Welcome to my little corner of the gay erotic romance universe . . . well, half of it, anyway. (You can find the other half at RachelHaimowitz.com.) This is the place to come for sneak previews of new projects, release information, and the occasional M/M book review. I'll also share thoughts on the industry on occasion, and I hope you'll come share yours in return.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Guest Blog: Worldbuilding in Urban Fantasy: Quick and Dirty

Morning all! Today we have author Amanda Arista in the house to talk about worldbuilding in the UF genre and her new book, Diaries of an Urban Panther. She's also here to give away a $25 Amazon or B&N gift certificate to one lucky commenter on her blog tour, so be sure to leave a comment (with email--more info on that below).

As always, let's begin with a blurb and cover art, and then I'll turn the floor over to Amanda for her insightful post on crafting worlds in Urban Fantasy and a hot little excerpt of her new novel.

Violet Jordan thought the fairy tales her mother wove were just a way to get Violet to sleep, not a way to prepare her for the apocalypse she is the key to preventing. When she becomes a midnight snack for werepanther Spencer Haverty, his infectious bite invokes the first element of her destiny. When Violet's budding instincts allow her to save a boy’s life, she realizes this new gig may come with perks: a slimmer figure, the attention of a handsome Guardian, and insights into her future embedded in her mother's stories. But as push comes to claws, can Violet make the fatal strike against the men threatening her new family, her new home and her first boyfriend in ages?

Coming soon: Book Two of the Diaries of an Urban Panther, Dec 2011

And now to Amanda, beneath the jump.

I thought when I sat down to write Diaries of an Urban Panther that the worldbuilding would be a cinch. It was going to be a modern Dallas with shapeshifters. Done. I set my mythology for shapeshifters and I’m golden.

Hah! The moment you ask your readers to suspend any disbelief in your story, you have to lay everything out for them as well as understand that your readers are just as brilliant as you and will have the same questions that you will about your new world.

I’ve heard that smarter writers have all this laid out before they start writing. Me, well, I had to discover my world through my writing. I’d never thought of a day in the life of my world, what things would smell like, or how my hero would be seen in the world. It was Dallas. I know what Dallas is like, but did my reader?

So before or during, whichever you prefer, think about what a day in the life would be like. Think about what a year in the life would be like. Think about what a life time looks like through the eyes of your character. This will give you the details of the world: what they eat, what they wear, what opportunities they will be given, what they do for a living and who they are allowed to marry. I think we all know how culturally insightful that little detail is.

Writing an urban fantasy gives you a little less to plan out but is just as painstaking because the readers know the world already and you have to speak to that knowledge. Dallas is a city. It has city rules. There are big buildings that people see everyday and know. There are cars and roads. Using the corporeal world that readers are used to is not a cop-out; you still have a lot of building to do, layering your mythology on top of that to make your readers believe that this could happen in their backyard. For me, my goal was to make sure that every reader was a little afraid to put their trash out. The smaller details make it real. I built most of my supernatural stuff on the little things that we tend to brush off in everyday life: phantom smells, déjà vu, nightmares. These details layered on top of everyday life are the key to writing an urban fantasy.

When defining a world, you have to set every rule in language that your reader will understand. Foreign places are amazing to read about but they have to be defined in a way that the readers can relate to. Movies get the cop-out on this one. They show you a park; you believe it’s a park. For writers, if you’re building a national park on an alien planet, you have to define everything in that park using language that everyone knows. We call it the Grandma rule. Describe it in a way that your grandmother would understand.  

And you have to all of this without telling the readers any of it. They must experience the world for themselves in order to believe it. All senses must be used to immerse your reader in the world. For me, a major example was what power would feel like and what each character’s power would smell like.  I couldn’t just say “Her power floated out around the room.” As a human, I have no idea what that would feel like. So you connect it to sensations that people have experienced. This translated for me into “Her power floated out around the room and my skin was smoothed in cashmere as the smell of library dust filled my nose.” You are setting the rules of your world as well as connecting it to an experience that your readers have felt before. They now know what being brushed by a shapeshifter feels like.

