Worldbuilding’s a necessity in any novel. Sometimes it’s relatively easy — e.g., urban fantasy (The Dresden Files). Other times it’s complex — the Stormlight Archives.
I put my world into the complex category for several reasons: I’m new at it, I’m trying to do something really cool “behind the scenes” and b/c applying consistent cardinal directions to Norse myth was basically impossible.
A few examples:
- Yggdrasil’s roots go to different places depending on which poem you read. In one it’s Hvergelmir, Urdarbrunnr and Mimisbrunnr. In another, the roots go to where the frost “giants,” humans and Hel(heim) are.
- Hel(heim) is often referred to as being in (or below) the earth — but those who go there never go underground.
- Asgard was in the same horizontal plane as Midgard and what I call Utgard (while all sources call it Jotunheim). But Snorri placed Asgard in the heights of Yggdrasil, possibly to make it like the Christian Heaven.
- The Jotunn are described as living in the east, past Jarnvidr (the Iron Wood), but some Jotunn are said to live in the north while others come from the south.
In my initial efforts to be true to where the myths said places were, I had everybody moving between different realms where realms equaled “planes of existence.” That caused lots of problems.
Then I thought that maybe everybody could live on Yggdrasil itself — that Asgard, Midgard, Jotunheim, etc., were the branches of the tree itself. I still kinda like that idea, but since I’m a giant nerd I would’ve had to figure out how the physics worked — I’d have spent way too much time doing that instead of writing.
Then I tried making the different realms equate to different planets. That didn’t work either. (But my magic system will, eventually, enable interplanetary travel.)
When I finally decided that each “realm” would be a continent or region on a single planet, everything snapped into place — events, plot devices, locations, the magic system, etc. Some of those things even got better.
I do still incorporate all of the many places in Norse myth, but where I put them may not precisely correspond to where the myths say those places are. I’ve also kept the fantastical elements — Yggdrasil being the main one. It’s a real, gigantic tree and my characters do ride down it to reach the Norns.
Other landmarks include the following:
- When Odin and Hermod ride to Helheim, they head north…but magic is used, thanks to Sleipnir, and they end up on a landmass that’s actually south of Gladsheim (they’re on a planet, so they’re basically going up, over and down again…but not really, b/c magic).
- In myth, the river Ifing separates the gods from the Jotunn. So, I slapped it down between Asgard and Utgard. Then, when I needed a town between those two realms, I created Ifington.
- The river Thund is said to flow before Valhol. But, I’d read a translator’s note (Bellows, I think) that said Thund is better translated as “bay.” Thus, the Bay of Thund was born (the characters just call it the Thund). As an aside, the body of water pictured on my cover is the Thund. The land across the bay is southwestern Utgard. Oh and Valhol doesn’t exist yet in BK1.
- I put Vithi — Vidar’s land — to the west of Gladsheim. The town of Háls (Hill) is in Vithi and that’s where we first encounter Vidar. The forest of Arnheim (Eagle Home), along with a shrine to Aegir, lie just outside Gladsheim’s western gates.
- Gladsheim is supposed to be one of Odin’s residence, but I made it into the Aesir’s main city. The river Silfr (Silver) flows outside Gladsheim’s eastern gates. That river’s my invention — I needed a quick, practical way for the residents of Gladsheim to get to the coast.
- The Plains of Vigrid lie to Gladsheim’s east, across the river Silfr.
- Other important places — Alvheim and Vanaheim — are far from Gladsheim, but close enough for it to make sense that the Vanir would’ve perceived the Aesir’s arrival as encroaching on their land (hence the Vanir-Aesir War). They’re also close enough for Freyr and Freyja to fly to Gladsheim on their boar and cat-pulled cart, respectively. Note that the Alvar primarily live in both Alvheim and Vanaheim.
A few other things: There are lands to the far west of Gladsheim that have been settled by other Aesir (Odin’s brothers). What we would call Midgard, and its people, haven’t been discovered by the Aesir yet, nor have I discussed the other major players (the Svartalvar and the Sons of Muspell).
Having slogged through all this (assuming you did) it may seem like I assembled my world all at the beginning and then started writing. That’s absolutely not what I do; I just make it up as I go and I only stop to worldbuild when the writing stalls — because I can’t figure out what’s where, or I need ABC in a certain place, or X is too far from Y, etc.
Then, I pull out the notebooks and work it out. Almost always that involves changing things I’ve already established — which means rewriting. And, quite often, it also means that the idea I had — the one that I stalled on — gets replaced by a better one.