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Creating Vivid Setting in Fantasy Fiction: an Interview with Cristina Slattery

by Writing Workshops Staff

9 months ago

Creating Vivid Setting in Fantasy Fiction: an Interview with Cristina Slattery

by Writing Workshops Staff

9 months ago

We’re excited to introduce you to Cristina Slattery, a renowned writer and instructor whose work has been published by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, among others.

With graduate degrees from Middlebury College's Bread Loaf School of English and Fordham University's Graduate School of Education, Cristina brings a wealth of knowledge and a passion for fantasy fiction to the forefront.

In her upcoming 6-week class, aptly titled Creating Vivid Setting in Fantasy Fiction, she offers aspiring writers a captivating opportunity to explore the intricate art of world-building within the fantasy genre. Whether you're a seasoned fiction writer or just embarking on your literary journey, this course promises to guide you in fashioning immersive and compelling settings that will transport readers into the heart of your fantastical tales.

With a comprehensive syllabus encompassing the history of places, peoples, and time periods, character worldviews, folklore, mythology, and magic, as well as the profound use of setting as allegory, Cristina Slattery's class is set to empower you with the skills and insights needed to breathe life into your own fictional fantasy worlds. Join us as we delve deeper into the enchanting world of Cristina Slattery and her transformative course, where creativity knows no bounds.

WW: Cristina, with your background in publishing pieces in prestigious journals like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, what inspired you to delve into the world of fantasy fiction and its settings?

CS: Although I enjoy writing non-fiction articles (mostly travel and food), I think non-fiction writing, in many ways, is more restrictive, and I have always been eager to explore fiction as a writer, too. I took a writing workshop years ago where we were asked to start a fairy tale. I kept going with this piece because I had written the beginnings of two novels before - and never had gone further than the beginnings - and I decided that I needed to finish a long project. The fairy tale setting evolved and I learned more about the genre of fantasy and developed a plot - that changed several times - and I created several drafts and worked on the book for years off and on. The fantasy novel that currently exists was completed at the end of 2022 and I'm hoping to find the right literary agent to work with soon.

WW: Your course emphasizes the idea that the setting is like a character in a novel. Could you elaborate on that and explain why it's so crucial for fantasy fiction in particular?

CS: The atmosphere of the place that the characters inhabit is very important in most works of fiction. The setting provides context for the characters' actions and for the plot as well. The place and time of a piece of fiction can help readers "see" the story more clearly.

WW: With fantasy encompassing such a broad range of subgenres and worlds, how do you approach guiding students in their individual projects, ensuring each one's unique voice and vision is realized?

CS: I just let the students respond to the assignments in ways they feel are most appropriate. Some students have ideas about what they would like to create, and a few students have drafts. Some students also come to the course with no idea of what they'd like to write and the lessons and assignments should provide a framework for these students to explore and experiment. I try to guide students based on my own experience and help them to connect with what is meaningful to them in order to move their projects forward or compose something new.

WW: Given your extensive research on fantasy fiction and its many forms, what common challenges do writers often face when constructing their fantasy worlds, and how does your workshop address these challenges?

CS: Some challenges in the fantasy genre include knowing which tropes a writer may want to avoid and which tropes might be fun for a writer to play with and invert (perhaps) in their fiction. A trope can be a cliche in fantasy - a prince rescuing the damsel-in-distress, etc. - but many authors enjoy taking these typical scenarios and doing something different with them in their work. It is just important to be aware of the genre itself and reading and watching relevant movies can help a writer understand the range of tropes in the genre. Additionally, creating magic systems can be challenging for fantasy writers. There are "hard" - very detailed - magic systems and "soft" - vaguer - magic systems. I don't deal directly with magic systems and how to create them in my class, but I am certainly open to discussing this aspect of fantasy writing. In my own novel, the magic system is a "soft" one and this may, perhaps, be a reason some readers will be critical of it and maybe I will eventually have to develop a clearer methodology to explain the magic. (This has not been my strength in the past, but I'm learning, too!)

WW: Week 5 of your course focuses on folklore, mythology, and magic. How do these elements enhance a fantasy setting, and what are some techniques writers can use to integrate them seamlessly?

CS: I think including poems or excerpts that relate to myths, folklore, etc. at the beginning of chapters can be a good way to incorporate folklore, mythology, and magic into a novel. A writer can also have a character encounter a book or discuss myths/folklore/magic with others and the reader would become more aware of the unseen rules of the world they are entering and also the history of this world.

WW: The final week discusses setting as an allegory for issues faced in the past or present. How do you believe using fantasy settings as allegories can impact and resonate with readers today?

CS: It is almost impossible to divorce ourselves from our contemporary reality/unconscious biases, etc. However, I think creating allegorical worlds can often be a safer way to explore problems that exist in our "real" world and perhaps also allow an author the freedom to explore potential solutions to crises/issues humanity faces currently or has faced in the past. Non-fiction is more restrictive and the space in fiction is much larger, so that writers can really allow their imaginations to create potentially unlikely scenarios, but that will allow the reader to enjoy the experience of reading and also reflect, perhaps, on what the relationship of the text is with conditions that actually exist or have existed.

You can learn more about Cristina's 6-week class, Creating Vivid Setting in Fantasy Fiction, and enroll if you're interested. We would be honored to write with you this year! So, what are you waiting for?  

Instructor Cristina Slattery has written for publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes Travel Guide, Harvardwood Highlights, Roads & Kingdoms, The Winter Film Awards,, Words Without Borders,,, several airline magazines, and other national and international magazines and websites.

She currently lives in the New York area, but she lived and worked in Barcelona for five years and enjoyed the life of an expat since it helped to hone her powers of observation and also allowed her to think in different languages. She has lived and worked in Boston, a city she also finds charming. Cristina has an undergraduate degree with honors in her field from Harvard University, a master’s in English from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English, and a master’s in Teaching from Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education.

Cristina has worked as an English teacher, in the corporate and non-profit sectors, and as a college counselor for international students and U.S. residents. She has also been a producer on a Netflix documentary called When a Dream Comes True.

Additionally, she has written a middle grade fantasy novel and looks forward to seeing this book in the hands of young readers soon - it is currently with two literary agents who are reviewing it.


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