kharrigan continent map c. Loretta Sylvestre/Joe Bone

Everyone Wants to Talk Worldbuilding

Lou Hoffmann's smiling faceEverybody wants to talk about worldbuilding.

Well, okay, not everybody. People who aren’t authors may not have even heard the term—possible exception, avid readers or watchers of sci-fi and fantasy. I imagine most authors of fiction know the word, but if they’re writing anything set in our contemporary and mundane world, they may not care much about it.

So, when I say “everybody” wants to talk about it, I really mean a lot of fantasy and sci-fi writers. More specifically, me. I want to talk about it, right here, right now, in this blog post. 😊

Why would anyone do it?

If a book is going to be about magic or elves, time travel or interdimensional portals, spaceships or planetary aliens, they need a world to exist in. (You can put them downtown Chicago, but then it’s not Chicago anymore, and you’ve got to rebuild it for the misfits to fit.)

 How the heck is it done?

This, in fact, is the question “everybody” (not just me) wants to talk about. An author can choose from an array of methods, mix and match, or take an imaginary overworld flight and write it down. Certain things are needed, no matter how you organize the “finding” of them:

  • Physical world—geography and perhaps geology, buildings, roads, etc.
  • Language and culture(s)
  • Magic system or technology (or both)
  • Religion or mythology—some type of belief system framework
  • Political system(s)
  • Economic system(s)

There’s a lot more that could be listed, but most things will fall into those categories. Unless I forgot something, which is possible. Let me know if you see that I did. 😊

For the method-building author.

If an author wants to go with a method—not a bad choice; why reinvent the wheel?—the choices abound. I searched “worldbuilding” on Amazon. Just click the link and scan the listed books. You’ll see what I mean. Some of them are actual books, some of them workbooks, some fantasy oriented, others looking more toward sci-fi, and still others are about role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinders—help for the jaded DM, perhaps. Incidentally RPG “novels” are ever more popular, so those last could certainly work for authors as well.

My point is, if an author wants a method, there is one out there that should work. I haven’t read any of the listed books, though years ago, I read some others that were more popular then. I didn’t use them as methods, but I’m sure I was influenced by fore-authors experience and ideas.

What do authors say?

I’m assuming here that you’d like to hear from some authors on the subject—I mean authors other than the writers of books and workbooks. And also, other than me. 😊 Here’s a link to a blog post on Not strictly about worldbuilding, these are fantasy authors and their thoughts do touch on the subject. Another blog post, this one on Bookish, has four discrete interviews with fantasy authors. One of the question addresses specifically what they find the most difficult about the process of worldbuilding. All good stuff.

A favorite author quote, short and to the point.Woman with saddle shoes.

 “The muse in charge of fantasy wears good, sensible shoes.”

                                                                                    —Lloyd Alexander

Personally, I just went for it.

That’s right. As is my way with just about everything I’m learning to do, I read up, studied a bit, made some false starts, and then made the world—or rather worlds—of The Sun Child Chronicles. And though I didn’t plan it this way, I actually started by building characters, and then building worlds around them. I needed worlds in which these particular characters would work, could exist as I saw them—as I had come to know them. And yes, though I’d never heard the above quote back then, indeed an awful lot about the worlds was clearly guided by a muse in sensible shoes. No matter how magical, how renowned a warrior, how terrible or beautiful or fear-inspiring, there is at least some element of “just common sense” about each and every characters. So the same is true of the worlds I build to house them

But it wasn’t a one-off.

As I’ve mentioned, there are various schools of thought about worldbuilding (as there are about every writerly pursuit from grammar to dialogue tags to genres). Some authors, before they ever write a word, spend a long time inventing a world. We’re talking years—even decades. I could never do that because of something I call…

The just-write imperative.

I needed to put some words on paper, or rather mostly in pixels. When I got too antsy with working out world particulars, I started to write. But I was new on the job. Things didn’t quite gel, more often than not. When I realized I was spinning my wheels, I looked around for help and just happened to find a book, a how-to-write, that actually worked. It’s still out there, available, and I’ll link the author here: The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray. It broke down drafting a book start to finish in 52 “weeks,” or sections. (I’m going to add here that I had the 1994 edition. I’ve seen later versions. They seem substantially changed, though I haven’t investigated how different they are.)

Inclines and storyboards

The book bases the book structure on Aristotle’s incline—an age-old concept that literally can be applied to the vast majority of novels old or new. Although it wasn’t the first time I’d heard of it, it did help me to back up and plot my story along the incline. It was fun, too, done with a long roll of craft paper, a yardstick, markers, and sticky notes. I put it up on the wall. Man did I ever feel like a writer then!

