The Evolution of a Landscape

by Chantal Boudreau

I’m not sure if this is true of all writers, but when I start writing something I decide not to finish, that doesn’t spell the end of it. If I’m creating a new story idea or novel concept, I’ll often beg, borrow and steal from defunct tales that I think have worthy bits and pieces which will serve as effective building blocks for something else – a literary version of reduce, reuse and recycle.

Sometimes it’s characters. In my sixth Masters & Renegades book (likely to be released a couple of years from now) one of the protagonists is a wizard name Angellica whom I recovered from the shambles of an earlier novel that never made it past chapter one. I liked her though, so I couldn’t let her die with the rest of the story, so out she came for something else.

Sometimes it’s objects. Angellica had a family heirloom, the weavecharm, I wasn’t about to abandon either, so I built it into book six as well. It actually proved to be a valuable plot device and inspired the next two books in the series. It placed an important role in those two novels as well – continuing on without Angellica.

Sometimes it’s places. Seaforest is the setting for most of book six, but it’s also the setting for part of book four (hopefully out later this year) and is mention in the first book of the series Magic University, since two of the characters have journeyed from Seaforest to the Admission Trials. But Seaforest, and it’s capital city, Feltrey, didn’t start with my current fantasy series. It didn’t even begin with “A Fly on the Wall,” one of my first short stories recently published in the Bellator charity anthology.

In fact, Seaforest grew up from a rather rough and ragged version of itself spawned by my disastrous trunk novel written in my teens and never to see the light of day again (I’m still embarrassed I let a couple of friends read it – it’s just awful.)

But I did want to preserve the basic concept. It was initially home to a rather primitive village in the woods alongside a salt lake the natives called a sea. I liked the rustic beauty of the area in my mind’s eye and I could relate well to it, because I grew up in a wooded area beside the ocean. So even though the novel ended up trunked, that wasn’t the end to Seaforest. In order to be used properly, however, because it was in its most basic form, it needed to evolve. While it had a foundation, it lacked history, it demanded politics and most of all, it cried out for character.

It didn’t get all of those things right away. I started writing a novel set in a neighbouring principality that touched on some of the nuances missing from Seaforest when it was mentioned – some of the politics…some of the history. That novel was tossed, as many were when I first started writing novels, but I kept the developments to Seaforest, determined to see it to its full potential.

I finally did manage to firm Seaforest up a little more when I used it as the backdrop for two successfully completed short stories, “A Fly on the Wall,” mentioned before, and a yet-to-be-published tale called “Eliza’s Shell” which was actually a non-genre story I converted to a fantasy format. Now I had Feltrey, the principality’s capital, established. I felt the place demonstrated real character with a good understanding of its history and background, as well as a strong impression of the landscape, flora, fauna and population. It felt real, but the short stories only gave a glimpse of the place as a whole. To finalize its evolution, it had to be openly explored.

That didn’t happen when I reintroduced the principality of Seaforest in Magic University. While important to Tom and Snyder’s backgrounds, Seaforest wasn’t an integral part of the storyline, so it remained mostly an enigma, talk about in passing by some of the characters, shrouded by secrets and suggestions. This did set it up to play an important part later in the series, which it does starting in book four, Victims of Circumstance. This is where Seaforest finally gets to display its development in all its complexity and detail. Locations are visited and everything from weather to architecture to high-end politics are discussed (all important to the story and not just thrown out there – I don’t like encyclopedic demonstrations of world-building.)

So that, in a nutshell, is how Seaforest evolved from an underdeveloped tract of land to a full and active principality playing centre-piece to my novels. You hear a lot about the creative processes involved in fantasy world-building, so I thought it might be nice to share some of my own experiences with this. I’d be interested to know how others bring their fantasy landscapes to fruition, be it by some assembly of individual components, evolving from a basic concept as I have done with Seaforest or some other way altogether.

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2 comments on “The Evolution of a Landscape

  1. Great post, Chantal. I haven’t done this with a setting yet, but the third book in the Icarus Fell series grew out of a totally unrelated short story I began years ago. It’s why I never get rid of anything I’ve written, no matter how bad. When I edit, if I cut out chunks, I keep them in a separate file, just in case.
    Everything gets written for a reason.

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