Friday, July 22, 2011

World Building With Jennifer Estep

My guest today is Jennifer Estep. She's a USA Today bestselling author of the Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series, the Mythos Academy young adult urban fantasy series, and the Bigtime paranormal romance series.

I'd say she might know a bit about successful world building in a story. I had a chance to pick her brain a bit about world building in her Mythos Academy series.

Most of us associate world building to paranormal and Sci-Fi. How important is world building to a story? 

JE: World building is always important in a story, no matter what genre you’re writing in. You always want to transport readers to another place, whether it’s a small town, an alien planet, or a medieval castle. You want to make folks feel like they are right there in the story with your characters, having a burger and fries at the local diner; or exploring a hot, muggy, tropical rainforest; or even feeling their toes go numb as they trudge through a mountain blizzard. You want people to connect with your characters, and bringing your world to life is one way to help do that.

However, I would say that world building is a little more important when you’re writing a fantasy/sci-fi book. Readers who enjoy those genres expect to see a lot of magic, sorcery, science, technology, etc. You have to create a world where those things are possible, and then make readers feel like they are in the middle of your world, whatever and wherever it is.

While you were writing Touch of Frost, did you already have an idea in mind for a setting/location for Mythos Academy or did you have to do some research for it?

JE: The great thing about writing fantasy is that you get to create your own world. I didn’t really do any research about the setting/location. I knew that I wanted Mythos Academy to be a private/boarding type of school with a Southern, mountainous setting, so I came up with Cypress Mountain, my fictional suburb that’s supposedly near Asheville, North Carolina.

After that, it was just a matter of deciding what sort of buildings the academy needed and how I could use the buildings and their descriptions to give the whole campus a dark, creepy, mythological feel.

Is Mythos Academy patterned or inspired by any building/structure you've visited or come across?

JE: No, the academy isn’t really patterned on any specific building. But several years ago, I visited the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee, which I thought had some really cool architecture. Visiting the Parthenon reminded me how much I’ve always liked mythology and made me think that it would be fun to write a mythology-based story someday. And now, I have.

How do you decide what to include in your description of Mythos Academy (buildings, etc)? Was it difficult to write Mythos Academy at all?

JE: It wasn’t too hard for me to dream up the academy. Since it’s a school setting, I knew that there needed to be some school-type buildings, so I designed an upper quad where students spend most of their time. The quad features five buildings – the Library of Antiquities, the dining hall, the gym, the math-science building, and the English-history building.

Basically, these buildings tie in with everything that students would normally do, as well as some things that only the Mythos kids do. These buildings give students a place to eat (the dining hall); a place to go to classes (English-history and math-science); a place to train with weapons (the gym); and a place to study and socialize after classes (the library). There are also student dorms on campus, along with some other outbuildings.

I decided to use these buildings because I thought I could stage a lot of different scenes in and around the various buildings – everything from Gwen doing weapons training with the other students in the gym to her wandering through the library to her walking across campus late at night.

Complete this: Mythos Academy would cease to exist if _____ is missing. (Can be a person, place, an object, etc.)

JE: The Library of Antiquities. The library is a seven-story tall building with towers, parapets, and balconies. Gwen says it looks like something out of an old, Gothic horror movie. The library is also covered with statues of mythological creatures like gryphons, gargoyles, dragons, chimeras, and more, which adds to the creepiness factor. Inside, the library features hundreds of thousands of books, along with glass cases that contain artifacts that have been used by various gods, goddesses, heroes, and more – things like armor, weapons, jewelry, etc. There are also marble statues of gods and goddesses on the second floor balcony of the library.

The Library of Antiquities definitely the centerpiece of the academy and where a lot of the action in all the books in the series takes place. It’s also a place where the kids can Hang Out and Be Seen, as Gwen puts it.

Any advice for writers on how to effectively build worlds for their books?

JE: I think you just have to think about your story, your characters, and go with your instincts. What do you want your setting to be? How will it impact your characters and the overall story? Where are the places that your characters are likely to interact? What can you do to make these places special, interesting, unique, and memorable? How can you give a house or restaurant or graveyard a distinct look, feel, and personality of its own and make it almost become another character in your story?

Those are some of the things that folks might think about when it comes to world building. Also, you don’t have to go overboard on the description of a house, restaurant, etc. Small, subtle touches here and there can really add up and give your world/book a lot of atmosphere and personality. 

Jennifer, thank you so much for taking time from your busy schedule to be here and share your thoughts on the importance of building a believable world regardless of the genre we write.

Touch of Frost Available July 26th
Gwen Frost is an outsider at Mythos Academy, a school of myths, magic and warrior whiz kids, where even the lowliest geek knows how to chop off somebody's head with a sword. Gwen is an outsider both to the students of the Academy and the rest of the world. But when her gift of psychometry - the ability to know an object's history just by touching it reveals dark undercurrents and danger afoot, she has no choice but to get involved. EXCERPT

BUY: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books a Million, Borders

Available in both print and e-format. You can also read the prequel, First Frost for 99 cents from the above on-line stores in e-format..


Jennifer Estep is a Southern gal through and through. Sassy, sarcastic, and just a tad crazy.  She happens to think the greatest thing ever created was a library. Indoor plumbing is a close second, though. She has a bachelor’s degree in English and journalism, and a master’s degree in professional communications. Currently, I’m an award-winning features page designer for a daily newspaper.

Jennifer has worked as a features writer and page designer for a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper and has more than 10 years of journalism experience. She’s a member of Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and other writing groups.
Jennifer’s books have been featured in Cosmopolitan, Entertainment Weekly, Southern Living, and a variety of other publications. You can follow her on Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter.