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Building Worlds: How I Created a Fantasy Kingdom, a guest post by Meaghan McIsaac

Ok, first off, I want to apologize. I am about to geek out. There is nothing that makes me so excited as the topic of World Building. Inventing whole universes for stories to take place in – it’s like building your own theme park with no budget. It’s my favourite part of writing – so indulge me, I humbly beg you.  

Building the world for my MG fantasy The Bear House was a lot of work. When I set out to write the story of Aster and her kingdom, the Highen, I had no idea how big her world would end up being. I just had a scene. That’s how so many of my story ideas start. A little flash of action. So for this story, I had the idea for a scene of a princess being chased across a sunny field by a massive beyond massive hulking bear. That’s it. Just a spark.

I knew I wanted to make a story about this princess and the bear. What comes after this little spark are questions — who is the princess? What is she a princess of? Why is the bear so big? What kind of bear is it? Why is he chasing her? And for me, that’s really the crux of world building. Questions on top of questions on top of questions. Asking all the questions I can possibly think of about the place these characters are standing in. Because every answer, I find, leads to more questions! What kind of bear is it? It’s a Hemoth bear. It’s a very sacred war bear. Ok, sacred why? Because he is a High beast. What’s a High Beast? It’s an animal that is favoured by the stars. The stars? Why are they important? The stars are like the gods to the people of this world. How is their belief system structured? On and on and on. Until eventually, I’ve asked and answered so many questions, a world begins to grow. 

Some questions are easy to answer – are there dragons? Um…YES, definitely. Others are harder. Why is there tension between the kingdoms? …That’s a long story, I’ll spare you the details here. And some questions are super technical — how does one skin a deer in a medieval world? It’s not enough to just make stuff up —  well, I could but the result is a lot less convincing — research and a lot a lot of planning and thinking goes into any world I want to create! Because the more specific the details, the more detailed the world, the more we can believe it! And all that work is a big part of the fun. 

But with so many questions flying around my head, it helps to try and keep them organized. Every time I had a question, or found an answer, I wrote it down in my “story bible” document — a handy little file on my computer that is almost a bullet form encyclopedia about the Highen, its history, politics, and people. I have sections on family trees, sections on Highen history, its rulers, wars, and High Beasts. I have whole sections on myths, legends and even folk songs! I have sections on commerce and resources. Sections on political hierarchy. I also have sections on High Beast biology (there’s a lot going on inside a Shadow Dragon)! All these sections, a place to organize thoughts and research notes,  really helped me keep track of everything and kept the world consistent. 

While I wrote the first draft of The Bear House, I gave myself permission to not have to answer every question there could ever be about the world Aster lives in — if I did, the story would never get done! But asking as many questions as I could, between each draft of the story really helped enrich the landscape I wanted to create. And any question I couldn’t answer at a given moment, I often found that the answers would present themselves as I wrote.

And here’s the other cool thing about worldbuilding — you can’t over do it. There’s never enough detail! I can keep uncovering parts of Aster’s world forever and keep my story bible growing. I may not get to show the reader EVERYTHING about Aster’s world within the action of the story, but even if there are parts the reader can’t see, I think all the behind the scenes detail still supports everything the reader DOES get to see. It makes the foundation of the world stronger. 

I hope all these questions and answers have built a world for readers to get lost in. I’ve been alone in Aster’s Highen for a while now, I’m excited for readers to finally enter The Bear House

Meet the author

Meaghan McIsaac is the author of several books for young readers, including The Boys of Fire and Ash, which was shortlisted for the Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award; and Movers, which was a Shining Willow Finalist for the Saskatchewan Young Readers’ Choice Awards. Meaghan lives in Toronto, Ontario with her two dogs.

About The Bear House

In a gritty medieval world where the ruling houses are based on the constellations, betrayal, intrigue, and a king’s murder force the royal sisters of the Bear House on the run!

Moody Aster and her spoiled sister Ursula are the daughters of Jasper Lourdes, Major of Bears and lord of all the realm. Rivals, both girls dream of becoming the Bear queen someday, although neither really deserve to, having no particular talent in… well, anything.

But when their Uncle Bram murders their father in a bid for the crown, the girls are forced onto the run, along with lowly Dev the Bearkeeper and the Lourdes’s half-grown grizzly Alcor, symbol of their house. As a bitter struggle for the throne consumes the kingdom in civil war, the sisters must rely on Dev, the bear cub, and each other to survive—and find wells of courage, cunning, and skill they never knew they had.

A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection

ISBN-13: 9780823446605
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 10/05/2021
Age Range: 10 – 14 Years

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