The Craft of Creating Settings
Thank you so much for joining The Author Nook today, Kira! It’s always a pleasure to speak with you about your amazing, fantastical world. So this month we are discussing settings, and I could think of no one better to talk than you about this subject. To begin, tell us a little bit about yourself. Do you have a favorite place you like to visit irl? Do you have a favorite fictional setting outside of the ones you create?
I am called Kira and Erika. My debut novel, Merchants of Knowledge and Magic, is coming out on April 8th, 2022. It will feature a variety of settings which I hope you will all enjoy. They will be particularly interesting to fans of fantasy and settings which could not otherwise exist on Earth. I am quite liberal with how much magic I pour into my settings, so many cities, landmarks, natural formations, even the very shapes of the planets could not possibly exist in the real world. Here is a map of Starsine, a planet shaped like a star! The two ‘stars’ in the picture are opposite sides of the same landmass:
I am not much of an outdoorsy type irl. I don’t care for hiking or camping, though I love nature. There are so many places I want to visit in my lifetime. I had just gotten settled into my career and was making good money for vacations when COVID hit and I have not been able to travel since then. Until I can freely travel more easily, I will have to content myself with pictures. Some places I’d like to visit before I die include Finland, Iceland, Wales, the castles of Europe, the museums of Italy, Japan, and New Zealand.
Of all the fictional settings outside of my own, easily one of the best is the world of Pokemon. It’s a safe world with a variety of locations, biomes, city architecture, and it can all be explored with your magical pets who will protect you from danger. What a fantastic world! I would love to live there.
I also want to give a shout-out to the Wheel of Time series which I’ve been reading lately. Although I would not want to live in such a world, I have been awe-struck numerous times whenever the author, Robert Jordan, stops to describe locations. I understand it would be a turn-off for a lot of readers, but I LOVE it. His description of architecture is unparalleled, and I feel like I’m right there with his characters, wherever they are.
A setting is just a physical location if it has no context.
When I read your tweets, I get a sense that your world is of great importance to you. You care about the places you’re talking about a great deal. For me, this draws me right into your work, right into your world. What makes a meaningful setting to you? How has this inspired some of your own settings?
A setting is just a physical location if it has no context. If you want a setting to be meaningful, it needs history. Who lived there? Why is it important? What makes it ‘cool’? A setting in my world can be anything from the entire dominion to a single bedroom, but no matter how large or small, I have to show the readers why these places are important to the characters.
Sometimes a setting is meaningful *because* it is strange and mysterious. In many works of fiction, you’ll encounter lands or countries where the PoV characters have never been, or only heard rumors about. Or they will see a landmark or natural formation which they have no explanation for. In my world, I reveal very little of the Quarantined Plane in books (though more will be available in bonus material, if the readers wish for it). In my debut novel, Merchants of Knowledge and Magic, Calinthe remarks upon the Quarantined Plane, stating that the Gods sealed it off shortly after their apotheosis, for the safety of all sapient-kind. In that book, I leave the readers guessing as to what is in the Quarantined Plane. Why does it need to be quarantined at all? Perhaps you will find out one day.
I know you were young when you began crafting the Pentagonal Dominion. How old were you exactly? What was the impetus for you to begin writing it?
I don’t like to reveal my age, just as I don’t like to show my face. It’s something I have a bit of a complex about. I’ll just say that the initial spark ignited on August 20th, 1999. I was old enough to write complete sentences, but young enough that those sentences were rough and the characters/stories were cringey. The first thing to inspire me was Pokemon. I was a kid and I’d just watched my first episode of Pokemon. It was the episode where Ash had to cross a bridge to bring medicine to some Shellders at a hospital on the other side, but he got stopped by a gang with some tough Pokemon, and there was a storm. It was all so exciting for young Erika. I especially loved the creatures, though. I wanted to design my own! The world I created that would later become the Pentagonal Dominion was initially a Pokemon fanfic with my own original ‘Pokemon’ (though I called them Aloutians.) Later, Aloutia would become the name of a country, and the Aloutians are citizens of that country. It was a long process, and I detail it in much more detail on my blog. I currently have a three-part series on my personal Writing History where I discuss some of the initial concepts, and the various changes I made as I grew older. Perhaps most importantly, as I grew older, I matured, and the story went from ‘kid-friendly’ to ‘decidedly NOT kid-friendly.’ This is just a reminder that my books are solidly in the ‘Adult’ category and I would not recommend them if you think they’re going to be a cute Pokemon knock-off!
I think using Pokemon as the starting point helped make my setting as varied as it is now. A lot of authors, even those writing fantasy settings, stay within the realm of what is possible or feasible with humans. But when I created “my own Pokemon” that included creating creatures who lived in underwater cities, deep mountainous cave systems, high in places that require flight, and in frozen lands inhospitable to human life.
Any words of advice in regards to crafting settings? Any tools or techniques that have worked particularly well for you?
