Panel: Fantasy Worldbuilding

Shoji here. Today we have Natsuya Uesugi talking about Worldbuilding, a topic that most writers and comic book illustrators are interested in. I wanted to give Natsuya a chance to tell us his process and have him talk about world building in his new fantasy novel in The Seer of Grace and Fire series which is in beta right now and soon to be released. The title of his new book 2 in the series is The Seer of Ice and Sky. The panel is hosted by Natsukoarts Design Studio and yours truly will be asking the questions. Lets welcome Natsuya to the panel and get started.


Shoji: Welcome Natsuya. Hope you are ready to talk Worldbuilding?

Natsuya Uesugi: Ready when you are. I have a feeling you are going to make this difficult.

Shoji: Oh, well, I am feeling a little snarky today and you played that prank on me yesterday with the book cover to your latest grydscaen book teasing me about a cover reveal then not showing it. So, yes, I am going to put you through the paces.

Natsuya Uesugi: Bring it on!

Shoji: So lets talk worldbuilding. Lets start from the beginning. What actually is worldbuilding?

Natsuya Uesugi: Worldbuilding is the process of creating the world, locations, places, government, political structures, culture, rules of the place your story will take place in, where your characters inhabit. So basically it is like in the real world, the planet you are on, in this case earth, your location and where you live, and the culture you live in. Do you live in the rural African desert, in a metropolitan city like New York City or Tokyo or do you live in a third world emerging market like Jakarta, Indonesia or even in the highly populated high tech and diverse economy of Pune, India with its rural population, high tech business, high focus on education, various cultures and languages.

Shoji: I get it. So it is where the story takes place and the culture?

Natsuya Uesugi: Basically.

Shoji: You have a rich world in your scifi grydscaen but I wanted to talk about worldbuilding in fantasy as opposed to scifi. What are the basic differences that you find in a fantasy world versus a science fiction or cyberpunk world? Do you go about creating your fantasy world for The Seer of Grace and Fire trilogy the same as for your cyberpunk grydscaen?

Natsuya Uesugi: Actually the process was  very different. For The Seer of Grace and Fire which is dark fantasy, the first thing I did in the series was get the two main characters Timorn and Ethesian give them names and flush them out, their personality and looks. Then came the cleric Kabal and the magic system. At the outset the magic system was rudimentary but I had to determine the rules of magic. This was a fantasy setting so it also in my case had to be rural and technology was only as advanced as Medieval times is what I needed. The magic is where any technology at all would come in. I devised alchemy in the world as a way to have technically intricate tools taking some hints from steampunk. But the parameters were magic, alchemy and medieval artifacts, so thing like horses, swords, apothecary and castles. These were the limitations of the world.

Shoji: What is the name of the world in The Seer of Grace and Fire? How did you come up with the name?

Natsuya Uesugi: The world is called Arenth. The name came from an old fantasy short story that I wrote when I was in the 7th grade. I had recently just found a set of journals I had written from back then and I found the name and that of Timorn and the Valkyris who is the evil queen in The Seer of Grace and Fire.

Shoji: Wow, I didn’t know The Seer of Grace and Fire was based on something from middle school. That is fascinating. You had such a complex world back then. You must have been sitting on that for a long time? Why didn’t you start writing that before starting writing grydscaen?

Natsuya Uesugi: I wanted to write cyberpunk which is grydscaen. Fantasy was something I was interested as a child reading Shannara, DragonLance, Tolkien, The Blue Adept voraciously but as I got older I lost interest in fantasy somewhat and turned to scifi, space opera and cyberpunk. That was my passion when I published my first grydscaen novel.

Shoji: So do you find worldbuilding in fantasy harder than scifi?

Natsuya Uesugi: With the limitations on the world in The Seer of Grace and Fire you need to get creative. For example I needed Kabal to travel from Ekhrine the human city to the faerie city of Kannon in Itheria but it would take too long by horse, so I needed to create a magic system, a portal to get him there in time for the solemn celebration of DarkFall. Since I had already determined there were magical objects, learned magic spells, alchemy and apothecary arts with herbs and healing, it was just a matter of ensuring the magical objects like wands, spell books, familiars, the Tower of High Summoning with its magical shifting rooms, the seeing eye crystal, all these had to follow the rules of the magic system in the book.

Shoji: I see. What about locations? I know that the first book in The Seer of Grace and Fire trilogy has two maps. One of Arenth, the land and its regions and the other of the faerie town of Kannon the capital of Itheria.

Natsuya Uesugi: Yes, it was very important that the map show where everything was in Arenth. The world of Arenth is larger than what is on the map but you only need to know the Elven, Human and Faerie areas described. Maybe if there are more adventures in Arenth in the future the map will expand. Also since book one takes place in Fallow and Kannon, and Timorn takes Ihel and Ishika from Fallow on their journey to Kannon it was important to give the readers a visual of their journey.

Shoji: I love The Seer of Grace and Fire map. It is really professional. What mapping tools did you use to create it?

