The Worlds I Create by Anny Cook

Hello! My name is Anny Cook and I write steamy romances for Ellora’s Cave and Cerridwen Press. At the moment I have three series in progress: Mystic Valley, Flowers of Camelot, and Ardent Angels. And I recently contracted my first non-series book, Kama Sutra Lovers with Ellora’s Cave. 

In the past few months several readers have asked me about how I created the worlds of Mystic Valley (for the Mystic Valley series) and Avalon (for the Flowers of Camelot series). World building is something I do before I begin writing the stories and I have a pretty specific order that works for me, though it might not work for other writers. After all, everyone has different working and creative styles. 

Though I may be a “seat of the pants” writer, that doesn’t mean that I’m a “seat of the pants” planner. When a new story idea begins to prod at me, I begin by jotting down ideas about the background. The story might be the central focus of the picture, but the frame and background are at least as important.  

When the ideas are written down and seem to fit together, then I draw a map. All right, don’t panic if you can’t draw, because this map is for the writer—not the public. I always draw a map, maybe even several maps, so that I remember where objects, houses, furniture, whatever might be important, are located. Maps clarify the surroundings for me. As I draw the maps, the “world” begins to take shape. What kind of flora and fauna exist on this world? What type of buildings are common and why?  

The culture and society starts to take on some substance. That’s when I start a series of lists. One list answers the cultural questions—what is the monetary system, the system of government, the cultural norms? What are the positions of power? Is there a religion and if so what are the basic beliefs? What are the gender norms? What about education, military, and economic systems? 

A second list has the answers regarding appearance for my characters—what type of clothing do they wear? How old are they? What are their physical characteristics? In the Mystic Valley series, the inhabitants of Mystic Valley are blue with pointed ears and small fangs. Long hair is culturally important, so with few exceptions everyone, both men and women, has long hair. Within the valley, status is based on lineage and warrior rank. Hair ornament colors are used to display the warrior’s rank. I have detailed descriptions of the ornaments, called chinkas, and also their weaponry. 

The third list is the bare beginnings of a relationship chart. Who is related to whom? In the case of the Valley with a huge cast of minor characters who might someday have their own stories, it is particularly important that the relationship lines are kept straight. It would be exceedingly awkward for a sharp eyed reader to point out that Joe has inadvertently married his Aunt Sally. A corollary to this list is an alphabetical list of names used in the series so that I don’t use a name twice, and confuse my readers. 

Beware inventing a new language for your new world. The glossary for Mystic Valley is four pages long and growing. If you’re going to have a new language, take a tip from me—begin your glossary list immediately and keep it up to date. In my case, my publisher chose to place the glossary in all of my Mystic Valley books. It’s far easier to provide this on request if it’s kept up to date. And your editor will thank you too when she or he is wading through a sea of new words. Just a quick word here about new words. It they’re too weird, your reader will find them distracting. I try to use them sparingly, just enough to give the flavor of the new world, but not enough to make reading the story such a chore that the reader finds something else to read. Of course, if the word is the name for an everyday object, such as the sharda that all the valley men wear, then it needs to be a very simple word to pronounce. 

When the framework is in place, then I begin to write. Most of the information is pretty bare bones at this point. As I write, there will be numerous additions to each of the lists and possibly even quite a few changes as new events pop up. As the series progresses, more lists are added. For every occupation, there is a list of equipment and materials. The healers have “patient” records listing who they treated, when, where and what the diagnosis was. The justices have records listing the cases they presided over and what the final decisions were. Investigators have case files. Cooks have recipes. The barter keeper has the barter books. 

This is a small glimpse of the ways I create a new world. There are other things to add to the lists—a time line, a birth/death registry, a building registry to keep track when new buildings are built and old ones are torn down. If all of this sounds complicated and a lot of work, just consider if you were building your town or village from scratch. What would need to be done? That’s what I do on paper and computer. And it also answers another question I get frequently…how do you keep everyone straight? 

My goal is to provide a rich, lush background for my characters and stories. The lives and loves of the men and women of Mystic Valley and Avalon play out in the new worlds I created with a lot of thought and craft. I hope that readers will enjoy their visits to Mystic Valley (Dancer’s Delight, Traveller’s Refuge, and Cherished Destinies) and Avalon (Chrysanthemum, Honeysuckle, and Daffodil [March 28])!

Check out Anny’s website for a more indepth look at her worlds and check at her blog to see what’s happening in her own world as well.

9 Responses to The Worlds I Create by Anny Cook

  1. Brent

    Fine posting, I actually anticipate posts from you.

  2. Liddy Midnight

    Gee, Anny, you’re organized, aren’t you? LOL I thought I was a world-class list-maker, but my hat’s off to you.

    I don’t make extensive lists and draw very few maps in preparation for writing, but I do keep track of social organization and belief systems. Lots of this never makes it to the story, but it all drives motivations and behavior.

    Setting up opposing forces within one culture and between cultures is my primary focus. I have a ‘laboratory notebook’ that I make notes in for each series or world. I also have a file where I summarize each story’s characters and plot points for reference when I’m writing another story in that world. That lets me see if I’ve already explored some aspect. Repeats of resolved conflicts are a no-no, but exploring their ramifications or picking up unresolved issues is fair game and ties the stories together!

    Hmmm…now that I think of it, to date none of my series stories take place in the same locale as any other. Yes, they’re in the same world, but different aspects of it, in different kingdoms/countries/valleys. I suppose that, if I get around to writing a series of stories that share characters and locations, I’ll have to set up a database for tracking names, cities and such details. I can’t imagine doing that manually!

    Do you manage all this in Excel or do you use a database application (like Access)?

    Interesting topic. I love to learn how other authors write and plan. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to peer into your brain! (Now I’m scaring you, right?)


  3. Jacqueline Roth

    If there was ever someone to give this lesson, it’s Anny. I’m amazed at how each detail of her world fits seamlessly into the next. You are a master.

  4. Sandra

    Besides being a wonderful writer, you’d make a great city planner, Anny.

  5. Cathy M

    As a reader-only, I think the writing process is fascinating. Thanks for sharing it with us, Anny.

  6. Desiree Holt

    Anny, I take my hat off to you. your worldbuilding talents are exceptional and your books show it.

  7. Bronwyn Green

    What a great roadmap to world building – well done, Anny!

  8. Jenyfer Matthews

    Anny is a fantastic world-builder and writer! She just given me an idea of what she must go through to keep track of all the details!

  9. Kelly Kirch

    You already know I’m a fan, Anny. I have to say that as complicated as writing can be, you really know how to outdo yourself. Filing and lists are way out of my comfort level but you make it sound so appealing! Of course I also don’t have a series like yours or require world building. Whatever it is you are doing is perfect. Every story is precisely consistent and believable in it’s own right. Fantastic work, Annycoo.


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