And the answer is pretty simple: From the ground up. Somewhere near the beginning of the writing process, usually after I’ve decided on my characters, but before I’ve fleshed out the plot, I try to picture the physical setting of the story in my mind. I knew the world of the Sin Eater was a pseudo-European medieval kingdom, so society would be largely be based around the outdoors, and the land, for the most part.
So then I had to create an outdoors.
Was it a green place? Hilly? Flat? Rocky? Near the sea? I pictured the climate there, and the seasons. Thinking about these things helped me decide on what kind of plants and trees grew there. And those plants and trees determined what wildlife lived there, which impacted on the lives of the people. It decided whether they were farmers – and what they farmed – or fishermen, or hunters.
Of course, I write fantasy, so technically I could have palm trees in an arctic-style tundra, or polar bears in a rainforest. But what I wanted from my world was for it to feel like a real place, and the easiest way to do that was to ground it in a reality that my readers are familiar with.
I decided that if it were in our world, Lormere would be a very small country, around the size of Luxembourg. It would be roughly where Sweden is, high above sea level, in a mountainous region. Winters (though we don’t see them in Sin Eater) would be very harsh, summers comparatively mild and warm. The climate and landscape wouldn’t lend itself too well to most types of arable farming, and limited pastoral; game, goats and sheep would thrive, but cows and pigs wouldn’t. Because of this Lormere would have little primary industry, and little secondary too. Its money would mainly come from tithes owed by Tregellan, and taxes on citizens. And of course, it was ruled solely by a monarch, whose word was law, and who acted as the mouthpiece of the Gods of the land.
Tregellan, on the other hand, has thriving primary, secondary and tertiary industry, producing, creating and exporting grain, meat, fish and luxury goods to Lormere. Because Tregellan isn’t as high above sea-level as Lormere, it has more arable farmland and pasture for livestock, and also has accessible coastline for fishing. The climate is close to our maritime climate, making it warmer and wetter than Lormere, though still cold in winter.
Possibly most importantly, it’s also a democratic country, governed by an elected council, who came to power after the dethroning (and executing) of the former monarchy. In just one hundred years it’s gone from being a country like Lormere – ruled autocratically by non-elected officials – to being liberal and very concerned with learning and development. Whereas religion is hugely important in Lormere, and followed by all, Tregellan is secular, people who practice a faith are a rarity. Creating the religion in Lormere was really the crux of creating the world of the Sin Eater, because it’s the thing that ties the country to the people, and creates the conflict. But that’s an entirely different post, for another time.
It might seem like a lot of work, especially when, as in The Sin Eater’s Daughter, you see very little of the external world, but, in terms of continuing the series it’s been invaluable to know the terrain of the world I’m working in. And the differences between the two countries are very important in terms of how they both respond to the threat of the Sleeping Prince, and the ultimate outcome of the story.
Which will be revealed soon enough…
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