Strangehollow And The Wonders Of Worldbuilding

March 01, 2022

It’s been a very long time (almost a year!) since my last blog post so thought I should pull my finger out and get typing!

Worldbuilding is something I have fallen into completely by accident. It’s something I never knew I needed in my life!

As the last post I made about Strangehollow went into how it started, this post is going to be little bit about how I have developed my process from something that was very organic and improvised, to something that now has a far more structured framework that I then build the book around.

With Strangehollow I just started painting creatures and one creature would lead to another creature idea (maybe one eats the other and so on) and I was not thinking very hard about what Strangehollow was or even that it was going to be a book! I was just filling an enchanted forest with inhabitants.

With the second book Secrets Of Strangehollow, I had at that point started to work very differently and planned it out far more. I wanted to cover all the areas of the coast, mountains, forest and swamp and describe what lives there. Stretch out the tendrils of the world even further. 

With Secrets Of Strangehollow I started to realise that there were ‘rules’ in my world that were unwritten but that appeared as I created and planned – it was very interesting. Sometimes I would have an idea and sketch it out but it just didn’t feel right. For instance, you won’t find any creature that isn’t human wearing clothing (although I think there was one sketch in the first book with a gnome like chap in a hat… that may get removed from the reprint!). I took a lot of inspiration from natural history and I definitely wanted Strangehollow to be an uninviting place for humans (on the whole). It is a place thriving with wildlife and magic that only the bravest, cleverest (or most foolish) would dare to enter. 

The Foundations

My first go-to is to think of the theme. After Secrets Of Strangehollow, I knew that I wanted to expand on the coastal/sea aspect of Strangehollow. I view Strangehollow as an amazon-sized place, millions of square miles! This gives a lot more scope and lets me wriggle into interesting places that wouldn’t be available to explore had it just been a deciduous forest of modest size. It certainly wasn’t this big when I first held it in my mind – big, but not Amazonian. 

So now I had the theme, Seas. But how do the seas interact with the land? Is Strangehollow an island? No, a continent, OK, what kind of creatures will live in the north and what will you find in the south? What is in the middle, the western edge of the place?

Now that I have defined areas with their own climate, I now have three different ‘personalities’ as it were to create from. Each part of the world has a different personality just like its own character and I treat it as such. 

The Northern Shores:

The north it will be icy – think ice floes, blizzards, giant tusked blubbery beasts and no human population, only the occasional brave adventurer!

The Western Shores:

Deep ocean, The Cliffs Of Narok, lagoons, sea serpents, dragons leviathans, mermaids and selkies, pirates and treacherous seas. 

The Tropical Southern Shores:

Azure seas, white sandy beaches fringed with lush green, tropical islands, luminous creatures and magic folk and occasional traders (including pirates again!)

These three places have a very distinct look and feel to them. This really helps with atmosphere and creature design. Each beastie I invent must look like it comes from one of these places – I think carefully about their habitat, their prey/food and how they interact with their environment and climate. 

Ok, Now What?

At this point in the process I get my favourite planning platform to help – the link previously didn’t work and still doesn’t, even though the address is correct, so just take yourself to: www.notion.so and put that in your search bar and you should find it! I set out each section and start to write down what I want to see in each location. What gets the creative juices flowing – how many beasties do I need, what sort of humans will there be and what do they do, and so on. 

Since I don’t want to share all my Seas Of Strangehollow behind the scenes (except with my lovely members) with all of you yet, I will give you a peep at my Notion screen grab for the north: 

These are the first few ideas I had when trying to imagine what I could see up north, very limited number of creatures at the moment but this is a barren place and honestly I can’t see it teeming with life in the sam way as the west and the south will be. 

From these ideas I start to sketch and develop ideas of what some of these things may be like. These two fellows below are likely to appear in the book. 

I tend to work in sections with this. I will start with the ideas written down, then sketch using those ideas as jumping off points. I then build up a good number of drawings to work from and take that to watercolour. Another way I like to work is to think of the creature names first, before sketching. Often a name like a ‘Flabbager’ or a ‘Northern Froon’ or ‘Oob’ will conjure some interesting creatures in my head more effectively than anything else! Sometimes these creature names come about as accidental mispronunciation – for example ‘Ose Nitch’ came about when I said ose nitch instead of ‘nose itch’ – immediately I wrote that down and it will be appearing in the book!

One of my first creatures painted up so far is this little flightless bird that lives on the south coast. He lives on crustaceans and sea snails that he finds in rock pools and in the shallows. He’s also quite noisy. He’s called The Screeching Fronowon. 

I hope this post gives you a little insight to how I go about creating Strangehollow and might inspire you to try your own world building exercise! 

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