Imaginative Wacky Funfest: The World-building of Mabel's City

Two things come very easily to me: world-building and procession.

By procession, I mean the grand entrance. Storming the keep. This scene type is the first thing that comes to mind with great music. It could be someone striding, running, or it could be someone tearing through crowds. Dramatic high points like Mabel rushing through the wildfire forest or approaching Diem. I'm a very melodramatic thinker.

But world-building... Oh man. Just wait a moment while I swoon.

I love world-building. I might not be good at it, but I sure as Hell like doing it. World building in fantasy and science fiction is creative the impossible universe with just enough realism to make it believable. You have the opportunity to amass a wealth of details—secret societies, spells, histories—and as long as it's yours, well... it's yours. Play nuts. Go God.

Post Tolkien, fantasy writers has come and gone making their legendariums—awesome word, huh?—and the crazy thing about the great fantasy novels is that only a sliver of the author's legendarium makes it into the manuscript.
(Legendarium is an infinitely cooler word for "canon"  It has more impact.)

The only problem with world-building is when it goes overboard. Writing and editing go hand in hand, and often fantasy writers will start their story with their world-building. I think that's a huge mistake. It results in stuff like, "In the fifth year, King Xeromos waged war against the fairies and destroyed them. But Prince Kasast of the fairy nation to the North went South... The paper guild refused to enforce the tariff that would fund the senate... Prince Kasat's son married Themost, son of the former king, who didn't believe in fairies... Then fifty years later, the senate voted to overthrow the king and when the people led by the paper guild revolted, the prince..."

Ten pages later, we get to the prince escaping from the burning palace.

Anyway, there's a lot of stuff there. And the truth of the matter is, we only care about the dramatic part. Readers have short attention spans. I have a short attention span. Why not start with your punch line? We'll start off laughing, right?

Ban politics from fantasy. Just do it. No one loves or remembers the senate scenes from Attack of the Clones for a reason. (We might remember Yoda fighting the Emperor.) Violent politics can be interesting, but really we're just interested in the violence. If I had a dollar for every well-meaning first fantasy novel that hinged on mind-numbing senate/guild/league politics, I could buy myself a fancy lunch everyday for the rest of my life.

Mabel's City only has a partial legendarium. I'm glad I did that because it prevents me from detail-dumping on the reader. Mabel's City is built more like an episodic fantasy thriller. It's more concerned with Mabel living and succeeding from chapter to chapter. She's on the run from the wizarding establishment, and she's never been introduced to it, so we don't know much about it either. Mabel's world is her university, the city of Los Angeles, and the night club.

Basically, I didn't give myself "time" to detail dump. We get introduced to the Court through Lawrence's eyes, but it's a cursory glance.

Every book in this series introduces readers to a new part of the world. Mabel's City introduces Los Angeles. Iji's City introduces the Court.

But obviously there's some magical world-building in Mabel, and I'd like to talk about that a little bit.

Like my character-building, Mabel is a gumbo of things that have been plucked, combined, and simmered. I delight in world-building in new ways, but here are some influences that I cannot deny.


I've grown up with Harry Potter. Mabel's City is a story about witches and wizards and magic, and it doesn't take a technovampiric genius to figure that Mabel is a part of the school of thought. I love Harry Potter an awful lot. But there's also Howl's Moving Castle, The Prestige, and The Night Circus. I love magicians. So I'm writing a series about magicians.

But when I think about influence, oddly enough, the biggest presence in my mind is Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings films. There's a grandeur about The Lord of the Rings. The story is huge—descended from the granddaddy of all legendariums—but it's moving. Grand, but still personal.  Tolkein said that he sought to show fundamental truths in his fantasy. What a goal to strive towards. Just writing this makes me feel tiny and inadequate in comparison.

Third, the city of Los Angeles. I was not born and raised in L.A., so this place isn't "ordinary" for me. This bizarre city has a beat, a personality of its own. You're likely to overhear a conversation in a coffee shop about a intergalactic prince or a wacky apartment complex story. And it's not strange. What a place for magicians to hide in plain sight!

I grew up with Pokemon, and the idea of capturing and fighting with magical monsters isn't new. Pokemon did it the best.

Like I mentioned before, there's an awkwardness with admitting influences. None of these are mind-blowing considering it's 2013. And like I said before, inspiration and influence are only a starting point in the gumbo recipe. It's exciting to look down at a page and realize that you've created an entirely new world. And it's all yours.

Over the next week I'll be siting down and doing world-building for Iji's City.

Tomorrow I will be printing off my first copy of Mabel's City for editing.