Monday, March 11, 2013

Guest Blogger Andrew Q. Gordon

Please welcome today my new friend and fellow Dreamspinner author, Andrew Q. Gordon, who's going to talk about worldbuilding, and his new release, The Last Grand Master. As a surprise, Andy's brought someone special with him, please give her a warm welcome too!

A Brand New Wor(l)d Count

Recently I tackled the job of world building when I set out to write the Champion of the Gods series.  As with any fantasy book, the new world is something of a blank slate.  That's great in some ways, as you can create anything you want. But creating a new world means creating everything in 'your' world.  Of course all of this needs to be done while you engage in character development, create tension, work on the plot, move toward a resolution. Oh yeah, just for kicks, you have to do it with a word limit. For me it was this last part that proved the most difficult.

To start, the publishing world will basically give you about 100K words to work with for a book.  You can probably get another 20K—maybe. That's not peanuts—I mean NaNoMo is a minimum of 50K words and most people can't do that much in a month.  So 100-120k is a lot of writing.  But in a fantasy novel, where you have so much to cram into it, those words disappear fast. 

Consider. If you write a book set in New York, you don't have to tell folks that New York is part of the United States, that it's in North America, That Pennsylvania and New Jersey are south of it, etc.  No need to explain the political structure, the major religions, the economic system in place. You can skip talking about airplanes and cars, or how rooms are heated or cooled. There are no magic lessons to give and no reason to talk about the various animals and creatures that walk the earth.  There's a ton more, but you get the idea.

One way—a bad way—to world build is to write a short treatise as a prologue where you take eight to ten pages or so and give a condensed version of the history, geography, religions, culture, politics etc. of your world. It will read like a history book, folks will probably either not read it, skim, be grumpy because they'll refer back to your 'all inclusive' encyclopedia of the world looking for an answer you didn't think to include or just maybe they'll pass out from boredom. 

Another way is for a character to profess ignorance—for whatever silly reason you can find—and have another character recite said eight to ten page essay on the world.  Bets on how well that will be received?  In that vein, you could have the 'narrator' just pause every now and then and give 'explanations' of things. Equally wonderful.

In The Last Grand Master I tried none of the above.  At various places along the way, I tried to work in bits and pieces of the world, so that over time a fuller, more complete picture would emerge.  I tried to do this while I developed the characters and advanced the plot.  Depending on whose reviews you read, I failed and succeeded at all of these things. Sounds about right, yeah?
So what happened?  Originally the Champions series was going to be four books.  Each was—yes I know I'm going to make the editorial staff at Dreamspinner Press faint—about 500-600K words long.  Now, mind you, that was the first draft, so there was a lot of editing still to do.  By my estimate, I lose about 30-40% of the word count when I edit.  Reason being, some scenes are redundant, others don't fit, some don't belong anymore because one thread got cut, so the tie-ups make no sense anymore. But still, each book would be about three times too long to fit into the word count limit.

I see three solutions: 1) Get more words from the publisher; 2) Cut more words; or 3) make them into more books.  I went with number 3 and therein lies many—though by no means all—of the complaints from various reviewers. 

By writing books in the way I originally did, in the size I did, certain aspects of the tension, conflict, world building, conflict resolution, etc, were resolved later in the book.  Dividing the story into more books meant changing more than just the last chapter of each book.  For example; in the original book two—the one I'm working on revising now—the major conflict is very much toward the middle to the end. None of which will make it into book two.  Either I re-write things quite a bit or there are going to be a number of open threads and no resolutions. That of course requires new conflicts for the characters to deal with and solve. Otherwise book 2 would be boorrrinnggg!

Perhaps the biggest struggle with the word limit is I planned to bring the characters to each of the major continents on Nendor—one in each of the first three books, then in book four touch them all before returning home for the final conflict.  That clearly can't happen anymore.  So the 'world' building pertaining to the first continent, Ardus, in book one that I expected I had 500K words to work with had to be shortened to 115K in the end.  Some things got condensed, others got cut, and some just went begging.

Now, this isn't to say word count is the only reason for any shortcomings in the book, that's not the point of this post, but it is an issue.  Being fair, it's an issue of my own making. I wrote the series without a flipping thought to what a publisher might require, so my bad on that. 

The point is that world building is hard, and world building on a word count is even tougher.  Time to go back and make the two mesh a bit better.

For those who've read the book or those thinking about it, I did a series of posts on Nendor for a world building blog tour that might help add context to what you've read or will read.  They are still posted on my site.  You can find them here:

Andrew Q. Gordon is the author of, The Last Grand Master, a fantasy novel whose world he 'build' inside his head. His first novel, (Un)Masked he co-authored with Anyta Sunday. His third novel, Purpose is due out in late May/early June.


In a war that shook the earth, the Six gods of Nendor defeated their brother Neldin, god of evil. For the three thousand years since, Nendor and the Seven Kingdoms have known peace and prosperity.
But then a new wizard unleashes the power of Neldin. Meglar, wizard king of Zargon, uses dark magic to create an army of creatures to carry out his master's will.
One by one, the sovereign realms fall. Soon the only wizard who can stop Meglar is Grand Master Farrell, the Prince of Haven, the hidden home of refugees. An untried wizard, Farrell carries a secret that could hold the key to defeating Meglar—or it could destroy the world.
While helping Nerti, queen of the unicorns, Farrell saves Miceral, an immortal muchari warrior the Six have chosen to be Farrell's mate. But Farrell approaches love with caution, and before he can decide how to proceed, Meglar invades a neighboring kingdom. Farrell and Miceral find themselves in the middle of the battle. Farrell pushes himself to the limit as he and Miceral fight not only to stop Meglar but for their very survival.
Available at:
Dreamspinner Press: The Last Grand Master.
Barnes & Noble: The Last Grand Master


