Hello there! Two months ago, I was introduced to the lush and political world of Marghazar and I fell so deeply in love with the Pakistani-inspired fantasy. The Lady or the Lion is a debut that you must pick up because it’s got everything you can think of! And today, I’m so glad to be having Aamna Qureshi, the author of The Marghazar Trials duology and the upcoming When A Brown Girl Flees, as she talks about diversity and worldbuilding in literature.
This October, the blog is featuring many voices from the South Asian community, so if you seem to have missed out on the previous posts, check out South Asian Spotlight!
On Worldbuilding and Diversity
Hi everyone! My name is Aamna Qureshi. I’d like to thank Queenie for featuring me on her blog, and for today’s feature I wanted to discuss the craft of worldbuilding, particularly as it relates to diversity.
First, let’s discuss the importance of worldbuilding. At first glance, it may not seem as important as other factors of a novel, such as characters or relationships, but worldbuilding is integral to the novel as it creates the backdrop for the story to unfold. The world created is the setting that readers will live in for the duration of the novel, and the best books are immersive: places we visit, escape to, disappear into. So when constructing your novel, you want to create a world that readers won’t want to leave.
And how do you do that? Let’s break worldbuilding down to certain aspects. There’s food, fashion, language, political structure, romantic dynamics, religion, familial relationships, geography, weather…worldbuilding includes all of these and more! These aspects should interact and play with other features of your story and enhance them. For example, perhaps the culture of your story includes parents who find difficulty in expressing their emotions; this can play into the conflict of your story and heighten tensions. Another example: maybe your story takes place in the summer; this affects the mood of the story in drastic ways. The summer can be fun and playful, but it can also be unbearably hot and suffocating.
Once you have broken your world down to its parts, think about what each feature will consist of, and what it will be influenced by. This is where diverse storytelling comes into play, for much of the aspects previously mentioned can be greatly inspired by your own culture and how you interact with the world. I don’t just mean for fantasy or historical novels, either; even contemporary stories can be greatly influenced by diverse perspectives. For example, in my contemporary novel, When A Brown Girl Flees, the protagonist Zahra is often seen going to the masjid, and the community she meets there is integral to her growth throughout the story.
Authenticity and heart are at the core of novels, and both of these derive from specificity. Often, as diverse creators, we shy away from details we believe to be too niche, for fear that no one will understand them, and as a result, no one will read our stories. But this is a fallacy; people can appreciate things even if they don’t fully understand them, and they can live in worlds that are foreign to them for the sake of a good story. This is a reminder – for myself especially – that diverse creators should not, and should not be expected to, confine their stories to be palatable to the white gaze and the majority.
So do not be afraid. Be specific. Be authentic. Tell your story. Build your world. Even in the contemporary sphere, we don’t actually all live in the same world; we all have different experiences. It is those experiences and interactions that will make your story wholly unique, and that will make your story shine.
about the author
Aamna Qureshi is a Pakistani, Muslim American who adores words. She grew up on Long Island, New York, in a very loud household, surrounded by English (for school), Urdu (for conversation), and Punjabi (for emotion). Much of her childhood was spent being grounded for reading past her bed-time, writing stories in the backs of her notebooks, and being scolded by teachers for passing chapters under the tables. Through her writing, she wishes to inspire a love for the beautiful country and rich culture that informed much of her identity.
When she’s not writing, she loves to travel to new places where she can explore different cultures or to Pakistan where she can revitalize her roots. She also loves baking complicated desserts, drinking fancy teas and coffees, watching sappy rom-coms, and going for walks about the estate (her backyard). She currently lives in New York. Look for her on IG @aamna_qureshi and Twitter @aamnaqureshi_.