I’m currently reading my way through the first novel in Stephen Christiansen’s epic Orbbelgguren series, which currently clocks in at 17 books with some off-shoot novels. I grew up reading multi-part series such as Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Pern novels, The Sword of Truth novels, The Riftwar Saga, The Sword of Shannara books, and even a stab at L. Ron Hubbard’s sci-fi series – I was young, they were free at the library…
Now, a little older, a little less time to read, I still enjoy series, but as an author I find myself wondering at the amount of world creation, persistence, and very long view a writer must contain to write one. I sat down with Stephen to talk about his series, his methods, and any tips he offers for authors writing their own series.
Infamous Scribbler (IS): For those who are unfamiliar with the project, can you tell us a little about the Orbbelgguren Series, including how you got the name?
Stephen Christiansen (SC): The Orbbelgguren Series is an epic tale of a set of dark elves. It shows their struggles and inner turmoil. It tells of their relationships and personal growth. They must deal with each other and their new allies while their world starts to fall apart at the seams.
Dark elves come from a society that is feared and hated, and with good cause. They are a sadistic, cruel and paranoid race of elves that live underground. But we find out that not all dark elves are this way. I guess this is my way of stating: You can’t judge an individual by the color of their skin or their nationality.
The name “Orbbelgguren” is a compound word in the dark elf language. It is broken into the following parts: “Orbb” means “spider”, “Elggur” means “killer” and “en” is simply plural. The title literally means “Spider Killers”. However, dark elves are known to twist the meaning of their words so this could mean “Spiders that kill” or it could mean “Those that kill spiders”. Both meanings are very important since the majority of dark elves worship a deity known as The Spider Queen.
Although our main set of dark elves takes on the house name “Orbbelgguren”, the reader should be on the lookout for any twists in its meaning along the way.
It is difficult to really say what the epic tale is about (without giving away the ending) since the plot lines twist, turn, and intermingle. Each book seems to add to the greater picture of the true story line, however, all is not what it seems when dealing with dark elves.
IS: This series was originally planned to be eight books, then stretched to 14, then 17, with some offshoot novels. Did you do extensive world building prior to planning that structure? Or did you build as you went along? What was the impetus behind your decision?
SC: The world that is set for the readers started about twenty years ago (real time). The first character to be created was the wizard Titian Stargazer, a minor character that the readers will come across. I added Titian to a group of others and their company grew. Eventually three generations of characters came about and the world needed to grow with them. After fifty main characters were developed, each with their own background, the world had grown so much that I had to map each area, draw out each city, create weather patterns, construct a calendar, and even plan the phases of the moons. Sometimes I had to imagine how the wind would blow so I could get the curvature of cliffs correct, or even imagine how a frozen swamp with a natural hot springs would look like.
Of course this was the entire surface world. The caves and tunnels beneath the surface world also had to be mapped and figured out. I did research on caves, lava tunnels, and underground rivers. I did research on underground plants and animals.
Then I started reading fantasy series books that already had worlds built into them and I integrated some of their thoughts with mine. Eventually the world took on a life of its own.
This is when I started creating the dark elves to come live in the environment and with them the world evolved again. Now, with each book, the world continues to change. Each action that they do creates a reaction somewhere else which in turn creates another book. Now the books live and breathe with their own life. Quite honestly, I’m not sure that 17 books is the end of the series. Even if it is, there are so many other characters, places and events to write about that I can create another series that inter mixes with this one.
IS: What were some of the challenges of sustaining a world through such a long series, and how did you overcome them?
SC: The biggest challenge is keeping track of all of the cities, locations, people, and events. This can quickly become mind boggling to any author. I suggest creating maps and then writing history logs. I’ve even added a “Companion” book that lists every race and every named individual so I can go back and resource it.
I keep track of every note, no matter how obscure or meaningless. Each idea can be used later or at least reviewed if forgotten about. I have tons of notes scattered all over the place. One of my biggest problems is remembering where I put my notes, keeping them organized and in chronological order.
I’ve also made a personal blogs or histories of each character. If I forget how a character is supposed to react, I reference back to them. I’ve also created miniatures of most of the main characters or pictures from the internet that resembles them so I can keep an idea of what they look like.
IS: Did any surprises for you crop up as you were writing? What, if any, were they and how did you deal with them?
SC: One of my biggest surprises is that my characters always surprise me. When I let the characters act the way that they are supposed to, I find that sometimes my plot changes. It may sound funny but my characters actually write their own story, all I do is toss an event at them and watch what happens. Sometimes I even write a character into a corner and let that character get out of by his personal means.
