I’ve Never Been In A Dwarf’s Cavern

I must confess: I’ve written almost 300,000 words of epic fantasy (three books) and never seen a dwarf’s cavern, an elf’s tree city, or a troll’s rock cairn. Now this might lose me credibility with readers, but after being complimented for my world-building by an editor at an established publishing house, I was asked from where I derive my inspiration for world-building from a fellow writer who is struggling with this important aspect.

My non-fantasy novels, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale, were both situated in my native England, and my upcoming novel, Unwanted Heroes, is based here in San Francisco. I’m not sure if I chose these surroundings as much as absorbed what is around me into my stories. It is, I guess, what allows me to see elves in coffee shops.

I think the process is the same for me when I build my fantasy worlds. I am blessed to live surrounded by the natural beauty of California and its surrounding states, it is important to not only admire the majesty of the area but see it through the eyes of your protagonists. Three examples come to mind.

I have shared how my journey into the world of fantasy was prompted by my eldest son (then 11-years-old) complaining that I shouldn’t be writing while on vacation. I challenged him to write something with me and make it a family activity (the desperate games we play…) and there under the watchful eyes of the redwoods, we began our journey. 

It was easy to see our young heroes seeing these noble trees and the vines that hang in the forest where we were camping. They were ambushed as they passed a rock enclave, almost hidden by moss, that was a five minute bike ride from our tents.

On Monday, I will travel to an annual professional conference in St. Louis, where we have met for the past two years as well. To give us a break from the intensity of the conference, the organizers arranged a trip to a children’s museum. The incredibly creative designers had thought to fill their vast basement with caves and caverns.

While my colleagues snuck off to a nearby bar, I walked through these caverns imagining what it was like to live as a dwarf underground. I’m not sure what my biggest mistake was: missing out on a social mixer or admitting to my colleagues why I had declined their offer.

Finally, this year we traveled to Crater Lake in Oregon. Jutting out from the deep blue waters is an island called Magicians Island.  The audio visual told us that the name came because it reminded the explorer of a wizard’s hat. I sat on the ridge overlooking the island, saw the steep grey rocks, the windswept trees, and the ospreys flying overhead.

Book 4 has a base from which to begin…


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written three epic fantasy novels and the first reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

11 comments on “I’ve Never Been In A Dwarf’s Cavern

  1. raventracks says:

    I love those trees especially. This reminds me of a photo I took in Ferntree Gully, an outer suburb of Melbourne, where you have houses and shops, but also lots of treees. I turned it into a poster, it was so enchanting.

    Really, you don’t need to travel overseas to get inspiration for a book and good on you for opening your eyes to where you are.

  2. yeltnuh says:

    I like your process. 😀

  3. I’m based out of Vermont and can definitely relate to the surroundings of an author influencing his writing. Those authors who live in the Big City must have extraordinary imaginations, because, like you, I see evorans in the grocery store and cantu in the darkness.

    Oh, and it’s never bad to go off on your own. Many a great novel was started with that simple decision to be by one’s self.

  4. Anita M. King says:

    This is one of the reasons I carry a camera around wherever I go. I remember one time visiting Cal with a couple of friends who are alumnae, and as we walked around campus I kept making everyone stop so I could photograph trees. At one point, I made them wait for about ten minutes while I took pictures of some eucalyptus that reminded me of a setting in one of my story worlds. Fortunately, the friends I was with both write, so they understood and didn’t laugh at me (much).

  5. Reblogged this on crampedwriting and commented:
    This is great! I really get into my creative spirit when I take time to stop and soak up the surroundings. Looks like that’s a good way to go! Check out ElvesWriter’s blog. Happy Sunday all!

  6. […] demands that we show this world in different forms throughout the series. In fact, I draw my own world-building inspiration from nature and I hope I will never stop seeing new lands and areas of natural beauty. When we see a […]

  7. edireland says:

    The natural world around us is so filled with wonder and awe that it becomes easy to imagine it as fantasy more than reality. I think that with increasingly ugly things happening in the world around us, we may tend to think such beauty surely must belong to an unknown fantasy world that we have somehow become privileged enough to see.

  8. My understand was one never can out of the cave.

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