Guest Post: World Building with ORDINARY MAGIC's Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

Caitlen Rubino-Bradway holds a BA in English Literature and an MA in Publishing from Rosemont College. While in college, she interned with LeFrak Productions, Tor, and Jane Dystel Literary. She currently lives and works in New York City, where she has attended the Monday "day after" dissections, sponsored by the Jane Austen Society of North America, of the most recent series of Austen teleplays.

While ORDINARY MAGIC is Caitlen's debut middle-grade novel, she has also co-written LADY VERNON AND HER DAUGHTER: A Jane Austen Novel as well as a short story appearing in JANE AUSTEN MADE ME DO IT: Original Stories Inspired by Literature's Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart with her mother, Jane Rubino.


Like today's author guest post? Stop back over the next two days for an interview with ORDINARY MAGIC cover designer Donna Mark and my review of this fun novel!

Caitlen Rubino-Bradway:
World Building

Jane Rubino on the left with
Caitlen Rubino-Bradway
Photography courtesy of the authors
One of the things I worry most about with ORDINARY MAGIC is the world building. It was definitely one of the most difficult and time-consuming things about writing the book, along with the…um, everything else. I like how it turned out, but then again I’m not exactly an unbiased opinion.

I think world building is one of the trickiest things about writing fantasy. When done well, it can be as memorable as the characters or story itself — a great fantasy world can almost become a character in its own right. I’m thinking specifically of Terry Pratchett’s DISCWORLD, which reads so real I will only believe it’s not when I receive irrefutable proof (and maybe not even then). Of course there’s also HARRY POTTER, which, I’d like to think, has made everybody keep a close eye on the barriers at their local train station. As a writer, I can only hope to aspire to that, but it’s up to my readers to let me know if I succeeded.

Abby’s world started off with couple of things. First and foremost was her voice. I started off by writing just a few scenes and moments from Abby’s pov, just wanted to get the feel of her, and realized very quickly that this wasn’t an epic fantasy kind of voice. Abby sounded and thought like a modern kid, so I knew that her world should feel very modern.

While I was thinking this, there was also an Arthur C. Clarke quote rattling around in my head. The last of his Three Laws (as stated in his HAZARDS OF PROPHECY essay) is that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” While it’s probably not what he meant, I started thinking about the reverse — that magic, at a certain point, would be indistinguishable from technology. So you can have a very current, contemporary-feeling world, and still have it run on magic. (If that makes sense.) That’s what I tried to go with.

Then, in one of those moments when the clouds part and the sun shines down on the path you’re meant to go, I found Patricia Wrede’s world building questions on the SFWA website. It’s an exhaustive list of questions, designed to help you figure out how your world works and what’s going on. While there were a few questions I could skip over because they just didn’t apply, so many others were about things I hadn’t considered, and as a whole they were absolutely invaluable. I spent days answering all the questions in as much detail as possible, even if it was something that didn’t affect the story and never made it into the book. Because if it ever came up, I would know.

Of course, the opposite side of that, and the thing I had a lot of trouble with, is that lots of stuff never came up. The most difficult thing I had in building Abby’s world is that I was telling it from Abby’s point of view. Now, Abby's just about my favorite character so far, and I loved writing her story, but she’s coming from an insider’s pov, and there’s a lot of stuff about her world that she takes for granted. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that her dad wove magic carpets because to her that was just something her dad did. It was obvious, so why should she mention it? As a writer, I love it when things like that pop up as I’m writing, but as a re-writer and an editor (which both happen at the same time) I then have to go back and work it. It was something my actual, professional, and much wiser editor has called me on, and something I needed to work on — a lot — in the revision stage.

However, for all of the long, eye-straining hours wondering about what the major agricultural export of the Astrin Islands is (it’s pineapple), I’m really happy with how the world turned out. And who knows what more I’ll learn if there’s a sequel.

Caitlen, thank you so much for joining us today!  I adored ORDINARY MAGIC.  I loved your voice and the superb world-building!  Thank you especially for sharing Patricia Wrede's world building questions with us.  I printed them out recently myself in preparation for a fantasy I'm about to begin writing! ^_^

Bookworms, stop back over the next two days for more ORDINARY MAGIC fun!


  1. I wanted to read this one, but I wasn't fast enough. Netgalley archived it before I could read it! Seems like a great book though.

  2. Great post. I really enjoyed Ordinary Magic,I'm one who would certain stand in line for the sequel.


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