But the most useful idea in Ray’s book, for me, was the way he’d adapted the TV scriptwriters “storyboard” to novel writing. I’m not going to go into how it’s done—as I said the book is still available and there may be other sources. But I’ll tell you how it helped.

Create the scene.

For each scene in my novel, I needed to back (mentally) away from the writing, slow down and create the scene in my mind. I had to be in the world to know how that particular place at that particular moment looked, sounded, felt, smelled, etc. Thinking about what was present made me also think about why it was there—and though that didn’t likely end up in my storyboard, it did end up in the world of my story. Though I rarely formally use this method now, it still frames the way I approach developing a scene. And because of that, about every scene develops either one or more characters or their worlds or both. The world gets richer and richer, and the complexity is in the details.

Don’t show, and don’t tell.

Whether they do it all in advance or all on the fly, or a combination of the two (like me), often much of what an author creates when worldbuilding is never told, and neither is it shown. Instead, it’s implied. That way, the reader creates the world. How cool is that?

If I have a thousand readers, I’ve spawned a thousand worlds.

But they all share this map. 😊 This world is the home of Lucky (the Sun Child), Thurlock, and Han, and is where most of the story takes place beginning in book 2 of the series. I have a map of the fictional city in California in which most of book 1 happens, but it’s chicken scratch and you wouldn’t want to see it. Maybe I’ll fix that problem before rereleasing the revised books. But this map, of the Kharrighan Continent in the world called Ethra, is to me a treasure. I made a rough version of the map using GIMP, an open-source software for creating and manipulating art, but the finished product is a beauty created by artist Joe Bone, who has my gratitude forever.

kharrigan continent map c. Loretta Sylvestre/Joe Bone

Thanks for reading!

That’s my bit about worldbuilding, at least for now. I don’t claim to be expert, just a practitioner of the fantasy-writing arts. If you found something interesting, questionable, confounding, or debatable, I hope you’ll comment below. Or visit me online.

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On Twitter, I’m @Lou_Hoffmann

Sci-fi, physics as inspiration for YA Fantasy stories.

My Writer Brain and YA Fantasy

Lou Hoffmann's smiling faceThis week, I’m back to blogging…

…on Monday. I’m trying to take the schedule/time bull by the horns, and I hope I’ll be able to post some words on Wednesday too. For today’s post, I’m flashing back to a blog post I posted in 2016 on Drops of Ink, a wonderful blog owned by author and reviewer Anne Barwell. I’ve revised that post to fit what I want to blog about today…

Me! Or rather, my writing brain.

As you may know, I’m focusing on shaping up and rereleasing (one way or another), my series, The Sun Child Chronicles. First published in 2016, the stories this time around will be updated and told a little tighter. It will have a few new scenes and the emphasis will shift here and there. But the characters and the story—which has some elements of sci-fi as well as fantasy—won’t change much at all.

Read the series blurb (the story in a nutshell), here.

I admit, it’s a bit of a crazy plot.

Sci-fi, physics as inspiration for YA Fantasy stories.Which makes it fun and interesting to write, but also might make a person wonder how it came to me. The truth is, I was thinking about quantum and particle physics. About what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance,” about string theory with its possible numerous dimensions and world’s splitting off in time, and about the idea that either time is not constant, or we are not constant within it, or both. And then, I admit, I’m always thinking sword-wielding warrior-protectors, and old wizard curmudgeons.

And why write for young people?

I guess partly because most of the young people I know also like warrior-protectors and old wizard curmudgeons. 🙂 But mostly because when I was young, a love of books is what saw me through some very difficult times.

Fiction was one of my very truest teachers…

…when it came to learning how to live in the world, what it means to be a human among millions of humans all the same yet vastly different. The love of reading gave me an academic edge. And that was responsible for my ability to pick myself up out of a very low place—low economically, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. “Saved my life,” is the shorthand version of all that, and it is certainly true.

I write for young people because I want young people to read. I write diverse characters in my fiction because I want every young person to find themselves in the pages—the person they are; the hero, brother, sister, girlfriend, boyfriend, best friend, citizen, human they are becoming.

Here’s what Scottish YA author Theresa Breslin said, making the point much more succinctly than I.

“In addition to exploring imaginative worlds, I believe that young people should have access to reading material that validates their life, that gives them a sense of identity—to be able to read texts that chimes with their own world, corrals thoughts, and connects with the emotional conflicts of growing up.”

