Oct 14 2013

Guest Post and Giveaway: Samantha Shannon, Author of The Bone Season, on the Challenges of World-Building

Posted by Kara in Giveaway, Guest Post, Kara / 15 Comments

I am so excited, you guys! I’ve been trying to get her on the blog for a while now, and she is finally here! Today, Samantha Shannon talks about world-building and her process for The Bone Season. 

I was really interested in hearing her thoughts on this topic because I thought the world-building in her book was epic and well-planned and totally blew me away. There is still a lot to learn, as it cannot all be revealed in the first book, but I look forward to more intricacies and details as the series unfolds. 

But anyway, she’s here to chat about all sorts of things world-building, and then that is followed by two giveaways. One is for a hardcover of the book provided by me, and the other is an Audible.com VIP code for a copy of The Bone Season and another audiobook of your choice provided by the author! 

I wasn’t going to originally do a giveaway, but I do want to share this book with those who have not had a chance to read it yet. It’s definitely worth your time, though I know it is not a book for everyone. 

Want to see the review I did on The Bone Season

Hello! I’m Samantha Shannon. Kara very kindly invited me to Great Imaginations to talk about the worldbuilding in my first novel, The Bone Season. (I met Kara at BEA and if you haven’t met her in person, I’d like to take the opportunity to say that she’s lovely.)

Building the world of The Bone Season – a futuristic world in which clairvoyants are persecuted by a puppet government called Scion, who are in turn controlled by supernatural creatures known as Rephaim – was by far the most enjoyable part of the writing process, but also the most challenging. Conveying a complex, multi-layered world to a reader was no easy feat, and from the reviews I’ve read, my worldbuilding technique seems to have been the single most polemical aspect of the book. I’ve seen reviews saying that they loved it, others saying they hated it – it was too confusing, there was too much information, there was too little information. I quote a neat summary of the negatives from one publication: ‘Reviews in the Examiner and USA Today criticized The Bone Season for dumping too many facts on the reader and deploying so many confusing names.’

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Literature is subjective; each person will take something different from each book. I had to accept that when I was putting the first chapter together. I had to accept that this opening, however it panned out, would work for some people and not for others. It might even put some readers off reading the whole book. I also had to remind myself that although I knew the world like the back of my hand, and understood how all its elements fit together, my readers would be new to the world and would have no idea what was happening. This meant I had to make some tough choices about how to handle Chapter 1.

First, I made the key decision to make Paige – my narrator – fully aware of the clairvoyant world at the beginning of the book. She doesn’t go through the same arc of self-discovery that many protagonists do, when they realise they’re ‘different’ or ‘special’ in some way. Paige knows she’s different from the beginning: she’s clairvoyant, she’s a criminal, she’s unnatural. She knows all about the clairvoyant gang syndicate, all about auras and dreamscapes and the æther, and she knows the basics of her own gift, dreamwalking. She knows about the dystopian government, Scion. What she doesn’t know about is the Rephaim and their realm. The reader learns with her once she reaches the prison city of Sheol I – but in the first few chapters, I had to explain at least a little of the history of Scion, and how the effects of that history are playing out in the year 2059. You have to know Paige’s world before I can turn it upside-down.

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Chapter 1 is slightly more barefaced than the rest of the book. Paige takes you out of the action to talk at you about the world. She addresses the reader directly, saying things like ‘Let me clarify’ and ‘Trust me’. Breaking down the fourth wall was the only justifiable way I could introduce paragraphs of information about Scion London, a high-security citadel which is only briefly explored in the first book. I was aware that I was turning my back on the age-old saying ‘Show, don’t tell’, but I reasoned that it was better for the reader to have too much information than too little. ‘Show, don’t tell’ just wasn’t working out. Early drafts of The Bone Season had a little less information crammed into Chapter 1, but when reading those drafts, both my editor and a small group of early readers felt uncertain about the foundations of the world. You might be overwhelmed by the time you reach Chapter 2, but you’ll also be armed with a good understanding of Paige’s life. You’ll be ready for the new challenges posed by the Rephaim, who come with their own catalogue of rules. 

One of the key links in the book – the relationship between dreamscapes, auras and the æther – isn’t explained until Chapter 13, when Paige has a ‘flashback’ to meeting her boss for the first time. My editor and I tried moving this scene to an earlier point, but it refused to work anywhere else; it seemed unnatural and forced in every place but Chapter 13. So the reader is expected to trust that there is a link, and that it will be revealed and clarified in due course. Trust is something Paige seeks throughout the story, but it’s also inherent between author and reader.

