This post was originally written for Ella Drake’s blog.
The Duke and the Pirate Queen is set in a fantasy world that’s based on all kinds of elements taken from our own world. Maxime’s duchy is a Mediterranean-esque land with aspects of several centuries and countries.
Imena comes from an empire that’s very loosely based on fifteenth-century China–I say “loosely” because though I read Gavin Menzies’ 1421: The Year China Discovered America, no specific facts from it made their way into the novel. Instead, the idea of a powerful Asian naval power mingled with all sorts of pirate and sea adventure novels in the back of my brain, and later with some reading I did on Asian pirates. I used my research to give a feeling that events and places existed that weren’t shown in the story.
That’s what I mean by “the world beyond the story.” Even though I didn’t show the Horizon Empire or any imperial privateers other than Imena, knowledge of both was in my thoughts as I wrote the story, influencing how I portrayed Imena’s character and how she interacted with characters from the Duchies. The idea that she came from a large empire troubled by pirates, and that she fought those pirates, and that she gave it up, thoroughly underlies many aspects of her character.
Throughout the first chapters, I dropped small bits of information to build the reader’s knowledge of her privateering past. First descriptive facts: “…the intricate blue, red, and white designs tattooed on her scalp, each hard won in her youth as an Imperial privateer.” Then their place in the world: “Privateers were considered far below sailors in the navy” and “You can’t inherit a position in the imperial navy…You are, however, permitted to work as a privateer, risking death for the Imperium’s glory.” Then a bit more about what they do for the Imperium: “…the fringe-territory pirates whom they usually hunted.”
I think it’s just as important not to show certain aspects of your worldbuilding as it is to thoroughly describe. I most enjoy books where I can not only immerse myself in the world of the story, but I can feel that if I reach a bit farther, dig a bit deeper, there will be more of the story’s world for me to ponder.