Back in 2016, a 13-year-old boy reviewed book 1, Key of Behliseth on Litpick. He gave the book a five-star rating and called it a “buffet of words… such a fun book to read.” He said “I loved every word of this work of art.” Yes, of course, as does every author I like to see praise of my book. But what I love most is that the existence of the review means this young boy is a reader and a thinker. The process of making the review involved him analyzing and defining what he liked (and didn’t like) between the book’s covers.

Reading YA Fantasy is for young people from 12 to 99.
Elderly woman is reading a book to her beloved granddaughter. Black and white photo.

That is the very best kind of learning, and my book got to play a little part in it. Awesome.

But “young” can be any age!

Although I write YA fantasy, I’m pretty sure young people from about 12 to 99 or so will find plenty to love in the book, and that makes me happy, too.

So now you know…

…a little bit about what gets my brain writing. Thank you for reading! Comments so very welcome. Also, I’d love to see you elsewhere on the web.

Find my Lou Hoffmann Books page on Facebook

On Twitter, I’m @Lou_Hoffmann

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Wednesday Words: Si Vis Pacem…

lou hoffmann books square iconVIC (Very Important Character) Han Shieth…

…carries a whole spectrum of duties on his two-century-old shoulders. First and foremost, he’s the wizard Thurlock’s “shield man.” His role as Lucky’s confidant and guardian rank second in importance officially, but if push came to shove, he’d throw over the wizard to save his nephew. He’s the best horseman and trainer in the Sunlands—see Windrunner, Simmarhon, Sherah, and Zefrel. But he’s a military man too, the general of all the Sunlands armed forces. And when he’s in the world of Ethra, that  takes up most of his time.

Dragon’s Rise

Book four in The Sun Child Chronicles is titled Dragon’s Rise for reasons that have a lot to do with Han, but wait until later to find out why. Right now , I just want to share with you a short excerpt from that book, a little of Han’s inner workings as he prepares himself to prepare the Sunlands for war.

Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum

Han had enough experience of life to tell him that no time of trouble such as the Sunlands was now experiencing was likely to end peacefully. With great luck, they might not have war. But it would be foolish to blindly trust to that slim chance.

Si vis pacem, para bellum,” he whispered.

Warrior Han An Earthborn, a Roman named Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus had written those words a long time ago, and Han never forgot them after reading them while he was in Earth with Thurlock. It meant, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” Like the military truisms in the writings of Earthborn Sun Tzu—in The Art of War—and the premises of the Sunlands’ own Laws of the Sword, the simple sentence stated a large truth in a nutshell. But Han didn’t think Renatus’s statement was true everywhere and always. Sometimes, building for war meant inviting attack. Still, he knew without a single doubt that when all the signs point to the need for a defense, it’s best to have one.

If he’d had any doubt that now was such a time, it vanished when he’d arrived home last night to find a copy of that very book of Renatus’s writings on his pillow with a bookmark at the relevant page. He’d smiled at the small gift, even though he understood the meaning of it was grim. It was one of the things Thurlock had always done for him through the long years they’d worked together: If they went separate ways for separate tasks, he gave Han something extra, something specific that he would need along the way. When he was to fight Isa’s thralls in Black Creek Ravine, it was flame arrows. And this time, the gift wasn’t so much the book as it was the boost to Han’s confidence in his own military mind.

That’s it for this week’s words.

Thank you so much for reading. Just a reminder: I’m still looking for alpha and beta readers (see the blog post just before this one)—contact me if interested.

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On Twitter, I’m @Lou_Hoffmann

K'ormahk, winged stallion in The Sun Child Chronicles

Beasts, Dragons, and Fantasy Folks

Hello readers! This post isn’t about what I’m changing and new things I’m doing. Switching things up, today I’m going to tell you about something that won’t change.

Fantasy world populations: huge and strange

The Sun Child Chronicles develops a huge cast of characters and creatures by the time it gets into the fifth book. The variety of experience for readers (and authors) is one of the things I love best about the genre. Fantasy plots are thick and enticing. Well-written fantasy usually often includes delightfully balanced prose—lyrical, but not overdone. But I love the vast potential for variety in the beings that inhabit a fantasy world. To complicate things even more deliciously, some fantasies also venture into sci-fi. In The Sun Child Creatures, the Terrathians and their strange apparatus definitely fall into that category, along with some plot and world-structure elements.

Lists and pictures and things, oh my!

Below you’ll find a glossary-type list of some of the characters, beasts, and creatures introduced by book 3 in The Sun Child Chronicles. I hope you enjoy it, but if you want to go looking for other strange creatures, here are a few references I found.

