The Art of World-Building in Fantasy Romance Novels


As an avid romance reader I find myself without a favorite subgenre, drifting happily between contemporary, historical, science fiction, erotica, fantasy, and more. While all written romance impresses me (even fan-fiction, I mean, have you read those masterpieces before?) there is something utterly bewitching about the talent that must be required to write romances like fantasy and science fiction.


Unlike authors who write romances like contemporary or historical, not only is a science fiction or fantasy author charged with creating a romantic story between two character conjured up by their imagination, but they also oftentimes are required to create their own worlds from scratch. This includes: the planet, the locations, the names of person, places, and things, whether there is magic and what the guidelines are for that, whether the characters are human or alien or shapeshifters and how that guides people's motivations in their lives... the list goes on and on and on. It is utterly fascinating and incredibly impressive.


The thing that confounds me the most about the whole art of world-building is how do authors keep it all straight? I know that even contemporary authors who are writing long intertwined series need binders and notecards to keep their characters and their relationships/friendships straight. I cannot imagine the difficulty of keeping an entire world straight. I, myself, have dabbled in writing a fantasy romance before and I can hardly decide whether magic is a thing in my book let alone what the rules are for said magic and who has it and what they can and cannot do with the magic they may or may not have...woof. So, like I always do, I turned to my connections in the romance world to help me delve into the minds of those wickedly talented individuals.


Given that February is FaRoFeb (Fantasy Romance February, a social media movement dedicated to fantasy romance writers) I was worried that authors would be swamped with interviews or other social media conflicts and unable to spare any time for me. But with the help of fantasy author Amanda Bouchet--an amazingly talented author who writes my favorite Greek Myths-themed romances--I was able to connect with a number of very talented authors who were willing to spare a few moments to answer some questions from me.


I asked each author the same three questions regarding their experiences with world-building, the difficulties, and their system for keeping things straight. It was enjoyable to read through their answers and see the differences! Authors were also given the opportunity to share a picture of their process if they wished.


Grace Draven is a Louisiana native living in Texas with her husband, kids and a big, doofus dog. She has loved storytelling since forever and is a fan of the fictional bad boy. She is the winner of the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice for Best Fantasy Romance of 2014 and 2016, and a USA Today Bestselling author.






Romantically Inclined Reviews: When setting out to write your first fantasy romance novel did you find the idea of creating your own world with your own rules intimidating? Where did you start?


Grace Draven: No, I didn't. I'd had a few years of practicing writing fan-fiction where I'd written in someone else's world but learned the mechanics of how to world-build. I'd also written a couple of short stories and novellas as well by the time I sat down to write my first novel-length fantasy romance, so by then I'd had experience and familiarity with world-building.


I always start with characters as my foundation for world-building. As everything revolves around the character, I shape the world according to the character.


Romantically Inclined Reviews: Has your world evolved since you first sat down to create it? How do you adapt and/or change the world for future books, as your ideas continue to unfold, without straying too far from your original vision?


Grace Draven: Oh yes. I always start out with just a basic idea of the world and start building as I write. I make changes as I go and sometimes re-write earlier scenes if a new idea occurs to me later in the book. As much original vision is very general and often vague, it's easy to adapt as I go. If I'm writing a series, I'll always refer back to the previous book(s) for a refresher or guidance regarding details when I'm writing the latest book to make sure there's not only continuity but that the logic of the world-building in the current book doesn't conflict with that in the previous ones.


Romantically Inclined Reviews: What does your set up for managing all the information look like? Do you use notecards, bulletin boards, binders, etc?


Grace Draven: I wish I could say I was this organized, but I'm not. Most of the time it's just scribbles on post-it-notes and the back of envelopes that I incorporate as I go. Sounds awful doesn't it? But it works for me.

HR Moore is a romantic fantasy and speculative fiction author. She writes for people like her, people who crave indulgence, escapism and romance. She's British, but now lives with her husband and daughters in New Hampshire. When she's not reading, writing, or imagining how much better life would be with the addition of a springer spaniel, she enjoys cooking, reading (A LOT!), and making hats.




