On World-Building: Rapunzel, the Night Maiden

First, some background info on this story:

Three years ago, I wrote stories for friends and family as Christmas presents. I wrote them for anyone who asked… I didn’t expect so many to ask. So, December 2015 was truly a month of writing through the burn out.

What helped was that I had no particular aspirations for these stories. I wrote them with no intention to revise, edit, or publish.

And yet, out of the 10 stories I wrote that month, one of them turned out to be a gem — “Rapunzel, the Night Maiden.”

For nearly three years, it sat in my Google drive, collecting metaphorical dust. Revising it for publication never crossed my mind until I wrote my Snow White reboot some weeks ago and decided to collect a group of my short stories in an anthology, Fairy Tales and Space Dreams. And when I re-read “Rapunzel, the Night Maiden,” it was like I was experiencing its magic for the first time. I was looking for short stories I’d abandoned, hoping to give them new life in my anthology, and I was happy to include this Rapunzel retelling.

Little did I know how popular and beloved it would be.

So far, 14 out of 16 beta readers have listed “Rapunzel, the Night Maiden” as one of their favorite (or their absolute favorite) out of the Fantasy portion of the my anthology. (Fairy Tales and Space Dreams will be divided into fantasy stories and sci-fi stories.) Apparently, it is (so far) the most fleshed out, developed Fantasy story in the collection, with the most engaging characters and dialogue. I’ve also been told the world-building was actually… well done.

Was it? Was it?

When I originally wrote the story, I had no idea that world-building was what I was doing (and if I’d known then, I might have tried to turn it into a novel). I’d organically revealed parts of the world, meaning aspects were brought up naturally and when they were relevant — as opposed to explaining everything to the reader in an info dump.

That’s all well and good, but the main critique I’ve been getting is, “More! More! This sounds like the beginning of an adventure!”

What I’ve resolved to do is delete the least-liked and least developed stories in order to make room for expanding the best-written, best-developed stories, most loved stories. (I am, most naturally, a novel writer, so the most common critique I get on my short stories in general is that I need to add more. So many of my short stories sound like the beginnings of novels, and I’m trying so hard to fix that.)

All right, let’s get to the world-building:

So then. I’m going to expand “Rapunzel, the Night Maiden,” but how? How do I continue this flawless world-building (because now I’m definitely going to overthink it), and how do I expand this story without turning it into a novella?

First, I’m going to revisit what I’ve already built.

The original “Rapunzel” is a German fairy tale, so I stuck with that when imagining my setting. It isn’t Germany exactly, but it’s modeled after Germany. Therefore, the knight of the story has a very German name, Richard Ludwig.

I don’t’ want to reveal too many spoilers (because I hope to publish Fairy Tales and Space Dreams relatively soon, and I want you to discover the surprises for yourself), but Rapunzel discovers a race of women who are magic healers called the Idanko, and who have names like Oriyomi. These words, with their Yoruba roots (“idan” means “magic,” and “Oriyomi” is a Yoruba name), hint at West African inspiration, mainly the Yoruba ethnic group residing in Nigeria and Benin.

(Quick digression: I originally named them the Majokko, which means “magical girl” or “witch” in Japanese… Mostly because Japanese is the foreign language I’m most skilled with. But that didn’t seem to make sense when I re-read it. So I changed it to “Idanko.” Although, I kept the Japanese “-ko” suffix, meaning “child,” often referring to girls or young women.)

This means that if I’m going to expand this world, I’m going to have to pinpoint an era (a time when knights would have existed in Germany) and research what Germany was like at that time. Now, I’m not writing a historical fiction — remember, this part of my world isn’t Germany itself. It’s modeled after Germany. But the research would certainly help with consistency.

As far as languages, my characters will speak Something-Close-to-Yoruba and Something-Close-to-German (actually, I might just use real German. I’m a native English speaker, and learning Swedish was fairly easy for me, so how hard could German be?).

Next, what were the Yoruba people doing around this time? What were some of their customs? And, this will be the trickiest, how did the Idanko come in contact with Richard’s people, and how did they come to settle in Richard’s people’s land? Perhaps Richard’s people colonized the Idanko, and some of the Idanko decided it was well within their rights to migrate North to inhabit the homeland of their colonizers. Or maybe they were slaves and won their freedom. It could also be that some of the Idanko were fleeing some sort of badness (war, disease, famine, general socio-political unrest) and took refuge up North.

All of this information doesn’t have to actually be in the story, but having it in my notes will help me shape the story.

I need to flesh out how  the Idanko will differ from Richard’s people, culturally. But perhaps a more interesting question is: how will the Idanko who migrated North differ from the Idanko who stayed back home? This is especially important because I want to paint the Idanko who migrated as people who, after many generations, deviated from their home culture until they became an essentially lost people.

The idea of a “lost people” is near and dear to my heart because I’m African-American, and we are a lost people, far removed from our West African ancestors. Once stolen and sold as slaves, we were stripped of our language and culture. My ancestors were forbidden from speaking their mother tongue. They were brought to this unknown land and made to wear strange clothes, speak a strange language, eat strange foods, and follow a strange religion.

So, what do we get? We don’t get to be African, and we don’t get to be fully American, either. We get to be African-American, and more or less 100 years after slavery (I know, it’s technically 153 years on paper, but if you think some masters didn’t keep slaves even after 1865, I’ve got some reading material for you), we’re still trying to figure out what that means.

(Wow, I teared up a little writing this.)

So how will the idea of Idanko as a “lost people” play as a factor in this story? And what does that mean for Richard, Rapunzel, and her mother? (If you’re dying to know more, you could always beta read for me, or you could help my GoFundMe along to speed up the publishing process. I am still trying to raise money to afford a professional editor and a professional cover designer. 😉 )

If you’re also in the beginning stages of world-building, I hope some of the questions I’ve asked myself have given you something to think about in regards to your own world. ❤

At this point, I still don’t know how I’m going to expand, and eventually end, “Rapunzel, the Night Maiden,” but I do know that I now have a mission and a host of discoveries before me.

I’ve got a world to build.

GoFundMe, to help me cover the costs to publish my anthology of fantasy and science fiction short stories, Fairy Tales and Space Dreams.

Twitter: @BGBFS

Facebook: Black Girls Belong in Fantasy and Sci-fi

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