  1. A list with some images of creatures from mythology, on
  2. Here’s a Pinterest (Shelby Peterson) with hundreds of images of “humanoid” fantasy beings. View with caution. Some images may be dark or disturbing.
  3. And—no surprise—there’s a Wikipedia! The Fantasy Creatures Category has a list with many subcategories. One could get lost down this rabbit hole!

Characters and Creatures

(A List of some important players introduced in Key of Behliseth, Wraith Queen’s Veil, and Ciarrah’s Light)

The Main Characters

Others, in Alphabetical Order

A-BImage and text: I am Baneshieldh, the wolf who keeps these woods.

  • Aedanh: Liliana’s renowned stallion
  • Ahrion: a legendary white winged horse
  • Alahn Kahrry: an elder of the Sisterhold
  • Artko Mak: A bear shifter from Earth
  • Baneshieldh: wolf who rules his forest, where magic doesn’t work
  • Black Dragon: a rare wingless dragon native to the Ehls
  • Blue Drakes: a magically mutated creature made from green dragon eggs


  • Cairnwights: thin humanoid residents of Ethra’s far north, glacier wolf handlers
  • Caveblight: an Ethran animal, single eye, hunts by heat, teeth like a beaver but pointed
  • Ciarrah: an ancient dragon-kin girl, Niamh’s sister, now an obsidian magical dagger
  • Dawn cats: large wild felines who hunt at dawn, also called venom cats or death kittens
  • Gerania: second in command of Behlishan’s Guard, Zhevi’s mother’s cousin
  • Ghriffon: King of the flame eagles
  • Glacier wolves: a pack-oriented Ethran canine; large, shaggy, with double rows of teeth
  • Guriohl: Morrow’s seventh son, Lucky’s boyfriend, also known as Rio

K'ormahk, winged stallion in The Sun Child ChroniclesH-K

  • Hank George: older Earthborn man of the Kotah’neh people, took Lucky in when he was banished to Earth at age 12
  • Henry George: nephew of Hank George, last bearer of the Mark of the Others, Sacramento firefighter, California Condor Shifter
  • Isa, the Witch-Mortaine: a witch thoroughly possessed by evil
  • Jehnseth: an official at the Sisterhold, a witch
  • Khoralie: a wizard of Ethra
  • Koehl: sergeant in Behlishan’s Guard
  • K’ormahk: a mighty, winged black stallion


  • L’Aria Tira: young girl tied to Lucky by prophecy, only child of Tiro L’Rieve, possessor of River Song magic
  • Lemon Martinez: a grumpy grey cat Thurlock and Han found under the Martinez Bridge
  • Liliana, The Lady Grace: Lucky’s mother, member of the Sunlands council, chief of the elite cavalry known as Shanha’s Rangers, renowned and infamous witch
  • Mahros: ill-tempered, resentful, powerful wizard related to Thurlock;
  • Maizie: a yellow mongrel dog Lucky raised during his time as a homeless teen
  • Morrow, the Stable Master: an immortal who, with his seven sons, raises horses


  • Nahk’tesh: Naht’kah’s eternal consort and her magical opposite, also known as the taker
  • Naht’kah: ancestor of all dragons and the Drakha and Droghona, also known as the giver
  • Nat’Kori: ancient Drakha stone wright who shaped Ciarrah and Niamh
  • Niamh: an ancient dragon-kin boy, Ciarrah’s brother, now an amber magical dagger
  • Olana: respected Droghona elder, gifted light-worker
  • Olmar: lieutenant (later captain) in Behlishan’s Guard
  • Pahlanus: powerful Terrathian Prime


  • Rosishan: Lucky’s aunt, Liliana’s half sister, council member, renowned witch
  • Sherah: Thurlock’s renowned mare
  • Simarrohn: Han’s well-trained mare
  • Tahlina: healer at the Sisterhold
  • Talon Bastien: speaker of the eagle-shifter clan from Earth
  • Tennehk: Good friend of Han, spy, nurse
  • Tiro L’Rieve: oldest living being in Ethra, only native Ethran shifter, origin of River Song magic, L’Aria’s father

Windrunner image—He wasn't always called Windy.W-Z

  • Windrunner: An old white horse now known as Windy
  • Wraith Queen: the wraith of a once living queen; helps the Ethran dead move on
  • Zefrehl: Lucky’s horse, a descendant of Windrunner
  • Zhevi: young soldier, Lucky’s good friend, L’Aria’s boyfriend


Thanks for reading!

I hope these brief descriptions set your imagination spinning. 🙂 And please feel free to ask questions or comment—tell me your favorite creature or whatever. You can comment here or find me on Facebook or Twitter.


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On Twitter, I’m @Lou_Hoffmann



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