Romantically Inclined Reviews: When setting out to write your first fantasy romance novel did you find the idea of creating your own world with your own rules intimidating? Where did you start?


HR Moore: I didn't find it intimidating, I found it fun! It's so liberating to be able to do anything you want, without limits, and let your creativity run wild (so long as all the elements make sense together, of course).


When I first started writing, I'd recently read The Hunger Games and Divergent and loved the structural element of people belonging to different groups. I knew I wanted to write a book that had this, so I started thinking about other ways that people could be split. Then I got feedback from a work training, saying that I had a lot of energy. I found this strange, as I'm not a person who can't sit still (I'm very happy sitting still!), but that made me think about how different people have different kinds of energy. I'm mentally energetic, rather than physically so, and then there are those who are spiritually active. These three different manifestations of energy, as well as the general concept of energy throughout the world, became the basis for everything.


I also taken inspiration from big issues that we face in our world, and given them a different spin, like our obsession with celebrity, for example. And the energy that exists throughout my fantasy universe was inspired by energy consumption in our world, global warming, and our misuse of natural resources. I love to imagine important issues in a fantasy context.


Romantically Inclined Reviews: Has your world evolved since you first sat down to create it? How do you adapt and/or change the world for future books, as your ideas continue to unfold, without straying too far from your original vision?


HR Moore: The world for my fantasy trilogy, The Relic Trilogy, in terms of locations, has three major areas. Two are cities (Kingdom and Empire) and the third is the Wild Lands. This meant I had a lot of room for maneuver to develop the world, as the Wild Lands are splits into lots of sub areas (Wild Fire, Wild Water, Wild Air, Wild Flower, etc.) My world can evolve in practically any way I need it to, by exploring a new area in the world, so long as everything fits with the existing world-building, overall feel, and concept of energy.


It also developed as characters learned more about the energy and their own skills. For example, I have the concept of joint meditation, and people have spaces in their mind where another person can join them. This creates a lot of scope for the world to develop and for characters to discover new things.


Romantically Inclined Reviews: What does your set up for managing all the

information look like? Do you use notecards, bulletin boards, binders, etc?


HR Moore: I'm a big note taker. I like to scribble diagrams, maps, family trees, and have lists with arrows and circles and comments in the margins. That initial creative process results in a broad outline plan that I write from. I tick sections off as I go (or add new things as I find I need them) and I find that very motivational. See image to the right for a glimpse of HR Moore's note-taking process.

Miranda Grant is a quiet little goody-two-shoes mouse...or at least that's what everyone thinks before they engage her in conversation. Then they realise she's freaking insane and is the person you go to if you want to hide a body... Theoretically, of course. She's the author of the War of the Myth series, as well as the new Fairytales of the Myth novellas, and she got into writing because she really, really, really wanted to read a book that didn't sacrifice fantasy, action, and worldbuilding for romance or vice versa.


Romantically Inclined Reviews: When setting out to write your first fantasy romance novel did you find the idea of creating your own world with your own rules intimidating? Where did you start?


Miranda Grant: Ahahahahaha. No. No, I have a problem where this is concerned. I don't know when to stop world-building. For instance, in Rage for Her, there is an idiom: Olaquar aminari. And the rough literal translation of that is: When the predator stalks, the prey hides. Ola (predator) uar (stalks) ami (prey). Q-combo = subject. N-combo= object. So olaquar aminari = the prey hiding causes the predator to stalk. The metaphorical translation of olaquar aminari is: You have to trick the prey to come out/use your wiles, etc.


But that information doesn't stop there. I've actually written the etymology of those four worlds... and many, many others...


Romantically Inclined Reviews: Has your world evolved since you first sat down to create it? How do you adapt and/or change the world for future books, as your ideas continue to unfold, without straying too far from your original vision?


Miranda Grant: Not really. I created an absolutely massive world at the start. It's going to take probably a hundred books to properly flush out, if not more. There are Seven Planes, three sects of remaining Gods, hundreds of made-up characters, hundreds of cultures, thousands of years of history, random notable side characters (such as Sleeping Beauty, Red, etc) that have influenced the different planes, hundreds of political systems, and a dozen or so languages, etc.