Natsuya Uesugi: No mapping tools were used. I drew the map in a sketchbook then recreated it 100% digitally in Photoshop and added trees, mountains, trade routes, locations. I looked at a bunch of fantasy maps doing research and none of them were what I liked. The map of Arenth is a little unconventional but I think it gets what I need and lets the reader understand all the different locations like Akrisia of the Elves, Ekhrine the human city and Itheria and Amaralon of the faeries.

Shoji: So in worldbuilding you also need to look not only at locations but society. I know you are currently working on book two in the trilogy. Book one takes place in Kannon in faerie. You have a really elaborate system of processes and etiquette at the court at Kannon in book one. How did you go about setting up the elaborate rules and social graces needed to portray those scenes in the story in book one?

Natsuya Uesugi: Well, the research I did was into King Henry the British monarch and Queen Victoria. I have always been fascinated with royal culture and liked European history and learning about all the monarchs and dynasties in France, England and Russia in high school. This culture was something that was important to have in faerie in Kannon. I studied the Hapsburgs and the Tudors and also looked up medieval British kings like King Richard and King Arthur looking at court in those times. These shaped the majesty that you saw in the court process in faerie at Kannon.

Shoji: You also describe elaborate clothing and decorations at Kannon. How did those come about?

Natsuya Uesugi: Those elaborate displays described in the book from the bust of king Ailon to the Elven creation story depicted on the palace walls in gemstones, stained glass and gold filigree are important to give the right feeling in the palace. The more elaborate the building with marble pillars, jeweled walls, sumptuous curtains, crystal candle chandeliers, elaborate fabrics, the royal dias and King Ailon’s throne and coat of arms were all designed in my sketchbook while I was working on worldbuilding for the series.

Shoji: Do you usually keep a sketchbook for worldbuilding and write down your ideas.

Natsuya Uesugi: No, The Seer of Grace and Fire required elaborate research and setup for the world. There were the noble families and how they lived, the royal family, their stewards and the royal houses. The mage Dalannin and the Valkyris and the magical culture surrounding Amaralon that also needed to be flushed out.

Shoji: What about the Kannon University college in the story? I think that is where Ethesian studies magic with Naril the teacher. How did you decide to only have males study magic? This would make it difficult for the daughter of King Ailon, Ethesian. How did you reconcile that?

Natsuya Uesugi: Well not to give too much away in the story, I needed to have a distinction between male and female in the story. This gender dichotomy has to be a stark division. As I am making a statement on gender in the story with Ethesian this distinction was realy important. The rules of court that men cannot have long hair and that man cannot wear dresses, and that woman cannot wear men’s clothes were rules that were “inflicted” early in the culture at court. This made the stakes higher and made it so that Dalannin the male mage had to conform to court rules when he came to Kannon, he could not wear his mage’s robes if he wanted to “pass” as a noble.

Shoji: So why make studying magic only for males?

Natsuya Uesugi: Almost, that is not exactly it. Ethesian is female and she uses female magic when she plays the dragon lyre instrument at court. This is a magic only females can wield. She would have been trained as a young girl to play the dragon lyre. So there is magic females can use. Now males can have seer dreams and this is magic only males can use. Naril teaches this magic at night school. In order for Ethesian to study this magic at Kannon University she has to “pass” as male. They would not teach her as a female. So she has to wear male clothing to go to school and study. But remember, it is against court rules for females to wear male clothes and it is against court rules on punishment of death for males to have long hair. Ethesian needs to wear a troubador had to cover her hair when she goes to study at university and she has to keep up the ruse so her gender is not found out. This makes her study both thrilling and dangerous.

Shoji: I see. That increases the tension. Tell me a little about why you wanted faeries, elves and humans in the series? And there are the Valkyris’ demons. And I hear there are even dragons in book 2, The Seer of Ice and Sky which you are working on now. Why so many races?

Natsuya Uesugi: The Seer of Grace and Fire could not have been written with just elves. The race of faeries I call the Jahnae was necessary to create. The Jahnae are distant cousins to the Elves and are faeries. The have some of the same creation myths, their own elaborate language and script and they are long lived like the elves. The main difference between the faeries and the elves is the faerie court, elaborate art and design like metalwork, ceramics, jewelry and their magic. The Wood Elves live in the trees and can heal. The Elven king lives in the crystal palace in the City of Akrisia. They have elaborate buildings and art and costumes. The elven costumes are elaborately embroidered but simple compared to the faeries clothing which are even more elaborate and bright with intricate designs. We see in book one the red sumptuous clothes at court and then in book 2 the court colours change with the seasons.

Shoji: So art and learning are important to faeries including magic. What about soldiers? It looked in book one that Kannon could not defend itself.

Natsuya Uesugi: That was another part of the world building. The Elves have an army. Kannon and the faeries do not. The soldiers in the Kannon palace are ceremonial and wear decorative imperial costumes. Their outfits are for show. They are not trained in combat like the elves.

Shoji: We kind of veered off. You avoided me. No fair! Lets go back to elves, faeries, humans, demons and dragons. Why so many races?

