Creating a Setting for Your Characters Otherwise Known as Worldbuilding
Thanks so much for inviting me and my first two Dragon Lore books to your blog! I appreciate the compliment.
I’d love to say I use the same process for every book I write, but I don’t. Many of my books begin with an image, or series of images, that form the basis for the book. I occasionally begin with an empty world, and it tells me what kind of characters it needs. I’m more likely to begin with a character and form a world around them, though.
The Dragon Lore series began a big differently. I wrote To Love a Highland Dragon two years ago, and the first thing that came to me was the image in Chapter One of a dragon shifter wakening in his cave deep beneath Inverness after being ensorcelled for over three hundred years. Elements I built specifically for that book were dragon shifters including how the bond worked and what magic it conferred. I had to figure out how to weave time travel in as well. I actually wrote the prequel after books one and two were complete. And I wrote Dragon’s Dare at the end—just where it should be since it’s the last book.
As the series progressed, I added dragon society to the mix. Interestingly, Dragon Maid, the book after To Love A Highland Dragon, began with another male dragon shifter and it just didn’t feel right. Enter Britta—and her dragon. Once I had the proper main character, the rest of the book flowed from there.
One of the things I love about urban fantasy, as opposed to high fantasy, is it’s set in the “real” world. No odd names for things. No triple moons transiting the sky. My favorite urban fantasies feel so real, they could actually happen. That hunk living next door could be a closet Celtic god, who’s really been alive for millennia. Or a mountain lion shifter jetting off to Europe to track a dangerous adversary. That being said, even urban fantasy needs magic systems that are consistent. Nothing annoys me more than characters who can do everything as an author lurches from one convenient plot twist to the next.
The Dragon Lore books actually combine high fantasy with urban fantasy. When I created a dragon society, they needed their own world. And they got it. A world of heat and volcanoes and lava flows just beyond the edge of time.
Let me tell you a secret. I’m wretchedly old-fashioned. We lost something when our lives got very easy. There’s not much challenge left anymore, unless we create it. That’s why I’ve had a lifelong love affair with traveling the backcountry with a pack, where I have to rely on my wits. I’ve been cold, lost, and out of food, but I feel ever so much more alive when I get back to civilization.
I give my characters similar challenges. They need wits, creativity, and courage to survive to the next chapter, let alone make it to the end of the book. That their worlds hold tests and trials ups the ante.
How about the rest of you authors out there. Do you create characters first, or worlds? Or do they come to you as a unit that refuses to be separated?
A Dragon Lore Prequel
Release Date: 9/08/15
Genre: Paranormal romance
Tumble off reality’s edge into myth, magic, and Scottish dragon shifters
Furious and weary, Angus Shea wants out, but no matter how he feels, he can’t stop the magic powering his visions. The Celts kidnapped him when he wasn’t much more than a boy and forced him to do their bidding. He’s sick of them and their endless assignments, but they wiped his memories, and he has no idea where he came from.
Dragon shifters are disappearing from the Scottish Highlands, and the Celtic Council sends Angus to investigate. He meets up with Arianrhod, legendary virgin huntress from Celtic myth, in Fire Mountain, the dragons’ home world.
Arianrhod prefers to work alone, mostly because she harbors a dirty little secret and guards her privacy for the best of reasons. She’s not exactly a virgin, and she’d be laughed out of the Pantheon if the truth surfaced. Despite the complications of leading a double life, she’s never found a lover who tempted her to walk away from her fellow Celtic gods.
Attraction ignites, hot and so urgent Arianrhod’s carefully balanced life teeters on the brink of discovery. Angus is everything she’s ever wanted, but he’s far too close to her Celtic kin to keep her secret safe. Angus wants her too, but she’s a Celt. He’s hated them forever, and she’s part of everything he’s lain awake nights plotting to escape from.
Can they risk everything?
If they do, can they live with the consequences?
…Excitement thrummed through her, and she considered how to proceed once she arrived at Fire Mountain. Mayhap she could pretend she was interested in pairing with a dragon. She narrowed her eyes and chewed thoughtfully on her lower lip. Should she join with Angus and the dragon, Eletea? Or pretend she knew nothing about them. If she chose to masquerade as a wannabe dragon shifter, would the Ancient Ones believe her?
