Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

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

Water, water, everywhere, a guest post by London Shah

Designing my own functioning submerged world proved the most challenging, indulgent, and creative journey I’ve ever taken. Bringing a long dreamt about world into being proved more satisfying than I could ever have envisioned. World-building is definitely challenging though, and you must be prepared to put in a significant amount of time and energy. Whilst your imagination gets to run wild, your every decision must remain plausible. I feel these limitations only push you further creatively though, and should never be a deterrent in building your vision. To fully grasp how London might function in conditions that appear implausible to us now, I had to consider and research extensively.  

There were several time-consuming stages to approaching how our world could function after an event as staggering as cataclysmic worldwide flooding. I began by looking at our society today and considering how each aspect might evolve by 2035 (date of the floods). I had to then understand how we might approach the sudden news of impending worldwide flooding, a disaster so catastrophic it would leave any survivors submerged deep beneath the waves. The challenges posed by such a drastically different environment would be pervasive and every aspect of society would need examining.  

There is of course the basic infrastructure of the city to consider—homes, civil buildings, energy, food production, transport, et cetera. And specific civil services to ponder, such as law and order. How would a police force operate deep undersea—would holding cells and prisons still be feasible? Would providing an education outside of the home be worth the trouble of getting our children into submersibles and out there every day? Were there currently any scientific and technological predictions for the future that might render hospitals unnecessary? The advancements in technologies would no doubt replace many of our current civil services.  

How might such cataclysmic change affect our psyche? There’s no precedent for transformation on such a scale for humanity, and so I had to seriously consider how such a change could potentially impact our well-being. A change that is expounded by my story world’s obsession with everything Old-World (pre-floods). I came to the conclusion it wouldn’t be improbable for many of us to suffer from some sort of malaise specific to this particular situation. 

What about our faith and beliefs in the face of such a shocking event? I had to consider how such monumental change might affect them, how they might shift and in which direction. Would the new world bring rise to new religions? It’s highly unlikely that a global change on such a scale would not have any lasting impact on our philosophical outlooks. 

Language is constantly evolving, and naturally it would soon also reflect the environment. I had great fun adapting current phrases and creating new ones to express both the setting, and our love for indulging in nostalgia. I believe we’re living in an age of extreme nostalgia, engaging in it in all areas and more than ever before. The past is familiar and a safe place, yes. But we also live in a society where what we wore last season is now already “vintage”, and astonishingly nostalgia is often created around events and pop culture while we’re still experiencing them. And in my story world, as it very often is in the real one, our tendency for nostalgia is used as a tool by those who seek control. While we’re busy looking back though, time only moves forward. 

At first our most basic needs would take priority. But eventually, as history shows, even in the direst of situations and settings we gradually adapt, thinking up ever-inventive ways in which to makes the best of things, to survive. I imagine in time we would relax a little, and gradually evolve into fully functioning societies. We would discover new ways to enjoy the arts, keep connected, and partake in leisure activities. This is reflected in my story as it’s set several decades after the global change. 

Most of my research, at least two thirds of it, was conducted online, on scientific websites and countless forums that discuss and predict future technologies. I also watched a never-ending stream of underwater documentaries, turned to oceanic encyclopaedias, chatted with marine biologists and oceanographers, discussed specific scientific ideas with research scientists, and contacted companies designing and manufacturing deep-sea vehicles. I was even very kindly taken through a mini submersible driving tutorial on Skype. And throughout it all I gained a new admiration and respect for all SFF writers—most especially anyone working in science-fiction. Science will always both fascinate and absolutely frustrate me no end. I’m totally hopeless with it—especially technology. And the sheer amount you have to grapple with in sci-fi is mind-boggling. So yes, I’m more in awe of science-fiction writers than ever before. But without the slightest doubt, building a world is an overwhelmingly thrilling journey to take, and a deeply satisfying one to complete.  

To anyone who has ever entertained the idea of creating their own world or re-imagining our current one, but never quite took that first step, I say go forth and bring your world to life. See any limitations as creative challenges, and enjoy discovering ways around them. And above all, have as much fun as you can with it!

Meet London Shah

Debut author London Shah is a British-born Muslim of Pashtun ethnicity. She lives in London, via England’s beautiful North. If she could have only one super power, it would be to breathe underwater. She is the absolute worst at providing a bio. 

 GOODREADS: http://bit.ly/GoodreadsLight 

WEBSITE: https://www.londonshah.com 

SOCIAL: https://twitter.com/London_Shah

https://www.instagram.com/london.shah/ 

BUY LINKS: http://bit.ly/INDIEBOUNDLight

http://bit.ly/BARNESNOBLELight

http://bit.ly/AMAZONUSLight

About THE LIGHT AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD

ARTIST: MIKE HEATH
DESIGNER: MARCI SENDERS


In the last days of the twenty-first century, sea creatures swim through the ruins of London. Trapped in the abyss, humankind wavers between fear and hope-fear of what lurks in the depths around them, and hope that they might one day find a way back to the surface.

When sixteen-year-old submersible racer Leyla McQueen is chosen to participate in the city’s prestigious annual marathon, she sees an opportunity to save her father, who has been arrested on false charges. The Prime Minister promises the champion whatever their heart desires. But the race takes an unexpected turn, forcing Leyla to make an impossible choice.

Now she must brave unfathomable waters and defy a corrupt government determined to keep its secrets, all the while dealing with a guarded, hotheaded companion she never asked for in the first place. If Leyla fails to discover the truths at the heart of her world, or falls prey to her own fears, she risks capture-or worse. And her father will be lost to her forever.

ISBN-13: 9781368036887
Publisher: Disney Press
Publication date: 10/29/2019
Series: Light the Abyss