Klissmor stopped without warning. Nerti too. Everyone behind them swerved to keep their distance. Farrell gave no explanation. He leapt down, turning back the way they’d come.
He raised both hands, and an enormous energy bowl formed over his head. A sudden blast of sickly black and red energy ripped through Northhelm’s shield, striking the protective dome and forcing him to his knees. A grunt slipped out of his mouth at the same time Miceral jumped off Klissmor.
Raising a hand, Farrell pointed at Miceral. “No! Stay back.” He needed to complete this. He’d been fortunate that the hastily wrought shield held the last attack.
When Miceral continued to close in, Farrell muttered under his breath and threw a barrier between them. He’d apologize later. Right now he needed to focus on defending everyone from the next attack.
Another attack ripped through the sky. He struggled to keep on his feet as he hurried to close the circle of energy. Once the ends merged, he launched it back the way it came. Forming a second shield, he anxiously peered skyward. A flash of light on the far horizon brought the hint of a smile to his face. It didn’t answer their problems, but it helped. Without releasing his shield, he engaged his wizard’s sight, looking in the direction where the attacks originated. Seeing nothing, he relaxed.
The barrier dissolved between Miceral and him.
“What was that?”
“What happened?”
“What did you do?”
Questions darted at him from all sides. He waved a hand, dismissing them. He didn’t have time for an inquisition. Then his eyes landed on Miceral, a small frown cutting between the man’s brows, and the urge to explain made Farrell open his mouth. But a slight rumbling beneath them had him shutting it again and searching the ground.
His hand went to his endless pocket. After checking the distance to the entrance, the position of the rocks, and the contour of the ground, he settled on a suitable spot. He removed an oddly grooved stick with a large mushroomlike head, half the length of his staff. It looked to be made from a live tree branch, with sprigs of green along the stem.
Using both hands and all his weight, he firmly embedded the stick into the rocky ground.
He stepped back, checking his distance. In one fluid motion, he grabbed his staff in both hands and swung it directly at the head of the stick. When the staff’s metal head struck the wooden top, sparks flew, and the stick sank further into the ground, leaving only its head visible. A sudden burst of energy pulsed outward from the stick. When the flash subsided, a new shield replaced the one Meglar destroyed. Much better. He turned and walked back to the others.
“That ought to give us enough time to get everyone to safety.”
Miceral fell in beside him. A small grin replaced the frown. Farrell liked the way the man’s cheek quirked with the smile.
“Next time”—Miceral’s deep voice sent a shiver through him—“you could warn us we’re under attack.”
“There really wasn’t time for an explanation.” Reaching back, he returned his staff to its place.
Then, catching Miceral’s eye, Farrell gave him a shy wink before placing a hand on Nerti. Almost immediately he snatched his hand back. “Honorus help us!”
Moving so he could look her in the eye, he shook his head. “You’re exhausted beyond your limits.”
Nerti trembled slightly and tried to pull away. Despite his lack of familiarity with unicorns, he grasped her head with both hands and pressed his forehead to hers, just below her horn. He said nothing, and Nerti ceased her effort to pull away. For a brief moment a light blue aura engulfed the pair. When it vanished, he released her and stepped back.
Nerti no longer trembled. He smiled and turned toward the distant gate. “Come, we should get inside. When Meglar recovers from the shock of having his attack shoved down his throat, he’ll probe this area to find out what happened.”
Before he advanced three steps, Grohl barred his way.
“What do you think you are doing, silly wizard?”
“Trying to get inside.” Checking around him, he found everyone staring at their exchange. “What are you doing?”
Grohl didn’t move. “And you expect us to let you walk?”
“Nerti can barely make it back herself, let alone carry me, and though magically weary, I am not—”
A low, deep growl forced him to step back. A hand grabbed the back of his shirt, yanking him upward. What the…? He landed in front of Miceral. The man’s arms snaked around his waist, pulling him closer. Torn between annoyed, embarrassed, and thrilled at the closeness, he opted for thrilled.
“You could have warned me you were going to do that.” He picked at a loose thread on the side of his shirt. “You almost ripped my shirt off!”
A laugh rumbled from behind him, causing another shiver. Miceral leaned forward, his lips so close Farrell could feel the warmth of his breath. “When I want to take off your shirt, believe me, I’ll do it somewhere more private than this.”

Thank you both for being here today! Please come back again soon!

Until next time, take care!

♥ Julie


  1. I'm repeating myself but... I really loved your book, Andrew, and I'm very much looking forward to read the next one.

    Thanks for this interesting guest blog and for bringing a very cute guest with you. :)

  2. I'm repeating myself but... I really loved your book, Andrew, and I'm very much looking forward to read the next one.

    Thanks for this interesting guest blog and for bringing a very cute guest with you. :)

  3. World-building is one of those fascinating topics, like cooking, where there's fun to be had in seeing how authors tackle the ingredients and put together something tasty. :) Thanks for the insights, Andy, and for sharing that adorable picture!

  4. Chris, Tali - thanks for stopping by. Yeah, she's a bit of a ham for the camera, but this time I got the moment just right.

    A friend of mine once said on a totally unrelated topic - 'if "X" was easy, everyone would do it.' and I think that applies here. World building is probably the hardest part of fanstasy writing for me. That said, almost every story has an element of world building in it, because you need to give the reader a snap shot of the MC world. Of course creating a whole new world is easier than Hot Jock Soccer Boy's dorm room or campus, but still.

    Thanks to Julie for letting me hijack her blog and giving 'lil a bit more exposure - like she needs any more right?