Friday, April 29, 2016

3 Martina Boone Shares the Magic of World Building

Over the years, I have been privileged to read all Martina Boone's books...including a couple that have not YET been published. As immensely talented as Martina is, perhaps the skill I envy the most is her ability to craft a world in such exquisite detail that I feel as if I become a part of it along with her characters. So there is no one better equipped to share with us some specific tips for world building. Thank you, Martina.

World-building: The Hooks of Magic in Your Book
By Martina Boone

One of the things that J.K. Rowling does best with her Harry Potter books is the way that she twists and incorporates classic mythology to create something new. Myths have undoubted power. Tapping into them is a great way to add heart and depth to a modern story because, over time, the power of myth has burned into the human dna. 

As Joseph Campbell, perhaps the best known writer on the subject of mythology, put it:

"Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths."

When we write at our best and most enduring, I am convinced, we are writing our own personal spin on a myth. The deeper the myth and the more we embellish it, the truer it becomes. And at its core, fiction is truth. Unless we make a story true, we cannot make it readable.

So what is truth in fiction? Emotion. That is the real power of myth: honest emotion shown in a way that others can understand and relate to their own experiences.

We all know there are only a handful of stories in the world. What sets them apart are:

  • the craft and the artistry with which they are told
  • the timing in which they are delivered, and
  • the characters that bring them to life.
The truth is in the details. That is why we have to spend time on world-building. Whether we are writing fantasy or southern literature, paranormal or mystery, our characters must inhabit complete worlds populated by other round characters. They must all interact in interesting locations brought to life by unique and identifiable music, food, weather, clothing—all the trappings of actual life. In order to create a living, breathing book, we have to also create community, a place where readers want to move in and stay a while.

Here is another quote from Joseph Campbell:
"I don't believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.” 
What does that really mean? What is the experience of being alive in a book? It is the experience of what it means to be the characters in that book. It means that we aren't simply showing the action. We are making the reader experience it along with the characters. To do so, we invoke what the character's see, smell, hear, taste, touch, feel.  And we make that unique. That's what Rowling does best. She makes her world and her stories unique but universal at the same time. She taps into the power of myth to reach the deepest truth and build the truest fictional world.

Think about some of her most powerful images:

  • The boy with the thunderbolt on his forehead. Thanks to mythology, we all equate the thunderbolt with the strongest gods.
  • The boy in the closet under the stairs. As a symbol, this has great power. Not only is he metaphorically "in the closet" – with his true self hidden, but he is at the basest part of the house, at the very bottom with nowhere to go but up. He lives in the dark, he lives as a servant. She's told us all of that in one sentence: "Harry was used to spiders, because the cupboard under the stairs was full of them, and that was where he slept."
Don't make the mistake of thinking that a kick-ass plot and some bits of mythology or symbolism are going to turn your opus into the next HARRY POTTER. What makes J.K. Rowling (and every other bestselling author) so successful is the specificity of the world-building. Tap into this in your own work by using hooks.

In Susan Sipal's Writer's Guide to Harry Potter, she identified "the hook" as an aspect of Rowling's success. She applied it to character:
"One technique JKR utilizes to make each individual stand out unique from the others is to give each character a hook; a description, personality trait, or association which defines him or her and distinguishes them from everyone else. A hook is one of the earliest and simplest tools to help familiarize your reader with your character. Simply put, a hook is something the reader can hang their memory on, that helps them, especially in the early stages of your story, remember who that character is and what their place is in your world."
In my own writing, I have discovered that I can apply hooks to every aspect of my work. I am becoming convinced that each world, each fictional community, each character, each location, each chapter, each page in the book should have a hook. 

  • World: What sets your world apart from every other world? What makes it different than our world? What makes is more wonderful? More horrible? More terrifying? More beautiful?
  • Community: What sets this group of friends or co-conspirators apart from the norm? What brings them together into a cohesive unit? What makes this "group" something that your readers will want to belong to? What is the hook on which this community is based?
  • Character: What is the most memorable thing about your character? What distinguishes him or her from every other character? Physically? Personality-wise? In background? Include a hook for each.
  • Location: What is the most memorable thing about your setting? Your overall setting? Your scene settings? Include a hook for every place, and include things that your characters can interact with to "set" the mood and location in the reader's mind.
  • Chapter: What happens in each chapter that is unique? What is the one-sentence take-away and how did you make it memorable?
  • Page: Is there a detail of character, setting, scene, or community that is memorable and alive?
World-building is easier said than done. I think it is probably the most difficult thing to do. The artistry in it comes not from including overwhelming details, but from selecting the most telling details. In choosing the details that will best convey the hook to the reader, and then by artistically showing different facets of the hook to set it in the reader's mind.

Think of tapping into the power of myth as the structure of the story you are weaving, and use the hooks of your characters, settings, community, and so on as the threads that create a vivid and detailed tapestry. When you put the warp and weft all together, you will have something unique and enduring.

About the Author

Martina Boone is the author of Compulsion and Persuasion, out now in the romantic Southern Gothic Heirs of Watson Island trilogy from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. Illusion, the final book, will be out in October of 2016. Martina is also the founder of, a three-time Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She's on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.


  1. Excellent post. And I so agree about choosing the details we use carefully.

  2. As a Campbell and Potter fangirl how can I not love this post? Brava.

  3. All of these three books are award winning of same person.
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