Victoria Aveyard Talks About World Building, Lord of the Rings, and her New Novel Realm Breaker

One of the most anticipated YA fantasy books of the year, the new release by international and #1 New York Times bestselling author Victoria Aveyard, Realm Breaker, is finally here! Following her massive hit, the Red Queen series, which was optioned by Universal Pictures, Aveyard shifts from the dystopian genre to fantasy, welcoming a new trilogy, a new style, and a new world. When the heroes fail, and a band of misfits are left to save the world, Realm Breaker was born.

Corayne’s blood is the key to saving the world—and as a pirate’s daughter who has felt trapped in her small town all her life, this comes as a shock. When she is joined by a ragtag group of unlikely heroes, the real adventure begins. After all, it is only when all the heroes have fallen that the world could be saved by the likes of an honorable squire and a vicious assassin, side by side.

With the skillfully written action and complex characters readers have come to expect, along with signature Victoria Aveyard twists, Realm Breaker (HarperTeen) proves itself just as worthy as her previous smash-hit novels. It brings the comfort of a classic fantasy novel, with new twists, and characters who revamp the genre. And as always, Aveyard leaves readers wanting more…and we doubt she’ll disappoint!

It’s my absolute pleasure to introduce the author who inspired me to start writing, and from whom I continue to learn today. Her early works have shaped me as a writer, and Realm Breaker continues to do so.

Welcome, Victoria Aveyard!

Hadley Timmermann: First, let me say that I’m a huge fan of the Red Queen series, so I was really excited for Realm Breaker and this interview with you! Was there anything you learned from the massive success of Red Queen that influenced this new series?

Victoria Aveyard: I got so lucky with that series and its reception, and of course, I want to keep my readers happy and entertained with whatever I do next. As a creative, you’re always in competition with yourself and trying to improve. That’s a heavy weight to carry. But the success of Red Queen also gave me a lot of opportunity to do what I wanted next, and I wanted to take my big swing at a high fantasy adventure. And of course, the Red Queen roller coaster taught me so much about the publishing industry, and myself as a career writer. My most valuable lesson has been learning to let go of what I can’t control. Which is most of this industry. I have a very limited scope of what I can and cannot do, and what is worth my energy. Finding those boundaries has been key to protecting my writing time and my writing mind.

HT: I read that you said Lord of the Rings was the inspiration for Realm Breaker. What is it about that book that stuck with you?

VA: The Lord of the Rings certainly wasn’t the first story I wanted to live in, or world I wanted to visit. That honor belongs to Star Wars. But LotR was very much my spark moment – I don’t just love stories, I need them. I need to experience them and tell them myself. This is what makes me feel whole and connected to the world. I first truly experienced Tolkien at 11 years old, and I think it was very much a case of the exact right thing at the exact right time. This world and these stories captured me and sent me off on a journey, somehow at the same time. And from Tolkien itself, the thing that stays with me most is how beautifully tragic and lovely his work is. Everything is always in a state of fading, which makes the moment you get it that much more precious.

HT: Realm Breaker is written in the third person with many POVs, very different from the Red Queen series, which was majority first person. How did you make sure each of the main characters in Realm Breaker had a unique voice?

VA: The challenge in any story with multiple POVs is making sure each voice sounds different and distinct. Luckily, these characters have such different personalities, that wasn’t as difficult as I anticipated. What helped most was internalizing as much as I could about these characters and their internal compasses, so I didn’t have to be so conscious of their characters while writing their POVs. It’s easier to flow when you don’t have to constantly think NOW WHAT WOULD THEY DO HERE, because you’ve absorbed them and their way of thinking. You already know how they’d react. One exercise I did early on was quick and easy, but very helpful. I wrote down a brief description of what each character would be doing in a bar fight, and it really helped me cut through to the heart of their personalities. And then later on in the novel, I actually got to write that bar fight in, which was a real treat. 

HT: How do you go about building a new fantasy world? Do you start with characters, or a map of the place, or images? And as you explore a new setting and characters how do you keep everything straight?

