Storyworld: Fantasy vs. Reality

One of the many things I learned while writing my first novel was that I am not the best at dreaming up a storyworld. Interesting characters, complex motivations and intriguing dialogue? Check. But visualizing a landscape, culture and architecture? It was a blur.

My current novel details the harrowing experiences of Sleeping Beauty's chambermaid. She has been raised to serve, not to survive, but that's exactly what she will have to do. The poor girl wakes up from sleeping a hundred years, to realizes her fiance missed out on the enchanted sleep, and must now be dead. Mistreated by the princess, with no future ahead, she chooses to help the fairy responsible for the sleeping spell to find the blood-tipped spindle, before it can be used to destroy the remaining fairies.

It was important to my plot, for my main character to have a name that meant "pumpkin". No problem. I found a website and began translating pumpkin into every language I found.

Big problem. How could I saddle my female lead with a name like Calabaza (Spanish), Kurbis (German), or Zucca (Italian)? And those were the pronouncable ones. Finally, I found it. In Croatian, pumpkin is "Tikva". Bingo. I could live with that, and so could she.


I decided that I may as well give some other characters Croatian names. As I looked them up, I noticed some amazing photos. There were castles in Croatia? Who knew? My ignorant image was of a war-torn bombed-out shell of a country. How had I missed this beautiful European gem? I lost track of time as I virtually explored the country--but it changed my novel for the better.

I found the perfect castle for the enchanted sleep, up on a hill, where you can just imagine brambles growing up all around it (both photos above). Fortunately, the castle is now a museum, with websites that have detailed floorplans and pictures of every room.

I needed a location for my fairies' home. The moment I laid eyes on Plitvice National Park, I knew I'd found it. The ethereal waterfalls that spill from the sixteen terraced lakes seem to shout "fairy kingdom".

The more I explored, the more I was able to fill in plot holes, and plan disasters that I never would have come up with otherwise.

The capital of my country needed to be a Camelot-like city on the sea. Again, Croatia did not disappoint. The old town of Starigrad in Dubrovnik took my breath away with it's tiled roofs and marble streets.

I've discovered that it's not entirely a bad thing that my skill at inventing a brand-new storyworld is not highly developed. My novel is far stronger for the plot points inspired by a real place.

So, if you're struggling with your storyworld, try taking a virtual trip. I've already found the perfect country for my next novel.


  1. Oh my beautiful country Croatia!!!

    Croatian coast

  2. Croatia is a country to be proud of. I only wish I could visit someday.

    Thank you for the link to the photos. They are incredible. Do you mind my asking what region of Croatia you are from?

  3. This is a great idea! I'm working on writing exercises that call for sitting in a public place to observe and describe characters, but this is a fabulous way to come up with a setting.

  4. Thanks, Sandra. I need to give your idea a try, too. And I can't wait to explore new places.

  5. I am in northern Croatia along the border with Hungary, near the river Drava.

  6. How I envy you living there! Have you ever visited Trakoscan Castle? There are so many beautiful ones in Northern Croatia!

  7. Yes, I was there before it was renovated and now is much nicer(80 miles from my house).
    Croatia is very small, but it is geographically very diverse, so it takes only a few hours to pass through the valley to the east and north, mountains in the middle, and finally to the sea with more than 1.000 islands.
    I'm really happy and proud to live in it!

  8. Only 80 miles away? I wish I were so close. If you didn't mind, I'd love to ask you some questions about weather, terrain, and culture. I understand if you'd rather not. My email is dallenco[at]gmail[dot]com.

    I hope to get there someday. My daughter has loved looking at the pictures, and she says she'd like to get married there!

  9. Here's a link to a similar article where several writers tell about their "real" fantasy setting:

  10. I love your story idea! Is this going to be YA? On a curious note, Zuca (with only one C) in my native Ecuador is a nickname we give to blondes. I have a family member with that name :)

    Beautiful photos--they certainly spark the imagination. Best of luck with the project!

  11. Yes, it is a YA. How cool that your nickname means the same! I remember seeing "zucca" when I was doing my research.

    I'm sure you have amazing photos of Ecuador to inspire stories!




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