“Why would they?” she muttered. “I haven’t shown the slightest interest in anything dragon-related since the dawn of time.” Perhaps she could tell them she was bored, that her life lacked meaning, purpose. All true. Immortality held a big downside, particularly since somewhere along the line, she’d fashioned herself as the virgin huntress.
Arianrhod rolled her mental eyes. Why the hell had she thought that was a good idea when Danu suggested it? At the time, she’d hoped to escape Bran’s attentions, but she hadn’t planned on a millennia tossing and turning in an empty bed. The god of prophecy—Bran—was as big a pain in the ass as he’d always been, but at least he had a cock…
She winced. It had taken stealth and cunning to maintain her artfully crafted persona and still have a sex life. Nothing frequent enough to draw attention, but she’d lain with an amazing coal black dragon. He’d worried his kin would shun him if their affair were discovered, but it hadn’t made a dent in his hunger for her.
Nothing quite like the forbidden to fan those flames…
Truth smacked her between the eyes. Loneliness and lust were why she’d volunteered so readily to make the trek to Fire Mountain. And why she’d sidestepped Gwydion. The last thing she needed was a witness if she stumbled onto Keene—or another likely candidate. Dragons lived forever. Perhaps Keene might be interested in another fling—for old time’s sake if nothing else.
Usually she stopped herself from thinking about her past and what she wished she’d done differently, but she couldn’t shut off her thoughts. If she’d had children, real children, it would’ve made such a difference.
The two sons she’d conceived magically were odd. But how could they have been aught else? She’d been forced to jump over a magical rod to prove she was a virgin, and twin sons were the result. Dylan sank into obscurity, retreating to the seas when the strain of day-to-day life without enough power to light a candle became too much to bear. Lleu would’ve left as well, but Gwydion subverted every single one of Lleu’s escape plans as he grew to manhood. Lleu blamed her for Gwydion’s meddling, and she hadn’t laid eyes on him for a very long time. She suspected Gwydion hadn’t, either.
Her empty life mocked her, but she was damned if she could figure out what to do to change it. It wasn’t as if she could march up to Ceridwen and the others, clear her throat, and say, “Sorry, but I’m sick of being a Celtic god. Think I’ll be a mortal for a while. And hey, if that doesn’t please you, I’ll take to my owl form and be done with the lot of you.”
“Oberon’s balls!” She crashed one fist into an open hand, taking care not to jostle the traveling portal. “I have to pull my head out of my ass. Ceridwen handed me a fascinating problem. I need to focus on it. No dragon fucking. No diversions. Go in. Put my head down. Get the job done.”
Nice lecture, but can I do it?
Arianrhod stroked the shiny bow draped over her shoulder. It was a work of art. She’d made it herself from yew wood, not cutting any corners, so it took months for the wood to shape and cure. She twisted her mouth into a wry smile. The huntress part of her title was fine. It fit, and she enjoyed the cunning, planning, and forethought it took to outsmart prey. If she was sick of the pretend-to-be-a-virgin part, who could blame her?
The rhythm of her traveling tube shifted. Arianrhod glanced at a node to check her location and understood her journey would be over soon. She rotated her shoulders to relax and ready herself, thought about her virgin huntress title once more, and laughed.
“The virgin part may grate, but I adore being a huntress. Fifty percent isn’t bad,” she told the gray-pink walls as they shuddered to a stop. “Most people don’t even get that.”
To Love A Highland Dragon
Release Date: 9/22/15
Genre: Paranormal romance
Tumble off reality’s edge into myth, magic, and Scottish dragon shifters
A dragon shifter stirs and wakens in a cave beneath Inverness, deep in the Scottish Highlands. The cave’s the same and his hoard intact, yet something’s badly amiss. Determined to set whatever’s gone wrong to rights, Lachlan Moncrieffe ventures above ground—and wishes he hadn’t. His castle’s gone, replaced by ungainly row houses. Men aren’t wearing plaids, and women scarcely wear anything at all, particularly the woman who accosts him with unseemly banter. What manner of wench is she to dress so provocatively?
In Inverness for a year on a psychiatry fellowship, Dr. Maggie Hibbins watches an oddly dressed man pick his way out of a heather and gorse thicket. Even though it runs counter to her better judgment, she teases him about his strange attire. He looks so lost—and so unbelievably, knock-out gorgeous —she takes a chance and stands him a meal. Lachlan’s shock when he picks up a local newspaper at a pub is so palpable, Maggie jumps in with both feet.