VA: I went into Realm Breaker absolutely knowing that my main character and leader would be this teenage girl, the bastard daughter of a hero who wants no part of him. So Corayne’s parameters were very much in my head very early on, but I also absolutely knew she would be part of an ensemble team of deadly misfits. Obviously, Corayne is the core and emotional anchor, and I knew what kind of world I wanted her to exist in: medieval fantasy, with my parameters being approximately the 13th century in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, with an eye to the confluence of those continents in the Mediterranean. I approach my worldbuilding like I do my storytelling – I have a structure in mind, with parameters and general ideas, then I start fleshing out. Once I knew what the inspiration was going to be, I went into map mode. Geography is incredibly important to my worldbuilding, as it shapes everything from politics to culture and therefore character. I like each piece of the world to build on the next, so it feels real and deep, and expansive beyond the characters and storyline. The actual information is largely kept in charts and lists, embedded within my Scrivener doc for the first draft.

HT: Your writing of action and war is some of the best I’ve ever read. How do you approach writing action-packed fight scenes? Do you try them out yourself or just imagine them?

VA: Thank you!! I really take pride in my setpieces and action sequences, so I’m glad to hear they land for you. I’m a very visual writer, and I’m essentially trying to show a reader exactly what I see in my head, with as few words as possible. It’s really easy for a reader to get bogged down in action, and it’s important to keep their eyes and their brains moving. I think my background in film helps me a lot here and my degree in screenwriting really pays off in a fight scene. I don’t act them out per se, but for the really big sequences or ones with lots of moving pieces, I will map out the general overview on paper, be it army movements or geography of the battleground. Another thing that helps me a lot is listening to music. I have certain songs that correspond to setpieces, and I choreograph action and movement to the music, which gives it a nice rhythm that makes something that could be a little confusing easier for an audience to digest.

HT: What is your revision process like? How many drafts do you typically write?

VA: I will take about 6-7 months on a first draft, and then submit to my editor and agent. I’ll get notes from both, and I will usually go through two rounds of content edits, namely edits to the story and characters. I’ve been very lucky so far in that those content edits are never huge. I’ve never had to completely change a storyline or do a full rewrite, thank God. From there, we move on to one more minor content, usually tweaking for plot and to make sure our intentions land, before we get to copy edits. Once we’re in copy, the process feels very downhill, which is great, but it’s also scary to know the manuscript is now becoming a book, and therefore, being taken out of your hands. You make peace with a lot and have to detach at a certain point, so you don’t keep tweaking and altering beyond what’s necessary.

HT: Realm Breaker is the first of a series. Can you tell us anything about what is to come in the Realm Breaker World?

VA: When building a series, something really important to remember is escalation. Each piece has to feel bigger than the last, both physically and in regard to emotional stakes. The Realm Breaker series has tremendous escalation, and I’m so excited to get into some of what I have planned, both in terms of setpieces and character development. I can say we’re going someplace cold in Book 2, and the ending of this one has been in my brain for years. People are going to hate it.

HT: Is there anything you can say about the Universal Pictures’ film adaptation of Red Queen?

VA: I can say that some of the words in that sentence are correct and some are now incorrect.

HT: Okay! Finally, you are a big inspiration to aspiring young writers like me. What was the best advice you got when you were starting out?

VA: A finished, imperfect draft is better than a perfect single chapter. I do not edit as I go because I prioritize finishing over perfection. A professor of mine also had some great craft advice that I repeat whenever I can, and it’s especially helpful to SFF writers. She said: you can get an audience to believe one unbelievable thing. Everything beyond that, you have to try to make sense within the bounds of the world and the established unbelievable thing. That’s incredibly important – our audiences only have so much belief to give, and once you push them past a point, and that rope between writer and reader breaks, it is almost impossible to get it back.

HT: Thanks so much, Victoria!!

Realm Breaker is out today. Get your copy at IndieBound now!

About Victoria Aveyard

Victoria Aveyard is an author and screenwriter, born and raised in Long Meadow, Massachusetts. She has a BFA in Writing for Film & Television from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Her first novel, Red Queen, was optioned by Universal Pictures a year after graduation. Her books include four #1 New York Times bestselling and USA Today bestselling novels, two New York Times bestselling novellas, and a New York Times bestselling short story collection. She lives in Los Angeles with her dog Indy.

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