A Series of (Fortunate) Events
by Lou Anders
When I started the manuscript that would become Frostborn, the first book in the Thrones & Bones series, I began with the setting. I had an idea that I was going to write about a half-human, half-giant girl struggling with her dual heritage, but I really didn’t have much beyond that. I needed to know a lot more about where she came from if I was going to understand her. So I did something crazy. I took a full three months to create the world before I even let myself think anything further about plot.
Looking back, I’m kind of in shock at the blind faith (or sheer arrogance?) that it took to devote so much effort to world-building when I didn’t have a story. At the time, I had the idea that I would design an entire planet and make it big, varied, and rich enough that it could be the setting for any fantasy story I might ever choose to tell, whether a children’s book, young adult, or adult fantasy.
I started out by playing in a mapmaking software program I found called Fractal Terrains 3. I spent three weeks just hammering out the geography. After massaging the land masses into the exact shapes that I had in mind, I selected a spot in the upper northwest corner of one continent and began to work on a culture. My half-giant girl’s father is a frost giant, a particular type of being from Norse myth, so I set about building the Norwegian-inspired lands of Ymiria and Norrøngard. This being my first fantasy foray, I wanted to start with the roots of the western fantasy tradition and work outward. I confess I also somewhat naively thought that I could tell a simple story in a remote and snow-bound land and save the heavy lifting of less-isolated countries farther inland for later books. But as I researched the historical Vikings, I quickly realized how wrong I was. Those guys went everywhere! They raided the British Isles, sacked Paris, visited Constantinople—they even warred with Inuits and Native Americans. In plotting the history of my analogous northern peoples, I inadvertently had to work out the history of their neighbors and their neighbors’ neighbors and their neighbors’ neighbors’ neighbors. The result was that I ended up with about sixty thousand words of notes on the world before I ever started outlining plot. It was a crazy way to do things. But it paid off.
For starters, I really knew the world. This meant that my characters could live in and react to it in a credible, convincing way without the need for a whole lot of “info-dumping.” Whole pages of world-building showed up in simple asides in their conversation—throwaway lines that hinted at, rather than stated, aspects of their history and culture. As the plot grew, a second character was introduced, a boy who loved strategy board games and wanted to see the world. I didn’t initially intend for them to continue together past the end of Frostborn. I imagined they could have separate follow-up adventures after they had learned from each other and parted ways. My wife and my (then) agent both informed me in no uncertain terms that Karn and Thianna had to reunite. My vote in the matter didn’t count. So much for my previous ideas! Now I needed new stories that accommodated both of them. And this is where the world-building really paid off.
I settled on the idea of doing a sort of James Bond/Da Vinci Code–style globe-trotting quest, one where our heroes would have to race against a secret society (or two) to be the first to find a magic item of world-shattering power. But as important as the physical journey is the emotional journey, the growth that the characters experience by undertaking the action of the novel. In Frostborn, two very different people learned to appreciate each other’s strengths and work together. In Nightborn, I wanted to take Thianna out of the equation (at first) and force Karn to discover whether he could still be a hero when he didn’t have a seven-foot-tall girl backing him up. And whereas in book one they went from being strangers to being the best of friends, in book two I wanted to test their friendship. I also introduce a new character, a dark elf named Desstra whose journey is at cross-purposes with Karn and Thianna’s. The result is a book that shows a good deal more of the world, while it deepens Karn and Thianna’s characters and introduces new people into the series as well.
As my world continues to expand, more and more story ideas vie for my attention. By taking the time to lay all the—ahem—groundwork at the start, the potential fodder for future books just grows and grows. For me, writing a series is possible because the novels are underpinned by a world that lives and breathes beyond the pages that my readers see. I feel I’m part author, part tour guide, and I hope you’ll take the trip with me!
Lou's fave writing spot - his dining table.
Lou Anders drew on a recent visit to Norway along with his adventures traveling across Europe in his teens and twenties to write Frostborn and Nightborn, combining those experiences with his love of globe-trotting adventure fiction and games (both tabletop and role-playing). However, he has yet to ride a wyvern. With the addition of characters Desstra and Tanthal, Anders hopes that his second book in the Thrones and Bones series will continue to appeal to boys and girls equally. Anders is the recipient of a Hugo Award for editing and a Chesley Award for art direction. He has published over five hundred articles and stories on science fiction and fantasy television and literature. A prolific speaker, Anders regularly attends writing conventions around the country. He and his family reside in Birmingham, Alabama. You can visit Anders online at louanders.com and ThronesandBones.com, on Facebook, on Tumblr, and on Twitter at @ThronesandBones and @LouAnders. Also at Pinterest: pinterest.com/louhanders/; Instagram: instagram.com/thrones_and_bones; Goodreads: goodreads.com/author/show/61741.Lou_Anders