Without letting it go to your head, you are a god in the world that you build. Even in contemporary romance, you still control the world that the characters live it. You decide what tests this world will hold for the characters and how the others will view your main character. Know your world and the people in it. Believe in your world and the readers will see it as you see it.

What does your world taste like? Pen me a line below and enter yourself for a chance to win  $25 dollar gift certificate to the e-retailer of your choice. And check out Diaries of an Urban Panther, at all major e-book retailers now!

* * * * * 

When the fear crept away and I was sure I could stand, I tried the window, just for good measure. If something did happen and I ended up on the evening news, I didn’t want some neighbor going, “Why didn’t she just crawl out the window?”

            It was unlocked. What kind of evil kidnapper doesn’t secure a window? His loss, I thought as I quietly opened the window and peered out.
            Huh. One story house with the neighbors only a few feet away. No alarms went off; there weren’t bars on the windows. Just a short drop to the ground below. Something wasn’t right about this. 
            I slid a leg out the window and stretched my leg down until my toes touched the cool grass. God bless a 34-inch inseam.
            Careful of my left shoulder, I slid out the window with a little umph.
            Take that, Stalker boy.
            Running for the streetlights, my heart began to pound. Freedom. Where to go from here? I couldn’t see downtown. Hell, I couldn’t see three feet in front of my face. It was pitch black with no moon in the sky. Not that I could navigate home by it.
            A hand clamped down on my injured shoulder and pain shot down through my torso. A boot nudged my knees out from under me and I fell hard. The jolt made me bite the end of my tongue and tears welled up in my eyes as I tasted blood.
            “Really think it was going to be that easy?”

* * * * *

Amanda was born in Illinois, raised in Corpus Christi, lives in Dallas but her heart lies in London. Good thing she loves to travel! The summer of second grade, she read every book in the young adult section of the library, so she started making up her own stories and hasn’t stopped.

She has a husband who fights crime, one dog who thinks he’s a real boy, and another who might be a fruit bat in disguise. When not writing, Amanda often dreams of co-opening an evil bakery and selling despicable desserts. Her particularly favorites are larvaceous lemon bars and sinful cinnamon streusel.

She spends her weekends writing at coffee shops, practicing for the day that caffeine intake becomes an Olympic sport, and plotting character demises with fellow writers Wolvarez, Killer Cupcake and Keith (names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent).


  1. What I really like about the paranormal and secience fiction and urban fantasy genres is the world it creates for the reader. I would not find vampires, shape-shifters, fairies and all the other-wordly creatures fascinating and appealing to me without the world they live in. I love being swept off my feet and transported to a place and time I can only begin imagine.
    My world would be full of possibilities and most importantly it would have humanity. I think emotions are viable to people and animals. It is what we use to connect and interact with each other.


  2. I agree Na, Emotions are the one thing common not only all creatures but all worlds. Another key to world building is letting the reader know about parts of the world by how the characters feel about it. For example, the only way that the reader will know if the ruler is a tyrant is through the feelings of the people. To himself, he would probably he a benevolent king.

  3. I didn;t understand how important world building was until I got into reading paranormal stories. Whe I really love a book, it's usually because I fallen into the world that the author created. Thanks for the interview and giveway.
    marajbrandon (AT) earthlink (DOT) net

  4. Mara- the key to building a strong world is making sure that the reader hasn't even noticed the falling into the magical realm. They jsut accept it as real.
    Thanks for the comments, ladies. I'll post the winner of the giveaway on June 20th on the blog sites and my website.

  5. Great post! I never thought about how hard it would be to create a paranormal world - even one built on an existing city. Very interesting!

    smaccall AT comcast.net

  6. I hope I was able to help you as writers or readers.
    I'll be posting the winner of the $25 gift certificate on July 20th, so watch your e-mails or check out my WIP website.



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