WRITING KNOWHOW Worldbuilding in Middle Grade

In our Writing KnowHow series on worldbuilding, author Claire Fayers takes us for a walk in the woods and shares a little magic in middle-grade writing.

I set my latest book, Storm Hound, in Abergavenny, because I wanted to bring a magical creature crashing into a totally unmagical setting. I soon found out how wrong I was about the little Welsh town. You can find magic everywhere if you look for it.

If you want to add a dash of enchantment to your real-world settings, read on.

Look for the non-rational explanation

“There must be a rational explanation,” Scully said every week in the X-Files. What if there isn’t? Look at the shape of this mountain. What happened to cause that split peak?

Mount Skirrid in Wales. Photo credit: Jeremy Bolwell, CC BY-SA 2.0 Source
The rational explanation is a landslide, but that’s not very magical. What if it was attacked by witches, blown up by giant robots, stepped on by a giant?

Pick out a familiar landmark in your locality and ask yourself how it got there.

Look at shapes

Often, when we’re describing a place, we start with colour. Try looking at the shapes around you instead. The tree that’s bent at an odd angle, the building with the funny roof. Focusing on the strange can bring a place to life.

An ordinary tree can become spooky in the right light. Photo credit: Phillip Fayers

Don’t forget weather and time of day

A change in weather or lighting can transform the atmosphere of a place from mundane to magical. Think about the feeling you’re trying to create in a scene and use the surroundings to emphasise the mood.

Try it out

If you’re writing contemporary fiction set in the real world, you might think there’s no room for magic. But adding a touch of strangeness can lend depth to your characters and settings, and may even open up extra story possibilities.

Go somewhere familiar – your local high street, maybe. Look closely at the shapes of the buildings. Look for anything that seems out of place and ask yourself how it got there. Go back on another day if you can. What’s different now? Let your imagination run and see where it takes you.

Happy writing!

Main image credit: Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay

Claire Fayers is the author of The Accidental Pirates duo, Mirror Magic and Storm Hound, all published by Macmillan Children’s Books. You can find her here and on Twitter.

Eleanor Pender is Knowhow Editor. If there's something you'd like to know how to do, send your suggestions to knowhow@britishscbwi.org

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