the only world she's ever known...or face a fate more unimaginable than death. 

Using Real-World Tools to Make Fantasy Feel Real

One of the things most people don’t know about SKYLARK when they read it is that it started out set in our own world, our own universe—it took place after the future scientific discovery of a new energy source referred to as magic. That ultimately didn’t stick, obviously. The book’s now set in an alternate universe in which magic was the dominant power source behind technology all along, because I wanted to simplify the straight-up fantasy aspects.

But ultimately, this original setting ended up benefitting the book tremendously. It was originally set in the remnants of what had once been Washington, D.C.—where I’ve lived almost my entire life. The forests Lark fled through were the forests I played in as a kid, in suburban Virginia. It gave my fantasy setting a real-world texture that I don’t think I would’ve had if I’d started writing originally set in this new, different world.

And now, even when I write stories set in fantasy worlds (or, as is the case with THESE BROKEN STARS, D*H-2013, other planets) I still start off by correlating them with real world places I’ve been to. Why, you ask? Keep reading, I say!

When you base your fantasy worlds on real-life places, you can use real-life tools to make them lifelike and fully-realized. Here’s a list of a few online tools you can use to make your invented worlds feel more real!

Google Maps (Or any map/GPS system that allows for walking routes!)
Boy, did I use the heck out of Google Maps while writing SKYLARK. Yeah, the maps are nice, but what I got the most mileage (hah) out of was their time estimates for walking routes. Lark spends much of her time on foot, walking (or running for her life) from place to place. I needed to know how long it would take to walk, for instance, from D.C. to the nearest point in the Appalachian mountain range. And then, how long would it take to walk through the mountains? And while I was researching this, I discovered a beautiful little waterfall tucked away there, and that made it into the story. The scenes that take place by the summer lake are some of my favorite in the entire book, and they never would’ve even happened if I hadn’t been tracing Lark’s route through an actual landscape.

Calorie Counters (I like Livestrong.com, but there are a lot of good ones!)
Of course, this one is really for anyone writing a survival story—any story, really, where your characters don’t have enough food. But one of the dangers Lark faces is starvation. When she crosses the Wall, she has absolutely no survival skills and very few supplies, and I had to know how much she’d need to eat per day just to be able to keep moving. I knew from my research Google Maps how many days she’d need to be in the wilderness, so I could find out just how much food she’d need with her to survive—and how much she’d need to find along the way.

Um, hello? Doesn’t every author use Wikipedia these days? But see, here’s the thing. Because my setting was based on a real-world location, I could specifically look up lists of flora and fauna in the Virginia area—I could look up animal’s breeding seasons, their territorial habits, how easy they are to catch. I could look up plants, whether they’re edible, poisonous, itchy. Yes, some things are different in Lark’s world, but having access to info on an entire ecosystem on the web meant that I could keep everything in balance, make the wilderness Lark was trying to survive in feel like a real place. Because for her, one of the biggest and most constant threats to her safety is the wilderness itself, and if readers didn't buy the world, they weren't going to buy Lark's peril.

I’ve always been fond of books that have incredibly vivid settings—I like the setting of a book to almost feel like its own character. For example, I was never a big fan ofWuthering Heights (have I just committed sacrilege by saying that?) but the saving grace, for me, was the moors. They were so real and so wild and so atmospheric. And, of course, real—if not actually that creepy in real life. And while reading The Golden Compass, I wanted nothing more than to be a child at Jordan College myself—I almost felt like I could smell the dusty books. And while Lyra’s Jordan is in an alternate universe, it’s based on Oxford, a real place.

That’s not to say that every fully realized fantasy world comes from our world, but it’s definitely a fantastic place to start. 

Thank you, Meagan, for sharing that awesome post with us! Now everyone, comment below by the end of the week to be entered to win a signed, first edition copy of SKYLARK! Sorry, but this is US only as the author is shipping it herself.

---Winner selected. Congrats Daisy R.!---

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