For this week’s episode of the Writers of Fantasy Podcast, I got to talk to Victoria Schwab, aka V.E. Schwab. She is an American fantasy author best known for her 2013 novel Vicious, the Shades of Magic series, and her children’s and young adult fiction.

We had a really good, long talk about world building, characters, writing, and gender issues in science fiction and fantasy. Listen here, and there are some key quotes below! Check it out!

Key Quotes

On The Near Witch and How a Writer changes

I started out when I was quite young, and I wrote my first book when I was nineteen. The Near Witch was the second book I’d ever written, and I was twenty-one! And I’m now thirty! There’s some growth that happens, I’ve not got thirteen books published, and obviously you grow and change as a person.

I get asked often ‘do you go back and look at your previous work and think of things you would do differently?’ The honest truth is that I kind of look at each and every one of my books as a time capsule of who I was and what I was capable of doing. So, I never want to change any of them, as The Near Witch is a capsule of who I was in college and what I was studying and what excited me.

Whereas The Shades of Magic series and The Monsters of Verity series are just as much time capsules of who I was and what I was going through while doing a Masters Degree on depictions of monstrosity. And I was travelling a lot. So, they’re precious to me in different ways.

Monsters and Villains

Certainly with something like Vicious, which is about villains, and villainy. About the arbitrary labels that we apply to heroes and villains. It’s a book about personal vendettas, and who is a hero and who is a villain. Is it determined by where they fall on opposite sides of this argument? In that book, specifically, I wanted to play with the idea [of villains].

I sat down and thought ‘wouldn’t it be a fun challenge to write a book without heroes?’ Could I write a book without heroes and make the reader strongly root for one of the villains? It was a craft exercise in learning it’s not what our characters do, it’s not what we do as people, but why we do it. Motivation Vs action.

Sometimes I do sit down and think. There’s always a seed. I gather ingredients for a story until I have enough to make a meal. But I think there’s always that one ingredient that’s the core, bonding thing.


The main commonality of all my work is the centering of the outsider. I’m really interested in outsiders, I felt like one all my life. Outsiders really fall into two camps: the person who’s actually born outside of the common environment. Then there’s the person born inside the environment who feels like  an outsider.

I really like playing with the porousness of those boundaries. Can you turn an insider into an outsider? Or, can you turn an outsider into an insider? I always view my worlds through the lense of the outsider, so that means I start all of my books with the world building. Because I have to design my world in order to design the insiders who fit comfortably within that scheme. And then design the outsiders so that they’re perpendicular to it.


I write the endings first, because I need to know who my characters are at the very end of the story in order to rewind and figure out who I want them to be at the beginning. That means that more often than not my characters do what I expect.

What often happens is not that they change course, but that they deepen. They become much more complex, or I find out they’re hiding something, or they’ve got a layer to their personality. A character that was just meant to be a cursory one-page character becomes an underpinning. In my Shades of Magic series, it was Edward who just gets tied up in everything along the way.

I have had one character surprise me in that series. There was a character who was not supposed to meet the end that they met. By the time I got to book three I fought with it for several drafts. I just kept putting it back in its place, like a wayward kitten, “No, that’s where you go!”

[Listen to the whole interview]

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