Another surprise is that I find many insignificant events or even minor characters come back to play a major role without me planning it. Somehow, everything and everyone ends up fitting or contributing to a greater whole.
Sometimes when I plot a storyline for a book, I only get about half way through and then stress that I don’t have enough material to finish. Yet, with the above two examples, I’m able to have more than enough material and this has often lead to more books.
IS: What advice for fantasy authors do you have, regarding world-building?
SC: Never leave a minor character unfinished. This means any character, no matter how unimportant it may seem, always has an open door policy to come back to. A minor character of mine turned into a major one and now she will have her own spin off book. Ever character deserves a voice and a background. Give each one a chance and run with it, or come back to it.
Invite readers to explore strange new lands. Show them the Sea of Sands, invite them to the frozen swamps, make them climb the jagged peaks of the Hellforge Mountains; throw them in the deepest sea. Take the readers on a trip through the various extra-dimensional planes or even time travel. (My readers can find all of these and more in the Orbbelgguren Series.)
Have the author ask questions about the world. Why does the river flow one direction and not another? What resources are needed in one area and what happens if the trade routes are cut off? Where do people go on vacation? What are the limitations of physics in this realm over another? Does time function differently here than on another plane of existence?
Have the author ask questions about the antagonists. Is there another antagonist that is manipulating the current one? Are there hidden agendas from other individuals? Why do people act a certain way? Even a henchman has a reason why he acts one way over another.
Show readers new races and cultures. Welcome the readers to the halfling village of Mulberry End, the dark elf cities of Anarchia and Malzebowan, the Id Scourger city of Xe’no Id, the deep dwarf city of Laguduer’s Pit, the surface dwarf city of BurkVelHaus, and the orc town of Bagark Subterrane and so much more.
Explore religions and cults. Have the reader dance under the influence of twin moons, get drunk during some long forgotten holiday, or make sacrifices to a long dead god.
Remember Newton’s law, every action has an opposite and equal reaction. Every action has a repercussion, an impact on someone’s life or a consequence that may not be relevant in the current book, but can be explored in another. The world outside the current book is not stagnant, it moves and flows with everything that happens with the current book; let the stories flow with it.
Finally, have fun. This is your world, your creation and your characters. Watch it grow, develop and have fun with it.
IS: If an author is interested in writing fantasy, what books would you recommend he/she read that have good examples of world-building?
SC: The first series that comes to mind is the Middle Earth series, of which The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are part of. This series has been well thought out from its inception in time right down to its language. (IS Note: Yep, read those too. I agree.)
The next series to read are the Forgotten Realm Series from Wizards of the Coast. I think the most popular of these are the Drizzt series. Rather or not an author is a fan of Drizzt, the world he lives in is in constant flux, nothing remains the same. There are some good ideas to be inspired by.
My next favorites are the space opera series such as Star Wars and Star Trek. These again show how different races and cultures interact with each other and respond to any certain event.
IS: Anything to add?
SC: I’ve been influenced by the old series of The Twilight Zone, The Dark Side, and The Outer Limits. The Orbbelgguren Series has a lot of twists and turns that only compounds the various plot lines.
Stephen King has also influenced some of my books and a reader can see this in my latest book “Emilia”.
The reader should also be on the lookout for Easter eggs hidden in the books. There are movie quotes, scenes and references. There are some really bad play on words and some great mentions of real life current events. There are situations that should spark conversations and reflections.
In essence: expect the unexpected, nothing is straight forward. Remember, this isn’t a story about a couple of fantasy characters; this is a reflection of my soul, of my life, of things that matter and are important to me and I’m sharing these with the reader. Please come along and enjoy the tale.
IS: Last, but not least, where can interested readers find you and your work?
SC: You can buy the books on Amazon:
But the lowest prices available are on Lulu http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/Orbbelgguren
There is also a place on my FB page that will take a reader to the Lulu sales site
All books are available in paperback and EBook format.
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I’m 47, married of 17 years and have a teenage daughter that I’m very proud of. I’ve live most of my life in Washington state.
I was a Navy brat growing up and have been up and down the west coast and have enjoyed traveling. I’ve been able to experience exotic China, the tropics of Guam, the expanse of the Pacific Ocean, Great National Parks, and have experienced more in my childhood than most people do in a whole lifetime. Since I’ve grown I’ve been seen ancient civilizations, swam in underground rivers, and enjoyed great adventures along the way.
You can say that I’m a geek. I love SciFi and high fantasy (i.e.: Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, etc.)
I think that when a reader dives into the full series, he/she would be able to see a lot of myself, my interests, and my real life adventures mimicked and played out. It’s been fun putting these to “paper” and sharing them with my readers.