She knew something was off, but the hard-to-accept truth bashes gaping holes in her equilibrium. He looks odd, sounds odd, acts odd because he’s a refugee from another era. Her half-baked seduction scheme takes a hike, but her carefully constructed life is still about to change forever. Born of powerful witches, Maggie runs headlong into the myth and magic that are her birthright.
… He detached the last thorn, finally clear of the thicket of sticker bushes. Where could he find a market with vendors? Did market day still exist in this strange environment?
“Holy crap! A kilt, and an old-fashioned one at that. Tad bit early in the day for a costume ball, isn’t it?” A rich female voice laced with amusement sounded behind him.
Lachlan spun, hands raised to call magic. He stopped dead once his gaze settled on a lass nearly as tall as himself, which meant she was close to six feet. She turned so she faced him squarely. Bare legs emerged from torn fabric that stopped just south of her female parts. Full breasts strained against scraps of material attached to strings tied around her neck and back. Her feet were encased in a few straps of leather. Long, blonde hair eddied around her, the color of sheaves of summer wheat.
His cock jumped to attention. He itched to make a grab for her breasts or her ass. She had an amazing ass: round and high and tight. What was expected of him? The lass was dressed in such a way as to invite him to simply tear what passed for breeks aside and enter her. Had times changed so drastically that women provoked men into public sex? He glanced about, half expecting to see couples having it off with one another willy-nilly.
“Well,” she urged. “Cat got your tongue?” She placed her hands on her hips. The motion stretched the tiny bits of flowered fabric that barely covered her nipples still further.
Lachlan bowed formally. He straightened and waited for her to hold out a hand for him to kiss. “I’m Lachlan Moncrieffe, my lady. ’Tis a pleasure to—”
She erupted into laughter—and didn’t hold out her hand. “I’m Maggie,” she managed between gouts of mirth. “What are you? A throwback to medieval times? You can drop the Sir Galahad routine.”
Lachlan felt his face heat. “I fear I doona understand the cause of your merriment…my lady.”
Maggie rolled midnight blue eyes. “Oh, brother. Did you escape from a mental hospital? Nah, you’d be in pajamas then, not those fancy duds.” She dropped her hands to her sides and started to walk past him.
“No. Wait. Please, wait.” Lachlan cringed at the whining tone in his voice. The dragon was correct that the Moncrieffe was a proud house. They bowed to no one.
She eyed him askance. “What?”
“I’m a stranger in this town.” He winced at the lie. Once upon a time, he’d been master of these lands. Apparently that time had long since passed. “I’m footsore and hungry. Where might I find victuals and ale?”
Her eyes widened. Finely arched blonde brows drew together over a straight nose dotted by a few freckles. “Victuals and ale,” she repeated disbelievingly.
“Aye. Food and drink, in the common vernacular.”
“Oh, I understood you well enough,” Maggie murmured. “Your words, anyway. Your accent’s a bit off.” His stomach growled again, embarrassingly loud. “Guess you weren’t kidding about being hungry.” She eyed him appraisingly. “Do you have any money?”
Money. Too late he thought of the piles of gold coins and priceless gems lying on the floor of Kheladin’s cave. In the world he’d left, his word was as good as his gold. He opened his mouth, but she waved him to silence. “I’ll stand you for a pint and some fish and chips. You can treat me next time.”
He heard her mutter, “Yeah right,” under her breath as she curled a hand around his arm and tugged. “Come on. I have a couple hours, and then I’ve got to go to work. I’m due in at three today.”
Lachlan trotted along next to her. She let go of him like he was a viper when he tried to close a hand over the one she’d laid so casually on his person. He cleared his throat and wondered what he could safely ask that wouldn’t give his secrets away. He could scarcely believe this alien landscape was Scotland, but if he asked what country they were in, or what year it was, she’d think him mad.
Had the black wyvern had used some diabolical dark magic to transport Kheladin’s cave to another locale? Probably not. Even Rhukon wasn’t that powerful.
“In here.” She pointed to a door beneath a flashing sigil.
He gawked at it. One minute it was red, the next blue, the next green, illuminating the word Open. What manner of magic was this?
“Don’t tell me you have temporal lobe epilepsy.” She stared at him. “It’s only a neon sign. It doesn’t bite. Move through the door. There’s food on the other side,” she added slyly.
