Welcome to the second post of Who Stokes the Fire—my newest blog feature where I talk to content creators who keep the flames burning in our bookdragon hearts. I’m really excited to share this post with y’all because I have one of my favorite authors as a guest! Yeah. Definitely NOT screaming over here.
If you know me well, you must be aware of all my scream-fests regarding Rin Chupeco’s THE BONE WITCH series. It’s truly one of the best YA Fantasy series I have ever read with its gripping political intrigue, formidable characters, and superb world-building. I am one of those readers who live for detailed worlds and I certainly found solace in the well-constructed world of The Bone Witch series.
I have zero talent for writing fiction (as of now) and running to me for writing advice is like running to a brick wall to find wisdom. I therefore ran to Rin because she’s a world-building royalty and I really want this blog to be an outlet to help aspiring readers out there.
Read on as Rin Chupeco tells us more about the world of The Bone Witch and pay close attention as she gives out writing advice and world-building tips!
Rain: Hullo, Rin! It’s an honor to have you here on my blog to talk about world-building with me. First things first: can you walk us through your world-building process?
Rin: I always start with the three Ps – purpose, people, plot. I start by analyzing what I want to get out of the story. Is it gonna be about the MC’s quest for vengeance where she keeps getting sidetracked because she learns to care about other people? (This was THE GIRL FROM THE WELL.) Is it about the end of the world, where Mother Nature herself is forced to attack us like we’re invading parasites because we’ve destroyed it almost beyond repair? (That’s my upcoming THE NEVER TILTING WORLD.) Or when you’re the sidekick in an ensemble cast, where the so-called good guys are the ones actually fighting you? (also my upcoming A HUNDRED NAMES FOR MAGIC series.) With THE BONE WITCH, it was about wanting to change the system, and how whether or not you’re villified depends on who’s writing the history books.
Once I’ve got that general overview in mind, I ask: what kind of people would be populating this world? If magic exists here, who would be using it, and who wouldn’t? Why would one class of people have it, and why won’t others? To use THE BONE WITCH as an example: I’ve decided that the people wielding the magic would be powerful but limited to a certain segment of the population, and that others would fear them for it. In order to maintain their control, they would have to portray themselves as something other than being warriors; to seem as harmless as possible. So I decided to make them entertainers: they’ll publicly serve the people in charge, but at the same time influence politics behind the scenes. They’ll hide the extent of their magic through dances and performances, and use their political power when most of the population isn’t watching. But for this to be possible, the world has to be one that values entertainment. So that’s how the importance of the Willows and Kion came to be, and how heartsglass is prized.
After that is the plot – what’s the worst thing that could happen to the world with this kind of setting? My answer is: someone who’s not ashamed of being powerful without needing to hide it, who strips away Kion’s facade and show people they’ve been fooling them this whole time. That’s where Tea comes in, and that’s where the conflict begins! I wanted the world to feel as beautiful as possible and then start with something absolutely anathema – raising someone from the dead, just for that marked contrast.
Rain: The Bone Witch series is situated in a world full of detail that can leave any reader open-mouthed. Did you have any real-life inspirations that helped you in writing The Eight Kingdoms?
Rin: The Eight Kingdoms has always been a re-imagining of the real world, but with a twist. Most fantasy worlds based on real ones are very Western-centric, but that’s not been my experience, since I was born and raised in the Philippines. So my subversion was setting most of the characters and story in the Asia / Middle Eastern region, and to give it much more power and influence than the Western counterparts in the story. Odalia in particular is based on the Ayubbid dynasty in the Middle East (ruled by Saladin). Kion is a melting pot of cultures with shared Asian/Middle Eastern touches.
Rain: I can only imagine the grueling process of world-building and all the careful plotting it requires. What are some of the difficulties you encounter while building worlds? How do you overcome these difficulties?
Rin: Trying to ferret out all the plotholes. I’m a big fan of hard magic, because I want my system to have a logical in-world basis. I doubt that I’d ever write Tolkien-esque/soft magic, because it comes off at times as deus ex machina to me, where someone conjures up a spell that saves everyone without any foreshadowing or earlier implication that the spell even existed (I try to incorporate the concept of Chekov’s Gun in my stories – it basically means that if a gun goes off in Chapter 10, then it must have been shown or talked about in an earlier chapter first).
The problem with hard magic though, is that you need to make sure your magical system or your world-building answers every problem you might come across while writing the book. You can’t say magic is only blue in book 1, then claim magic is also green in book 2 just because that’s what the new plot calls for. I feel like it does make me more creative in coming up with solutions, which I think improve the story! (As an example, my solution to the rune system in THE BONE WITCH was to create a previously unknown Faceless spellbook in The Heartforger with runes no one previously knew about. I had to make sure it didn’t contradict the laws I’d already stated in the first book, and also looked ahead and decided which of those spells would affect more plots in Book 3. As you now know, The Heartshare rune was a key plot point for that.)
And sometimes I add in plot points that I feel I could probably use in later books, even though I didn’t know what to use them for yet, trusting that I’d find an idea for them later. For example – I didn’t know what I was going to do with the Gorvekkans when I wrote about them in the first book – I just thought to show that Mykaela was bad-ass enough that people would travel for miles just to honor her with a steed! Some plot points I didn’t need to use for later, but I’m glad past me had the foresight to add some leeway for future me to use!
