World-building hidden meanings and messages into fantasy, with guest Laura E. Thompson

I am pleased to welcome Laura E. Thompson to the blog to contribute another great article on fantasy world-building. Laura has recently published her first book, the Burden of Destiny, which you can discover in more detail below.

Laura E Thompson

Laura E. Thompson grew up in a small town on an island that sits in the middle of Lake Champlain in Vermont. She has been writing since the young age of seven and has been an avid reader for longer than that. Her first novel was written and completed at the age of sixteen while taking a creative writing class. Laura started writing the Elven Quest Series in 2007. She had not written for pleasure in a long time and one day the characters from The Burden of Destiny entered her mind and wouldn’t leave. She had no choice but to sit down and write their story, now she’s so excited to share them with the world. Laura also co-wrote the published ethical theory model entitled Key Factors in Making Ethical Decisions Model, a chapter in the textbook: Ethical Decision Making for the 21st Century Counselor (Counseling and Professional Identity) by Donna S. Sheperis and Stacy L. Henning.

Fantasy World Building: Hidden meanings & Messages

One reason that I love fantasy is the fact that it is a brand new world where anything can happen. If a writer wants to remove the laws of gravity and have the characters float everywhere, they can do that. If they want people to have reflective fur that blinds their opponents, they can do that. I could go on and on, anything goes really. But what does this mean for a writer? What kind of things should you include in your own world when writing fantasy?

Personally, I think that no world would be realistic without some rules.
There should be laws of nature that make it clear that there are limits to what characters can  and cannot do. For example, with “the Force” on Star Wars, it can guide Luke, strengthen his gut instincts and allow him to use his mind to move objects, like when he loses his lightsaber and can use it to pull it back to him. However, he cannot use the Force to heal himself. When Vader cuts off his hand, he cannot grow a new hand using the Force. Does this make sense? Rules. There needs to be clear lines in the sand as to what the characters can accomplish to make your world believable.

It also helps the reader engage with your story and find it more believable if you can create a backstory for your world, a rich history of how things came to be the way that they are. This allows the readers to imagine the way the world was before.

It is important, while creating a history for your world, to consider connections. Each character must have some personal history, somewhere that they came from or things they’ve done. How can you, as the writer, connect these personal stories and histories to the current story or the main character? Weaving in ties between characters creates a nice platform for struggles, disagreements, and ways for characters to overcome obstacles or barriers. It creates a tapestry and allows the readers to connect the dots.

The Marvel MCU movies are masters at doing this. They can tie Thor and Loki, who came from another world, into conflicts with the characters on Earth. These ties allow for great action scenes, like Loki bringing his army of Chitauri through a portal to battle in New York City. At the end of every Marvel movie, they foreshadow into the next movie and create another tie. This has allowed their franchise to keep going and they do it wonderfully.

Writers have done this too, not just to create more books but also to enrich the novel itself. One of my favorite epic fantasies is the Pellinor Series by Alison Croggon. In her world of bards, magic and barding schools, there is so much history, it is insane. She talks about legends of the bards, songs and poems that they sung before they had written language, conflicts between the light and the dark even before the land was forged. It is so deep and rich that it sucks you into this world and makes you want to be a part of it. It made me wonder the first time that I read it if Croggon was writing about a real, ancient world or society that had died off. I was shocked when I realized that she, like Tolkien, Lucas, Lewis, Jordan, Pullman, Rowling and many others, had completely imagined the whole thing.

While creating your history you can subtly insert hidden messages about your own views on things like politics, religion, power, education, etc. Even simple things like the names of characters or places can have hidden meanings. For example, while writing my novel The Burden of Destiny: Elven Quest, in the beginning I was using my imagination to create names of characters and places. After a while though, I started getting bored with trying to think of new names and I decided that I wanted the names to mean something. In my second book, for example, all of the new characters that are introduced have names that have a meaning that describes who they are and what makes them special.

One of the first new characters you meet in the second book is an Elf named Cailean. He is the leader of the Wood Elves guard and he has the ability to transform himself into a wolf. I created Cailean’s name by researching name meanings and found one that I thought fit. According to one site, the Scottish meaning of the name Cailean is “triumphant in battle or war.” According to another site, the older Gaelic version of this name meant, “Young dog, whelp or wolf”. I felt like this was a good fit to describe Cailean’s character. I did the same with every other character I introduced as well. They all mean something that is connected to who they are. I know that I am not the first to do this. Rowling for example did this with Remus Lupin. He is just a wizard, you think at first, you find out however that he is also a werewolf and Remus is an old mythological character that was raised by wolves and Lupin is a form of the Latin Lupus, which means wolf. Again, she does this with many of her characters, Draco Malfoy, aka, bad faith and snake/dragon. What is neat about doing this is that your fans might not notice it at first, but it is something that if they look deeper into your story and research and find these meanings, like the Harry Potter fans have done, then they love you even more and they respect your time and dedication to your writing.

In terms of hiding your own views on things, this has to be done subtlety and in line with the story. My story has a lot to do with different races of people who had a history of wounding each other. So within my story I weave many conversations about working together, learning to accept differences and how important cohesiveness is. I do the same with discussing the natural elements, Earth, air, fire, and water and how important it is to protect and care for them. This is my way of discussing global warming and the destruction of our Earth today. I think that we should all be working together despite our differences with the common goal of protecting the Earth, which we all share.

Back to my girl Rowling, she did a great job of weaving in ties to our history. If you look at the structure of Harry Potter it is very much a reflection of World War II and the Nazi’s. Voldemort of course being Hitler, characters like Dolores Umbridge and Bellatrix Lestrange enjoy “punishing” the “Mudbloods” because they are not “pure” wizard blood. This is very much like the Nazi’s that felt the same about the Jews, gays, and pretty much everyone else who were considered “enemies of the state.” There is a scene when Bellatrix uses her wand to cut into Hermione’s arm the word “Mudblood” this is similar to when the Nazi’s used a metal stamp to “tattoo” a serial number into their prisoner’s skin in the concentration camps.

Another good example of inputting the writers view into a fantasy story was C.S. Lewis and the Narnia tales. Lewis was a Christian and he admitted that his novels were what he called “an imaginative welcome to the Christian faith.” He uses symbolism for his faith throughout the books including the obvious Aslan as Jesus. Aslan is stabbed by the White Witch, killed, he was dead as a doornail, but then, the table cracks and he comes back to life. Hello…remind you of a certain savior that was nailed to the cross? It should, that’s what Lewis was going for. There are other instances too that are a direct correlation in his story to the Bible, but I am running out of space dear readers, so I would suggest researching on your own if you are interested in learning more. 😉

I hope you enjoyed my discussion of creating your fantasy world and weaving in some hidden meanings and ties. If you would like to learn more about me, my novel, or my thoughts on writing and also life, you can visit me on my blog Elemental Words, the link is listed below.

Enjoy creating your own worlds, dear readers, and as I say on my blog: remember, writing=happiness ;).


Laura coverFind out more about Laura’s book, The Burden of Destiny available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and  other leading book retailers.


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About John Robin

John Robin is an epic fantasy writer, professional editor, and lover of imaginary worlds. He write stories about magic and myth, human suffering and the power to rise above it. He loves world building, coffee shops, mathematics, chess, and is an avid author community builder.
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2 Responses to World-building hidden meanings and messages into fantasy, with guest Laura E. Thompson

  1. One of my favorite fantasy worlds is the Xanth world. The characters’ names and the names of the creatures in it are hilarious and very apt.

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