Monday, December 2, 2013

Guest Post by Michael "Tinker" Pearce: Building a Fantasy World

Let’s talk about building a fantasy world, and let’s begin by admitting that I am nobody’s idea of an expert. My wife and I have created exactly one "world" between us, and the only things set there thus far are a single novel, a novella and a short story.  Our resume is NOT epic, so I can only speak to this subject from our own limited experience.

I make Medieval European-style swords, and when I started I was determined to do it right, so I studied Medieval swords to see not merely what they looked like, but why they looked that way. I discovered lots of things influenced their designs: the armor that they had to defeat, the metallurgical technology and Guild structure of the industry that produced them, on and on. The deeper I went down the rabbit-hole the more influences and connections I found.  In the end I realized that I couldn’t study Medieval swords without studying the Medieval period.  This principle carried over into creating the world of “Diaries of a Dwarven Rifleman.”

Building a fantasy world is a lot like coding—there are a lot of “If X then Y” propositions. Let’s take on aspect of a fantasy world and look at how it affects everything else. I actually started building the world of our novel with the idea of Dwarven riflemen in a medieval fantasy setting.  The problem with guns in fantasy is that if one group had them, sooner rather than later everyone would have them.  Guns are not particularly complicated or hard to figure out once you have the concept; then everyone starts in improving them, and pretty soon you don’t have a medieval fantasy anymore.  So how do you prevent this proliferation?  The obvious answer was, “It’s a fantasy— use magic!” The simplest and most obvious way to employ magic is the ability to prevent gunpowder from detonating… or detonate it prematurely. 

This raises the question of how the dwarves prevent this, and my studies had led me down some pretty obscure paths, so I knew the answer: They use air-rifles of a type that uses a very particular technology. The guns are simple, but the technology to recreate them is very, very difficult.  But every answer brings up new questions, like why hasn’t some enterprising dwarf sold the tech for profit?  What part of their culture makes the dwarves so paranoid that they will employ the measures needed to keep the secret, and what history formed that culture?  More questions then—where did dwarves come from?  How did they get from there to where they are today? How does this affect the way they deal with other races? With each other?  Every question spawns more questions until you have a pretty complete picture of your world.

When I am selling a sword, if I told the customer every single detail of how and why it is the way it is and all the processes and research used to design it, their eyes would roll up in their head and they’d fall over before they could complete their purchase.  Similarly, if I gave out every single detail of everything that I’d figured out about the world of “Diaries of a Dwarven Rifleman,” it would make for a very long and tedious book.  I know, because Linda made me cut a lot of that stuff out. Yes, I pouted, but she is wiser than I. “Does it advance the story?” “Do we really need to know this?” I heard a lot of that when I over-geeked.

Why does all this matter?  We may be fledgling writers but we are lifelong readers, and as such we know the importance of not breaking immersion in the story. Its easier to keep our attention if there are no jarring inconsistencies, nothing to break us out of the story and say, "Huh?"  The more logical and consistent the rules the easier it is to get out heads into that world. 

Our goal with "Diaries of a Dwarven Rifleman" was to tell an entertaining story that people would enjoy reading.  But we also wanted to set that story in a world that seemed real and larger than the story. We felt the way to do that was to understand our world and to make it seem real to us.  We think—we hope—that we succeeded.  


Michael "Tinker" Pearce
Michael “Tinker” Pearce lives in Seattle with his wife and co-author Linda. In 1992 he settled down to become a sword maker, specializing in the blades of medieval Europe and the Viking Era. He is the author of “The Medieval Sword in the Modern World,” and the designer of the CAS Iberia Tinker Line of medieval swords and trainers. He is a trained theatrical fighter and choreographer, and a student of Historic European Martial Arts. He co-authored the Foreworld novella “The Shield Maiden” and the couple released their first novel “Diaries of a Dwarven Rifleman” in early 2013. They released a sequel novella, “Diaries of a Dwarven Rifleman: Rear Guard” in September 2013. Their second Foreworld Novella “Tyr’s Hammer” was published in October 2013.

Linda Pearce
The couple is currently working on their second novel, “Rage of Angels,” a hard-science military science-fiction story. They hope to complete this book by the end of the year. Future projects include the full-length sequel to “Diaries of a Dwarven Rifleman,” “Lord of the North” is in the works for 2014 as is the Contemporary Fantasy "The Gray Man’s Journal.”


  1. Loved hearing about Michael's world building. Yes, you have to know way more than you tell in the story. Congrats on your book!

  2. Interesting to read about Michael's world building. I've never tried that and find it very intimidating, so I admire those who do. Nice to meet you and learn about your book!

  3. The world I created for the First Civilization's Legacy Series also has some firearms in it. I had to go through a similar cause and effect process in creating the world, including the existence of firearms.

    Interesting post. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Why do I get the feeling that Diaries of a Dwarven Rifleman has some kick-butt fighting scenes? =) And how cool is sword making?!

  5. Very nice. I understand what you're talking about. I posted a few months ago about how magic impacts economies, a related concept that few people really consider:

  6. Yes! building a world is a lot like coding. There has to be 'if x then y' or the world just isn't believable to the reader. Great post!


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