Shadow and Light is going to take place in a magical fantasy world. That’s easy for me to say, but it really doesn’t say much. Many amateur authors immediately gravitate to a Tolkienesque fantasy world because it’s familiar and easy. Why spend the energy to make up your own creatures and magic system when the guys at Dungeons and Dragons have done all the work for you?
There are advantages to using the familiar. I’ll admit that I have an easy time slipping into that universe. I know what an elf, an orc, or a dragon is. I know most wizards are good, elves are arrogant, and hobbits are simple, wholesome folk who keep to themselves. But I also know Tolkien spent years researching and developing that universe. He studied Celtic and Norse mythology, learned the legends and stories of ancient gods and heroes that influenced the society he lived in.
The problem is, it’s his universe. If I use it, I’m really just saying I’m either unable or unwilling to do the work myself. Plugging the story concept of Shadow and Light into that universe would be a cop-out for me. Besides, designing the universe and rules of magic are half the fun!
For me, the first important question is whether I’m setting my story on a magical alternate earth, or on some other planet. It’s an important question, because when you change planets, everything can change. For Shadow and Light, I’m sticking with an alternate version of Earth. Why? Because I’m introducing enough unfamiliar stuff, I figure I should leave some things easy and familiar. A solar day will take the same 24 hours we’re comfortable with, a lunar month will be 28 days, and a solar year is 365 days. There’s just one moon in the sky, and one sun too. Nice. Easy. Familiar.
I’m not setting my magic fantasy in a fictional version of medieval North-Western Europe, though. I know that’s where most magic fantasy with swords and knights is based, and there’s a good reason for it: that’s where the real knights that we’re all familiar with came from. In order to draw attention to the contrasts between the two cultures in Shadow and Light, I’ve decided to make them both just a bit different from what we usually find in tales of knights and magic.
Shadow and Light is set on a fictional island or peninsula with a tropical or sub-tropical climate. I’m thinking of an area more geographically similar to the Philippines or Japan than Europe. The theme of binary divisions will extend into the climate, which is divided into a cold dry season and a hot wet season.
The two cultures, the Shadow Realm and the Solar Kingdom, will live in separate regions of the island. The Shadow Realm is in the south-west, a low coastal foothills region. I’m picturing coral reefs off the coast, a narrow sandy coast that rises sharply into the foothills, where the people grow cotton, rice, grapes, sugarcane, and tropical fruits. A ridgeline separates the lowlands of the Shadow Realm from the highlands of the Solar Kingdom. In the highlands, they grow flax, barley, wheat, and sheep.
Right on the ridgeline that divides the two realms is a huge meteor impact crater, over a dozen miles across. A lake fills the low center of the crater, fed by rivers and rains during the wet season, the water level dropping over the course of the dry season. From the center of the lake rises a stone tower, a fortress. The crater is a highly fertile, sheltered, and generally desirable land, which is part of why the Shadow Realm and Solar Kingdom fight over it.
The Solar Kingdom and Shadow Realm get their names because of the magic endemic to the ruling classes. The Knights and Lords of the Solar Kingdom have light magic; they can imbue objects they are in contact with (preferably metal) with light to make it stronger and more durable. The Shadow Witches use shadow magic, which forms shadow constructs that have no mass, but are solid and strong — so long as they remain in contact with the witch.
I think that’s all I’m going to tell you right now. I’m about done with the outline, which means I’m close to being ready to actually start writing the story. There are lots of details and characters that I still need to work out, but those will shape themselves through the writing.