Shadow Scale, Rachel Hartman’s 2nd novel after her huge hit Seraphina, is out today, and she stopped by to talk about the fantasy worlds that inspire her. We also have a copy of Shadow Scale to give away to one lucky US winner, so please fill out the widget at the end of the post to enter to win.
I love fantasy, and one of my favourite parts has always been the new worlds I get to visit. They’re so memorable and detailed that they almost become characters in themselves. When I was a kid, I would gladly have spent as much of my time in fantasy worlds as in the real one. Narnia, Middle Earth, Prydain, and Pern were the ones I returned to most often, re-reading books again and again just for the pleasure of walking those worlds again.
My world, or the Goredd part of it anyway, began as an idea I had in seventh grade, right at the height of my fantasy reading (and re-reading). I’m sure it was those worlds that gave me the idea to create a world of my own, as if this were something everyone did. I loved drawing maps, and I recall spending many hours happily engaged this way.
Those maps are all lost to the ravages of time, but that’s fine. They’d be outdated by now, anyway. Fictional worlds, like the real world, evolve over time.
In fact, my world grew away from those early influences quite quickly. Maybe you could trace the origin of my dragons to Pern, but it’s just as likely they came from Narnia, via Eustace Clarence Scrubb’s brief stint as a dragon. There’s a strong undercurrent of myth, which echoes Prydain and Narnia; it’s big and well-peopled, like Middle Earth; and it’s very low-magic, like Pern. But I think that’s where the similarities end.
A couple books I read as an adult that have probably influenced the size and scope of my world more than anything from my childhood. The first is Middlemarch, by George Eliot. Technically, Middlemarch is set in England, which is not a made-up place (or so they claim). However, the town of Middlemarch (for which the book is named) is entirely fictional, and as such is an excellent model for worldbuilding. By the end of the book, you know everything about this town and the people in it. You have moved through all classes and striations of society, you know who’s secretly related to whom, who feigns piety but is really a monster, what the repercussions are for marrying poorly, who not to buy a horse from… this world is full, busy, and richly complicated, and that is a model I have tried to follow in my own.
The other world that has served as a model is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Goredd has been with me so long that I always knew I wanted to keep setting books there, and Discworld is the series I point to as my exemplar of that. The other thing Pratchett taught me with his worldbuilding is not to be afraid of having many different cultures, peoples, and gods. What Eliot did with a single place, delving into it in depth, Pratchett has done with the entire surface of his Disc, spreading the world wide. I want that kind of depth and breadth for my world, and these two authors gave me glimpses of what was possible.
Other than that, the world that has probably influenced my imaginary world the most is the one you’re sitting in right now (at least, I assume you are). Readers frequently comment on how vivid Goredd is, and the secret is that I use a lot of sensory details, taken directly from my own life. I pay attention to the way trees smell when it rains, what different fabrics feel like against my skin. Even in fantasy-land, people experience the physicality of their reality. Pies are delicious and birds get shrill and noisy before dawn (or if not, there’s got to be a reason why). So my real advice to anyone wanting to create a fantastical world of their own is to look to this one carefully and figure out which things you’re going to bring with you. Your imagination can take you to astonishing heights, but I prefer my world to have at least one foot on the ground.
About Shadow Scale:
The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself—for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways.
As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?