I like to do a thorough deep-dive into any location I create. I ask myself a few questions: Who (people or animal) lives or visits there? How do they get food/water? What other resources do they need? What aspects about the planet or magic system might influence how things occur here? If your world is particularly ‘different’ from Earth, keep a list of things you should ask yourself. Whenever I create a city in Aloutia, for instance, I have to figure out if its location is shaded by the planet’s rings, if it’s near any Demon Lords, or if it’s near any other places that have experienced elemental catastrophes. There are many questionnaires online that can help prompt ideas. In fact, that was the reason why I started asking WritingQs on Twitter! I hoped that my questions would help prompt people into thinking about their settings, or give them ideas they hadn’t considered yet. A quick google search of “worldbuilding forest questions” brought up several blogs and websites where authors posted very specific questions to prompt ideas. In fact, it prompted me to possibly do the same on my own blog. I think it would be a fun endeavor!
Do some basic research into ecology. Research biomes, how food chains work, how the water and nitrogen cycles work, how geology and geography play a role, how rivers form and flow.
With civilizations, you have to delve into the culture as well. For instance, consider the ‘unnatural’, the social constructs: what are their laws? Religion? Education standards? Economy? Thoughts on war? Attitudes toward the elderly, disabled, queer, neurodivergent, etc.? Alternatively, do one or more of these simply not exist in your setting? I’ve noticed many writers are so accustomed to the idea of money that they struggle to imagine a world without it. Whenever I mention how the Mind elementals in my world are forbidden from using money, some people try to figure out how that works. “Do they use a barter system?” is one I get asked a lot. And the answer is… not really. It’s just part of their religion and culture. Anyone who would refuse to give food or shelter to a Mind elemental in need would be viewed with derision.
One word of advice I’d give people when creating ‘nature’ settings, as opposed to cities, is to do some basic research into ecology. Research biomes, how food chains work, how the water and nitrogen cycles work, how geology and geography play a role, how rivers form and flow. If you create a forest and only ever mention the apex predator, I’m going to wonder what it’s eating. Deserts are tricky for some writers who want to include camels, lizards, and spiders, for instance, but don’t include a single plant. Either research the flora and fauna in real-world deserts or make it a completely barren lifeless wasteland.
If you could pick anywhere in your world to live, where would it be and why?
If I stumbled into the Pentagonal Dominion in its current era, Lucognidus would teleport me straight to his throne room and we’d discuss living arrangements. He’d want me to stay close, and I would be more than happy to oblige. His ‘house’, the Palace of the Amethyst Throne, combines the highest quality magic and technology. Teleportation circles for easy travel, TVs and video games galore, the greatest library in the entire dominion, and food ethically prepared in laboratories. Being that it’s in Spiritua (the afterlife), I would have access to material unavailable in the mortal planes. I could drink everyoung quicksilver and remain my current age forever. I could have a Death Godblood transform my body into my ideal shape. Plus I’d have all the books, video games, and food I could ever want.
Congrats on joining Shadow Spark Publishing! They will be publishing your novel, Merchants of Knowledge and Magic, on April 8th, 2022. I’m so excited for this book! What does it feel like to be so close to publishing this story?
It feels amazing and validating. Part of me was upset about not getting published sooner. As I got older, I would get jealous when I saw younger people getting book deals. I felt like I should have been published long ago. I've been creating my world since 1999, meanwhile people who started writing in 2019 are publishing. I know it’s an immature way of looking at it, but it’s what my heart felt, and I cannot lie about that. However, with recent events, I can’t help but feel it was meant to be. Now, I don’t believe in fate or destiny. The concepts are so wild, how could I? And yet things *do* seem to happen in my life for a reason. After experiencing some things, including a friendship break-up that prompted a necessary character name change, I’m glad I waited until now to publish. Had I published MoKaM a year ago, that character’s name would have been stuck as it is.
I also feel like SSP was where I was meant to be. I vibe with the other authors and publishers there. It’s a business, sure, but it’s also very ‘family’ and I love it. I’ve been able to talk with them about some deep and personal aspects of myself related to my writing that I’ve never felt safe talking about before. So once again, my jealousy at not ‘getting published sooner’ is alleviated because I think the universe needed me in the right place at the right time to get the perfect outcome. It all worked out in the end.
It’s been such a pleasure talking with you, Kira! I appreciate you sharing your thoughts here on The Author Nook blog. Looking forward to your upcoming novel and wish you all the best in your writing and your craft!
Thank you for interviewing me! I adore talking to you as always, Laken. Your blog has inspired me to do similarly with my own, though that will be a gradual work in progress. Your book is also on my TBR pile, so I’ll be sure to ask you about it once I finish!
Erika McCorkle is an avid world-builder and consumer of all things fantasy, whether that be books, video games, or anime. She has been developing the Pentagonal Dominion for 22 years and figure it was about damn time to publish her books. She has a Bachelors of Science in Biology and works as a laboratory technician on the graveyard shift at her local blood bank, which qualifies her as a vampire. her debut novel, Merchants of Knowledge and Magic, comes out on April 8th, 2022.