Natsuya Uesugi: Right. The prophesy which is at the center of the story was translated by the human cleric Kabal on request from King Ailon of faerie. The DarkFall massacre was part of that prophesy and included the murder of all the faerie male newborns seventeen years ago. Ihel the elf was sent by Eanna the faerie first consort to King Ailon to find the ranger Timorn. So the elves were necessary. Ishika the thief is human as elves would not be thieves and neither would faeries. And in book two we meet the Dragon King’s Imperial Militia. In book one there was a dragon that breathed fire directed by a demon when Dalannin and the Valkyris attacked Kannon. That dragon was foreshadowing the dragons and half-dragons to come later.

Shoji: You also have familiars in the story cats and hawks, even a demon horse. How do those animals factor in?

Natsuya Uesugi: The cat and hawk that are Dalannin’s familiars are part of the magic system. The demon horse Dalannin rides has been enchanted by magic. The horses in book 2 that the party rides are just normal animals. There had to be some animals in the story to bring the medieval setting to life and also solve the problem of sending messages across distances so the hawk familiar and, seeing across distances with the cat and the seeing eye, and travelling at superhuman speed with the demons on their march and Dalannin’s demon steed and the dragon steed used in book 1 when the demon army is moving were necessary.

Shoji: So you have a very elaborate world in The Seer of Grace and Fire. How long did it take you to come up with everything. And did you put the whole world together before you started writing the story?

Natsuya Uesugi: I had a summary of the legend, about 60% of the world created, the map of Arenth, and the names of the main characters and their basic personalities as well as the rules of faerie court. These things were all in place along with the magic system when I started writing. The magic system was something I really flushed out and determined the rules early on since the book needed to revolve around those rules and how Ethesian, the Valkyris and Dalannin interacted with the magic. The map of Arenth helped drive the story.

Shoji: Still we get back to the dragons. Dragons in fantasy are not usually accompanied by demons. How did you reconcile that?

Natsuya Uesugi: The Valkyris conjured demons as did Dalannin for her army. This reconciled the demons. The battle in book one with the dragon burning down part of the town of Kannon was not planned originally. I am a pantser, the whole battle came about due to the coming of the anniversary of DarkFall and the need to have a climax to book one and solidify the party and the Valkyris’ plan to take over Kannon. The dragon in book one was also foreshadowing of the dragon army in book 2. The half-dragon race and their lore was not something I planned when I finished book 1. It became a main part of book 2 and was necessary for book 3. I write where my characters lead me so the story basically wrote itself, the battles, the mission and the hero’s journey at the heart of the story.

Shoji: Your dragons are more modeled after Japanese and Chinese dragons than normal fantasy more European based dragon lore. Why not use the dragons designed from stories like Game of Thrones? That feels medieval.

Natsuya Uesugi: I have not read Game of Thrones but I did see a few episodes of the TV series. Found it boring and there was too much sexual unnecessary stuff in the first few episodes, to me it detracted from the story. I think I caught a glimpse of later episodes but still it didn’t do it for me. The dragons I am most familiar with in Western lore are from Dungeons and Dragons. The Eastern dragons I am familiar with are those from Japanese mythology, Shinto and Chinese mythology. I liked the idea of Japanese dragons and even in grydscaen the symbol of the Pacific Territories and the legend of the creation of the Jannassee Islands has the black dragon Kuroshi  and the white dragon, whose name begins with A but forgetting the name right now created the island that is the Pacific Territories homeland. Dragons are important for both series.

Shoji: What tips do you want to give new writers breaking into fantasy about worldbuilding? Your fantasy world in Arenth is so elaborate.

Natsuya Uesugi: Plan, plan, plan. Create your map. Work your government structure and feudal system if required, work out your rules of magic, create your characters, and define the limitations and parameters of your story. If there is no air travel and aircraft then maybe there are dragons or airships if a steampunk setting. Get all this worked out as you design your main characters. Determine how your characters interact with your world and what they can and cannot do. The Seer of Grace and Fire has fire but no engines, there are horse drawn carriages for travel but no motors except those that would be created with wood and metal and used manually but there is magic and alchemy so any “motor” is going to be magicked.

Shoji: One last thing. How did Ishika jump onto the roof of the Singing Harp Pub in Fallow? In the image in book 1 of her on the roof that looks like a two story building.

Natsuya Uesugi: Ishika is a feisty young little human thief and acrobat. Her skills in not getting caught for stealing would require her to be able to get out situations quickly. She sneaks away after stealing Timorn’s dagger in that scene. Ihel the elf could not have jumped on the roof but Ishika is a thief trained at the theives guild in the human city of Ekhrine. It comes down to rules of the world. A rule in the worldbuilding for Ishika is that she can use her acrobatic skill to scale walls and climb high up into trees as she does when Timorn, Ihel and her are being chased by the Valkyris’ demons. It is all rules in worldbuilding. She is an acrobat.

Shoji: So basically you need to write the rules and stick to them to make the story believable?

Natsuya Uesugi: Exactly!

Shoji: Thanks Natsuya for stopping by. This has really given me insight into The Seer of Grace and Fire and your worldbuilding process. I think this would definitely be helpful for young writers just starting out to create their fantasy world and story. Thanks again.

Natsuya Uesugi: Glad to participate. Thanks again, Shoji.

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