Romantically Inclined Reviews: What does your set up for managing all the information look like? Do you use notecards, bulletin boards, binders, etc?


Miranda Grant: Most of it is still in my head as I haven't gotten around to writing it all down. However, I do have a collection of notebooks I've been using, but are now full. Pretty much everything in the photo (see image to the right) is full...

Red notebook: Miscellaneous (I'm going to split it into different volumes when I get prettier ones).

Butterfly notebook: War of Myth timeline (including what side and never-mentioned characters are doing)

Tree notebook: gods "lost history"

Dragon (leather) notebook: summary book with short biographies of Gods, Seven Planes summaries, roughly 50 of the main species and items of the myth

Brown with hook notebook: main history of the Seven Planes

Brown with compass notebook: mermaid culture

Dragon (yellow) notebook: blurbs for my books (about fifty or so)

Brown-red leather notebook: ancient vampire language of Gaera (funnily enough, have yet to come up with a name for it...)

Juliette Cross lives in moss-laden Cajun country in Louisiana where she lives with her husband, four kids, and black lab, Kona. She is a multi-published author of paranormal and fantasy romance with confident, persevering heroines and dark, sexy heroes. While she enjoys reading and writing the dark, broody types, she also appreciates the fun, levity of humor in a good love story, so she tries to give her characters both on their way to their HEA.


Romantically Inclined Reviews: When setting out to write your first fantasy romance novel did you find the idea of creating your own world with your own rules intimidating? Where did you start?


Juliette Cross: I've never been intimidated by the world-building actually, but rather excited. Yes, it can be complicated and requires a great deal of introspection. But I find that creative problem-solving is one of my favorite things when I'm mapping out a new book and/or world. For my very first fantasy romance, it was urban fantasy, The Vessel Trilogy. And I started with the characters actually. I knew my heroine was tied to the angel-demon world she didn't know existed, and I knew my hero would be a demon hunter trying to protect her. This is typically where I always started. What roles do the hero and heroine play and how will this world affect their love story?


Romantically Inclined Reviews: Has your world evolved since you first sat down to create it? How do you adapt and/or change the world for future books, as your ideas continue to unfold, without straying too far from your original vision?


Juliette Cross: My worlds do evolve, however, I always know the basic premise and rules of the world when I start writing book one in the series. Usually, what changes is a creature or character that was foreshadowed early on, but had little details for the reader. For example, in my Stay A Spell world, I mention that the grim reapers are a secretive bunch and no one knows much about them. While I, the author, knew their powers in the beginning, I've changed my mind and added a backstory to their origins that I didn't know when I wrote book one. And while I like that I'm able to allow characters and the world to evolve, it's paramount that I know the hard limits so that I can add foreshadowing to earlier books. I like the added mystery of discovering more as you go.


Romantically Inclined Reviews: What does your set up for managing all the information look like? Do you use notecards, bulletin boards, binders, etc?


Juliette Cross: So, my organization isn't fancy. I use a spreadsheet, very basic, to keep track of each character and their powers and the overall mythos of each character. I use journals for note-taking in between adding onto my spread sheet and "notes" docs online. But I'm not a bulletin board person or anything, since I like everything very linear and easy to read. Columns and spreadsheets do the trick for me.

Maria Vale is a logophile and a bibliovore and a worrier about the world. Trained as a medievalist, she tries to shoehorn the language of Beowulf into things that don't really need it. She currently lives in New York with her husband, two sons and a long line of dead plants. No one will let her have a pet. Her first book, The Last Wolf, was chosen by Library Journal and Amazon as a Best Book of 2018 and was a Rita finalist in the Paranormal Romance and Best Debut categories. Her second book, A Wolf Apart, was chosen by Publishers Weekly as a Best Book of 2018, while Forever Wolf was chosen by Booklist and Kirkus as a Best Book of 2019.


Romantically Inclined Reviews: When setting out to write your first fantasy romance novel did you find the idea of creating your own world with your own rules intimidating? Where did you start?


