I’m happy to welcome Anna Steffl  to the RU campus. Anna shares her tips on enhancing setting, description, and character development through POV. One randomly chosen commenter will receive an e-book copy of Anna’s Solace Trilogy.
Great to have you with us, Anna!
“The author has crafted an intricate and believable fantasy world filled with complex heroes and heroines who are fated to battle a horrific evil.” Victoria Vane, award-winning author
Let me just say that I’ve had the honor of meeting Pharaoh, and Kelsey, of course. To now be on RU is the chocolate in this writer’s croissant. Ha. Your mouth will be watering for the rest of this post. Fantasy chocolate croissants. I’m mean like that.
So, let’s think about pastries, fantasy, and point of view in world building. You can do it. Writers push to the next sentence, the next page, to the end of the chapter—to get to a food break. Chocolate croissants are the best because they combine buttery goodness with chocolate. You need to write a whole chapter to earn one.
One of the things I most admire about romance writers is their skill at using point of view for world building. I recall being at a RWA workshop that demonstrated expert POV with a Nora Roberts excerpt. A woman, looking at a ruined garden, was imagining what it could transform into with her care. In a paragraph, I understood not just the setting, but the heroine’s tastes and aspirations. I wanted to write like that because the one thing that bothers me most about fantasy is the overuse of narrator world building, especially at the start of the novel.
Someone is going to give me grief for what I write next because there are probably great books that do start this way, but each time I open a fantasy that begins with the narrator first describing the woods and then zeroing in on the healer gathering herbs in her weathered basket, I throw up a little.
That ruins my longing to savor a croissant while I read.
Why didn’t the writer bother to put me in the healer’s head so I’d be with her stamping through the grass, swatting flies from her tattered frock, and grousing to herself that she’s pissed at having to gather liverwort for a prince she’d just as soon see die? Because that writer didn’t study romance craft. I’d get the same info—we’re in a pastoral world with non-traditional medicine—but I’d also know my healer isn’t necessarily a stereotypical good-hearted herbalist and some aspects of nature annoy the crud out of her.
Inspired by the romance craft, I open Solace Arisen, the third book of the Solace series, this way:
Pale light crept into the bottoms of the gathering room’s east windows and into Superior Madra Cassandra’s consciousness. It would be a fine day for travel. In a moment of amused reflection before calling the sisters sitting behind her from their meditation, she noted that the high windows were designed to let in light but not the distractions of the courtyard outside. They did little, however, to deter inward distractions. But today, perhaps, it was allowable to be distracted. Last night was Princess Lerouge’s Coming of Age Ceremony and today Musette and Arvana would be coming home. The duty with the relic was over. Hera Arvana’s letter, announcing she’d made Lerouge champion, had come two days ago. What a mercy that Hera Arvana had fulfilled the Founder’s duty within the time allotted and before the draeden made any show of force.
Madra Cassandra lifted the small bell that rested on the wide arm of the Prioress’s Seat, a heavy chair whose back was to the assembly so that she, as the other sisters, could face the Founder’s icon during meditation. She rang the bell once, and it chimed so pure and clear in the confines of the room’s stone walls. The sound would be lost in the wider world. So was the case with her soul. It had found within these walls its place to sound most pure and clear.
Hopefully, you see a bit of the room, understand that the scene is taking place inside a cloister not only by the words superior and sisters, but also by the inward word choice of the POV character. You know that she is devout and is eager for our heroine Arvana to return. There’s something about draeden. They don’t sound good. And it is fantasy because of the few odd terms thrown in.
Not bad. But, why stop there?
What is especially powerful about using POV for world building and character development is how you can exploit it for dramatic irony. The reader, coming off the previous book, knows that Arvana is returning, but everything is the opposite of what the superior is hoping and thinking. There is no champion. The heroine has broken her vows by falling in love. Her heart soul wouldn’t sound most pure and clear within the walls. Plus, she’s been sucked into Hell and will stay there if the hero doesn’t get her to the cloister in time for the superior to recall her soul. Dramatic irony takes reader engagement to a new level. The reader is the knower of secrets that burden the spirit.
I could have opened Solace Arisen with a description of ancient buildings and how the sound of the sisters chanting drifts from the windows into the fine morning sky. Heck, I did that in a draft.
But it wasn’t croissant worthy—certainly not chocolate croissant worthy.
Now, who can supply the Nora quote?
How do you reward yourself for writing? Don’t tell me it’s its own reward. Wine and chocolate were invented by writers.
Handsome Hansel returns on Wednesday, September 3rd.
SOLACE ARISEN  (Released on September 1st)
This final installment of the Solace Trilogy finds Arvana contending with the choices she’s made and the fate of the world on her shoulders. In the depths of winter, the Scyon releases the powers of Hell to bring forth a second Reckoning that will overturn world order. But from the deepest desperation, the fugitive outcasts reluctantly embark on an impossible quest. Armed only with a single blessed sword, a dangerous relic, and the remnants of a shattered love, will solace arise?
Bio: Anna Steffl lives in Athens, Georgia, home of the New World gods of football and alternative music. She has held a string of wildly unrelated jobs, from frying chicken to one that required applying for a Department of Defense security clearance. She is a past president of Georgia Romance Writers and a Golden Heart Award finalist.