Feeling like a rube, Lachlan searched for a latch. When he didn’t find one, he pushed his shoulder against the door. It opened, and he held it with a hand so Maggie could enter first. “After you, my lady,” he murmured.
“Stop that.” She spoke into his ear as she went past. “No more my ladies. Got it?”
“Aye. Got it.” He followed her into a low ceilinged room lined with wooden planks. It was the first thing that looked familiar. Parts of it, anyway. Men—kilt-less men—sat at the bar, hefting glasses and chatting. The tables were empty.
“What’ll it be, Mags?” a man with a towel tied around his waist called from behind the bar.
“Couple of pints and two of today’s special. Come to think of it…” She eyed Lachlan so intently it made him squirm. “Make that three of the special.”
“May I inquire just what the special is?” Lachlan asked, thinking he might want to order something different.
Maggie waved a hand at a black board suspended over the bar. “It’s right there. If you can’t read it—”
“Of course, I can read.” He resented the inference he might be uneducated but swallowed back harsh words.
“Excellent. Then move.”
She shoved her body into his in a distressingly familiar way for such a communal location. Not that he wouldn’t have enjoyed the contact if they were alone, and he were free to take advantage of it…
“All the way to the back,” she hissed into his ear. “That way if you slip up, no one will hear.”
He bristled. Lachlan Moncrieffe did not sit in the back of any establishment. He was always given a choice table near the center of things. He opened his mouth to protest but thought better of it.
She scooped an armful of flattened scrolls off the bar before following him to the back of the room. Once there, she dumped them on the table between them. He wanted to ask what they were but decided he should pretend to know. He turned the top sheaf of papers toward him and scanned the close-spaced print. Many of the words were unfamiliar, but what leapt off the page was The Inverness Courier and presumably the current date: June 10, 2012.
His heart thudded in his ears, deafening him with the roar of rushing blood, as he stared at the date.
It had been 1683 when Rhukon chivied him into the dragon’s cave. Three hundred twenty-nine years ago, give or take a month or two. At least he was still in Inverness—for all the good it did him.
“You look as if you just saw a ghost.” Maggie spoke quietly.
“Nay. I’m quite fine. Thank you for inquiring…my, er…” Lachlan shut up. Anything he said was bound to be wrong.
“Good.” She nodded approvingly. “You’re learning.” The bartender slapped two mugs of ale on the scarred wooden table.
“On your tab, Mags?” he asked.
She nodded. “Except you owe me so much, you’ll never catch up.”
Still shell-shocked by the realization hundreds of years had slipped past while he and Kheladin slept, Lachlan took a sip of what turned out to be weak ale. It wasn’t half bad but could’ve stood an infusion of bitters. Because it was easier than thinking about his problems, he puzzled over what Maggie meant about the barkeep owing her so much he’d never catch up. Why would the barkeep owe her? His nostrils flared. She must work for the establishment—probably as a damsel of ill repute from the looks of her. Mayhap, she hadn’t been paid her share of whatever she earned in quite some time.
Protectiveness flared deep inside him. Maggie shouldn’t have to earn her way lying on her back. He’d see to it she had a more seemly position.
Aye, once I find my way around this bizarre new world.
Money wouldn’t be a problem, but changing three-hundred-year-old gold coins into today’s tender might prove challenging. Surely banks existed that could accomplish something like that.
One thing at a time.
“So.” She skewered him with her blue gaze—Norse eyes if he’d ever seen a set—and took a sip from her mug. “What did you see in the newspaper that upset you so much?”
“Nothing.” He tried for an offhand tone.
“Bullshit,” she said succinctly. “I’m a doctor. A psychiatrist. I read people’s faces quite well, and you look as if you’re perilously close to going into shock.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ann Gimpel is a national bestselling author. She’s also a clinical psychologist, with a Jungian bent and a vagabond at heart. Avocations include mountaineering, skiing, wilderness photography and, of course, writing. A lifelong aficionado of the unusual, she began writing speculative fiction a few years ago. Since then her short fiction has appeared in a number of webzines and anthologies. Her longer books run the gamut from urban fantasy to paranormal romance. She’s published over 30 books to date, with several more planned for 2015 and beyond.
A husband, grown children, grandchildren and three wolf hybrids round out her family.
@AnnGimpel (for Twitter)