Rain: Tea traveled across the Eight Kingdoms in the course of three books and readers got to see them with her as well. I, for one, really enjoyed Istera with its very impressive library. Which kingdom did you enjoy writing the most?
Rin: Probably Yadosha, and only because the people there were fun to write, since a lot of the characters you meet tend to be of the friendly berserkers variety, so there’s a lot of humor in those chapters. (My favorite scene was Tea getting wasted and drunkenly propositioning her love in front of everyone – the song she sings there would then become a lot more poignant several chapters later)
Rain: I would really love to live in Istera. You can lock me up in their library anyday and I won’t even complain. If you were in the world of The Bone Witch, where would you live and why?
Rin: I’m partial to Kion, even with all its faults. I would probably be working at Chesh’s or Rahim’s because I love gorgeous clothes! (That said, I probably won’t have the makings to be an asha, simply because I am extremely clumsy and share the same froggish singing voice as Tea). I don’t deal very well with extreme cold though, otherwise I would be working in the Isteran library along with you!
Rain: For a reader like me who finds it hard to visualize things, I find maps really important. Did you sketch the maps of The Eight Kingdoms yourself or did you work closely with an artist to capture the world you have created in exact detail?
Rin: It always starts with a very bad, very crudely drawn map that I try to make, for an artist to then render into a stunning work of art. The difference in quality between what I draw and the final product is always embarrassing. Artists go through a few versions of it until we’re both satisfied with the end result! The artist, I think, has it harder; on my end, I can more easily go through what they’ve done and ask for important details to be changed, if any are still required, because the locations are now better drawn and everyone has a better idea of which towns and landmarks should go where! My favorite part for THE BONE WITCH is where I’ve marked all the places where the daeva have been known to resurrect – and also intentionally leaving out where the azi’s is!
Rain: Saying that I am in love with the world you have created would be a huge understatement. I love everything about it but I would just like to know this: are there things that you want to change in The Bone Witch world?
Rin: Thank you! I think, plot-wise, I would have loved to focus more on the fjords and the very pointed division between Tresea and Istera. I came up with a whole history about their wars, but didn’t mention much of it in the books because it wasn’t relevant to the plot and also because the book was long enough as it is! I also would have loved to delve a little bit more about the Great Heroes and their journey, since they’re a big plot point in THE HEARTFORGER. A bit more of their story is fleshed out in THE SHADOWGLASS, but I would have loved to expound more on them.
Rain: I am a fan of books that have well-written worlds. In fact, yours is now at the top of my favorites list. What are some books which have A+ world-building that you can recommend to us?
Rin: I am in love with Circe by Madeline Miller. It’s a retelling of Greek mythology, and it’s one of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever read, with a complete re-imagining of who Circe is as a person and how she affects the male-dominated world she has to live in. I’m also a huge fan of Catherynne Valente, particularly her Fairyland novels and Deathless!
Rain: I don’t see myself writing a fantasy book in the future but if I actually decide to write one, I will certainly run to your books for inspiration. What world-building tips can you give to aspiring writers?
Rin: Read non-fiction. I know it’s a weird tip, but it’s worked so well for me. Non-fiction is where people who are usually experts in a certain field write books about their profession, but in a way that must be concise and understandable to the average reader, who would generally know nothing about the subject. You are the expert of the fantasy world you’re building, so that’s the same challenge. But learning how to write that information in such a way that people would not only learn more about it, but become interested and invested in your world, is an art form that should be constantly honed.
Fiddler on the Subway and the Freakonomics books are my favorites, but I have also learned so much about character writing with biographies: Abraham Lincoln, Wyatt Earp, Gregory Scarpa, etc. One of the most fascinating books I’ve read is about the rise and fall of the oyster industry in New York in the early 1900s and I have very little interest in oyster farming as a given, so be open to reading books you never thought you might be interested in! Non-fiction writers start with generalities that readers already know, then work their way up from there. It’s very much the same concept.
Rain: The Shadowglass has been out for weeks and I must admit I cried while reading the last chapters of the book. I will certainly miss all the characters and the world itself. What can you say to all the bookdragons who have supported you throughout Tea’s journey?
Rin: My series and my books would be nothing without all of you. Seven years ago I started to query my first book, with no idea what I was getting into, and with no one to ask for help, because as far as I knew I was the only one in the Philippines who was actively seeking agent representation in the US traditional publishing industry. I had to go with my gut, and with knowing that I had stories that was worth listening to. That wouldn’t have happened without people cheering me on and willing to take a chance with my odd stories and my penchant for experimenting. So – thank you! I will always be grateful to you guys!
BOOKS BY RIN CHUPECO
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Despite an unsettling resemblance to Japanese revenants, Rin always maintains her sense of hummus. Born and raised in Manila, Philippines, she keeps four pets: a dog, two birds, and a husband. Dances like the neighbors are watching.
She is represented by Rebecca Podos of the Helen Rees Agency. She is also fond of speaking in the third person, and may as well finish this short bio in this manner. While she does not always get to check her Goodreads page, shedoes answer questions posed to her here as promptly as she is able to. Find her at the following places instead:
For updates, events, and new releases, sign up for her newsletter at http://www.rinchupeco.com/newsletter
Thank you so much to Rin Chupeco for alloting some of her time to answer my questions! She’s truly a blessing to this world 💕