Maria Vale: Everything started with a single idea: instead of werewolves who are men constantly wrestling with their aggressive beasts, why not make mine wolves who use their human forms to protect their vulnerable wild?


But they couldn't just pass as human because where's the fun in that? So I decided that there needed to be a time when they had to be wolves and more than just a few hours when they could conceivably hand out in a basement with a meat freezer. That's when I came up with the idea of the Iron Moon, the three (plus) days around the full moon when the pack had to be wild. This single thing would immediately make them unable to live in human society. It would tie them irrevocably to their pack and territory.


Like any threatened community, they would be suspicious of outsiders and deeply conservative. So even 350 years after leaving Mercia for the Adirondacks they still speak the Old Tongue (i.e. the English of Beowulf). They have a peculiarly wolf-centric take on Anglo-Saxon religion. And far from being lawless, they have a complex body of laws and traditions aimed at maintaining discipline and secrecy.


But all of this started with the idea of making my wolves more...wolfy.


Romantically Inclined Reviews: Has your world evolved since you first sat down to create it? How do you adapt and/or change the world for future books, as your ideas continue to unfold, without straying too far from your original vision?


Maria Vale: I'd started writing a standalone before I learned that standalones aren't a thing. Luckily, I'd created a couple of sort of throwaway details: one was the "lying-in," the last month of pregnancy when the young stop responding to the mother's hormone and start changing themselves. In my imagining, if the mother doesn't change as well, her body will reject the little aliens. It's exhausting and not every female wolf makes it.


Another detail from the first volume is that the Iron Moon would "take wolves as she found them and make them wilder." So if she finds them in skin (human), she makes them wild. If she finds them wild, she makes them forever wolves, real wolves. Originally it was simply aimed at making the whole pack especially vulnerable during the change, but it became crucial to the plot of later volumes.


The littles wolves, the pups, are constantly wild and constantly underfoot, cared for and loved by the entire pack. But at some point (about 6-7 years old) they enter The Year of First Shoes, when they first learn how to be in skin. How to eat with a fork, how to wear clothes, how to use words. They begin taking Human Behaviors classes. These are both fun and allow me to comment on norms we take for granted.


I try not to stray too far from the original concept. I wanted these wolves to feel read. To be a voice for the voiceless. One of my most treasured compliments is that these fictional wolves have changed the way readers have perceived real wolves.


Romantically Inclined Reviews: What does your set up for managing all the information look like? Do you use notecards, bulletin boards,


Maria Vale: I'm nowhere near as organized as some writers. I once created a beautiful outline based on something I'd seen JK Rowling did. It included main characters, secondary characters, what was happening with the various conflicts, bits of dialogue, props, weather, time, setting. Unfortunately, the characters were not interested in keeping to my complex outline and after fighting with them for months I ditched it.

The Great North Pack is divided into echelons (age groups) each with their own hierarchy. I have 14 echelons, so I have had to create a spreadsheet with the names and status of the various wolves.


Like so many writers I have Pinterest boards for each book in which I collect images of characters and settings (see images to the right). I also like having a book aesthetic to remind me of the feel I'm aiming for.

Last by not least, for her assistance in this venture: Amanda Bouchet grew up in New England where she spent much of her time tromping around in the woods and making up grand adventures in her head. It was inevitable that one day she would start writing them down. Drawing on her Greek heritage for the setting and on her love of all things daring and romantic for the rest, her debut trilogy, The Kingmaker Chronicles, took form. She writes what she loves to read: epic exploits, steamy romance, and characters that make you laugh and cry. Amanda is a French master's graduate and former English teacher. She lives in Paris, France with her two bilingual children who will soon be correcting her French.

I hope you enjoyed this mini look behind the scenes into the complexities of world-building for fantasy authors. It always amazes me how authors can approach the writing of their books so differently and still end up with an amazing works of art. If you are a fan of fantasy romances, please check out all these amazing authors and their books. You absolutely will not be disappointed.


Thanks for reading! Feel free to reach out to me on social media (@romantically_inclined on IG) and let me know your thoughts about this piece!

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