World Building: Capturing a Compelling Setting

World Building

Capturing a Compelling Setting

World building, creating a vibrant fantasy setting, is our next installment in my posts on writing. Fantasy author Heidi L Burke stops by to share her insights on this must-know topic of the genre. Heidi is a prolific and imaginative writer. Let’s see how she approached world building for her new release, Ashen. I’m going to do something a little unorthodox here and start with a synopsis of Ashen so we have an idea of the story. Then Heidi will jump in to describe how she built the world of the novel.

Ashen Synopsis:

Stealer of warmth, bringer of death.

What if Cinderella had a secret that kept her locked away?

Unable to make her own body heat, foundling Lizbete survives in the tavern kitchen, drawing warmth from the fires, the sun—and sometimes, other living beings. Her days are spent cooking alongside the tavern owner and avoiding the suspicious gazes of the villagers in her small northern town. While she quietly longs for the handsome Brynar, she knows she has no chance with the mayor’s son, even if he invites her to the First Frost festival.

When sudden earthquakes strike Brumehome, blame falls upon Lizbete, and not even her friendship with Brynar can protect her. She finds shelter in the dangerous caverns of nearby Ash Mountain. There she discovers mysterious people with her same ability to draw heat—and a fiery doom in the mountain that slowly awakens with every quake.

Now the festival Lizbete thought to avoid is her only chance to warn the villagers. Yet even with Brynar at her side, can the strange girl dubbed the Ash Lizard hope to save the town that fears her?

A rugged YA Cinderella retelling set in a fantasy world with light steampunk elements.

ASHEN, by H L Burke

ASHEN, by H L Burke

World Building for Fiction Writers

by H L Burke

Generally speaking, when I am writing a story, I pick a culture or location to use as a jumping off point then put my own spin on it. I like the setting to spring organically out of what the plot needs. For instance, Spice Bringer featured a rare and valuable spice with healing properties which made India, with its history in the spice trade, an obvious source of inspiration. For Heart of the Curiosity, a story based around theaters and performances, I knew that I wanted a lively, vibrant city with a thriving art and theater scene, which led to the vaguely Parisian setting. Both of those books are set in made up worlds, but the names, food, and general “feel” for them are taken from those inspirations.

When I was selecting a setting for what was to become Ashen, I had two things I wanted:

  1. It needed to be someplace cold, and …
  2. It needed to have volcanoes.

Iceland felt like an obvious pick.

Brumehome is a small fishing village in a sheltered bay in the remote reaches of a kingdom that really doesn’t come up in the story at all. There’s mention of a distant king, but the town itself is run by an appointed mayor, a position that has stayed within a single family due to tradition. The feeling of an isolated but tightly knit community where everyone depends on everyone else is essential to my main character’s feeling of not belonging. While she doesn’t fit in with the townsfolk, she literally has nowhere else to go as every place she could flee to is several days’ journey across an inhospitable landscape, impossible for a girl who cannot create her own warmth.

The town lives under the shadow of an active volcano. Steam constantly rises from the various tunnels around the mountain. The townsfolk have harnessed this geothermal energy to heat their homes and run basic machinery, giving the culture a slight steampunk feel, but they are simple folk who still do most things the old fashioned way.

Lizbete, my main character, is the adopted daughter of the woman who runs the town’s only tavern. I had fun researching Icelandic food for this as Lizbete spends a lot of her time in the kitchen (where it is always warm). I also enjoyed throwing in some other Icelandic traditions (do yourself a favor and look up the Icelandic Christmas cat).

To me world building and setting should always serve the story and characters first. They should grow together as the story grows and adjust to support each other. I hope you get a chance to see how this dance works when you read Ashen.

H L Burke, author of ASHEN

H L Burke, author of ASHEN

Heidi L Burke Biography:

Born in a small town in north central Oregon, H. L. Burke spent most of her childhood around trees and farm animals and was always accompanied by a book. Growing up with epic heroes from Middle Earth and Narnia keeping her company, she also became an incurable romantic. Her obsessions include dragons and tales about inner beauty and character overcoming extreme circumstances. Married to her high school crush who is now a US Marine, she has moved multiple times in her adult life but believes that home is wherever her husband, two daughters, and pets are.

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Purchase Ashen:


Ashen and Met By Midnight Blog Tour - Uncommon Universes Press

Ashen and Met By Midnight Blog Tour – Uncommon Universes Press

Ashen and Met by Midnight Blog Tour

Heidi is on tour with fellow fantasy author Janeen Ippolito, celebrating the release of Ashen and Met by Midnight.

Ashen Review Excerpt 1

I am a huge H.L. Burke fan and this addition lives up what I have come to expect from her work. Snarky heroes, original world building, lots of hope and of course, happy endings. -C.O. Bonham, early review

Ashen Review Excerpt 2

Although this Cinderella retelling twists them into something quite different, it retains most of the traditional elements of the story; the girl given a nick-name due to being covered in ashes, the cruel guardian, the “ball” attended in disguise, shoes of glass and the giant lava-dwelling fire octopus.

OK, so that last one isn’t usually part of the story but it really ought to be. The story flows easily from the first page effortlessly drawing you in and keeping you enthralled right through to the end. -LJ

Met By Midnight Review Excerpt 1

I was blown away by the originality in Met By Midnight.  This story was so good, it stirred up all the feels, all righteous anger. This has many things that Cinderella does, a girl who wants to change her lot in life, a royal ball, even a lost slipper. But do not go in thinking this is a sweet fairy-tale. This is DEFIANCE. -C.O. Bonham

Met By Midnight Review Excerpt 2

The characters brought this story to life for me in such wonderful ways. Met By Midnight is so special and a favorite read for me this year. -Kara Grant

Thanks so much for stopping by, Heidi. Ashen looks like a terrific read. Readers, writers, stay tuned for more posts on the art and craft of writing, right here.

A. R. Silverberry




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