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I know Kara wanted me to talk about the setting of The Bone Season, and I’ve now gone off on a tangent about trust and stuff, so I’ll just, er, get this back on track. The Bone Season takes place in two cities, both based on real locations: London and Oxford. London becomes the Scion Citadel of London, where futuristic technology mingles with vestiges of the Victorian era, while Oxford becomes the crumbling prison city of Sheol I. The word She’ol (שְׁאוֹל) is Hebrew, meaning ‘hell’ or ‘pit’, and I tried to recreate the city with this in mind. I could have chosen to write in an entirely imaginary world – and there is one fictional place mentioned in the book, called Netherworld, where the Rephaim come from – but instead I decided to layer most of it over our world, in the style of urban fantasy. Apart from Netherworld, all of the locations mentioned in the book are real. Of course, I took some liberties with them; Oxford isn’t really a penal colony (unless you count being trapped in a library for weeks), and the London in the book is shaped by an alternate history of England. The denizens wear Victorian-style clothes and are hit by a constant barrage of anti-clairvoyant propaganda. It is London, but it isn’t.

Major landmarks appear in both cities. In London, you’ll recognise Trafalgar Square, Seven Dials, Big Ben and the Barbican, among others. I call these ‘points of reference’. They help ground the fantasy in reality, which is vital when you’re writing dystopia. At its heart, a dystopian story has to feel plausible enough to stir fear in the reader. Despite the fantastical elements – the clairvoyants, the Rephaim, the spirits – they still have to sympathise with Paige’s terror and anger. If there are no points of reference, no links to the real world, it’s much harder to establish that connection.

To summarise, I hope that if you do read The Bone Season, you’ll feel that it repays you for your commitment by presenting you with a fully realised world and relatable characters. But if it’s not your cup of tea, that’s okay as well. Thank you for having me!



Yay! Thanks for stopping by, Samantha! And now, readers, your opportunity to win a copy of the book in question! Enter using the Rafflecopter forms below. The top Rafflecopter is for the hardcover copy and the one below that is for the audiobook VIP coupon code.
Giveaway is international, but you must be from a country The Book Depository ships to.

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15 Responses to “Guest Post and Giveaway: Samantha Shannon, Author of The Bone Season, on the Challenges of World-Building”

  1. Melanie

    I did find the beginning a little overwhelming but I don’t think there would have been any better way. I really loved Paige’s world and can’t wait to jump back in!

    Thanks for sharing! <33

  2. Esther Shaindel

    I loved the beginning. It was a whole new world and extremely interesting, so I didn’t mind learning about it, struggling to keep things straight. Besides, I felt like I was really getting to know Paige, so it wasn’t *all* tell and no show… 😉

  3. Nara

    I have to say that it was a bit tough at the start to keep track of things- definitely the first couple of chapters were a bit “who are all these people?” and “what are all of the things!?” but I think Samantha did quite a good job of reiterating and explaining things, so after a while, you get a better understanding about the world.

    Being trapped in a library would be heaven as long as there’s an endless supply of snacks available too haha.

  4. Keertana

    I loved The Bone Season and while I agree that the first chapter was a little dry with the info-dump, the pay-off in the rest of the novel was so worth it. Thanks for sharing this one, Kara!(:

  5. April (BooksandWine)

    Yay for guest posts with GIFs! I do think that it was a bit confusing but when all the layers came together, I kind of had an oh hell yes moment.

    Also, I think that I will read the next book in the series as a physical book and not audio, although I did like the audio version but I didn’t love it or anything.

    I’m glad Samantha stopped by with this guest post, it was an interesting read for sure!

    • Kara_Malinczak

      I’m glad you liked it. I definitely wish I was an audiobook person, but I just don’t think I could listen like that. My attention span is whack. Someday I will try.

    • Kara_Malinczak

      Me too. Those are my favorite kind of guest posts so I always try to center it around questions that are interesting to readers AND writers, since I have a lot of them that read this blog.

  6. Ina M.

    Like people say it was quite a bit confusing in the beginning but once I had warmed up to it I loved The Bone Season, and it was great to read more about the process of writing it, many thanks for giving us this treat of an interview & giveaway ^_^

    • Kara_Malinczak

      You are so welcome! I think a lot of us had trouble in the beginning, but we are the lucky ones who stuck it out because the rest of the book was magical!

  7. Bonnie R

    I’m in the middle of this right now and the majority of the information can be a bit confusing and hard to I guess see the big picture at times but I would so much prefer to have too much information to sort through than not enough. Great guest post!

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