The best thing to remember about Tolkein was that he based the lore of Middle Earth on a blend of the mythology from Northern Europe that he had read in its own language. While he innovated much during the course of his writing, he also modified and outright stole large sections out of the myths themselves. We too, as authors, can learn to do the same. Drawing inspiration from ancient mythology is a way to add a touch of class and intelligence to a story as well as let readers predict things before the end (which makes them feel good about themselves). But ultimately, a world only needs to be believable because if you worry too much about hammering out every detail of the world, you miss the point of telling a story. Always keep in mind, whether in scifi or fantasy, that no story in modern day will ever take that long to explain the world. In a cop drama, a guy with a .40 caliber pistol about to kick a door down isn't going to go into a lecture on the physics of ballistics and the machinery behind propelling a projectile down a rifled tube. Instead, he's going to kick the door down and develop the story. So the benchmark for story telling is to make sure that the world never gets in the way of the story. And if you really must tell all those little details, put them in appendices.
I'm right there with you on believability needing a balance between pure info dumps and telling good stories. I also believe in appendices for my own reference, and I guess if someone wanted to read them too, I'd let them.
For what I'm writing, I have a database. Folders are . I try to go into as much detail as possible for the world - racial traits, languages, behaviors, stereotypes, how different things (illness, environments) affect the different races, cultural systems, political systems, lore, myths, etc - but only for reference.
I go into this level of detail because all of those factors have an impact on the progression of the story, as well as the behavior of every character involved. It does add a lot to how believable the characters are when they are no longer doing things "because."
I believe that world development DOES assist with character development - but what do I know?
I read further down that it also opens up/inspires more stories for the same world - it really does.
Yes yes yes I have a ton of crap in my various notes folders... Most of my background info comes from thinking about a given concept, nation, group, character, etc., then thinking about why they do the things they do. From there, it turns into a story that I can keep in my notes.
That's a really good point about these little subliminal factors that have effects on the characters and their environments. After all, nobody lives entirely in a bubble. Think about some of the major world events in our own lives (9/11 for instance) and then try to imagine even a single person whose life wasn't changed in some way as a result. Our characters are like that in relation to events in their own world.
For me, the details in my story started with drawing a map. I basically put a squiggle on a blank piece of paper, then kept adding islands and rivers and stuff until it started to look like an actual map. Then I put a dot on part of the land for where my protagonist would live, put some other dots on there for other major cities, and drew another squiggly line around those dots to make a national border.
After some more squiggly lines for rivers, mountains, and more borders- which typically follow mountain ranges and rivers anyways- I now had a bunch of countries on my map. From here I asked questions that lead to the creation of details:
Which countries are at war with each other? Why? If religion is involved in these wars, what differences are they fighting over? Are there other religions/countries not involved? What do they believe in and why? What kind of social structure does this country have: feudal, republic, or something else entirely?
You can and should ask lots of questions, but that doesn't mean you get to dump it on readers. Keep a vast majority of this info to yourself for now.
For instance, instead of describing a character's appearance in excruciating detail, just keep it simple. Unless something about said character's appearance is super important, like a scar that has deep significance to the overall plot, the reader doesn't need to be told that much. Like instead of saying "x was 5'5" tall blah blah blah", point out instead that said character can't reach a high-up object that another person can. Our brains fill in a lot of information about things like faces, which is why it's better to show the reader than simply telling them. For other things like cathedrals, I base my descriptions off my own observations of real buildings. It depends on what the story demands you focus on.
Sheesh, for a reply about how to be gentle about giving details to your readers, I sure word-vomited all over the place... Hope that made some sense!
Yes that was very helpful thank you. I did draw a map however, but the map is not separated by countries but rather areas of terrain. They are on a deserted planet. Your advice helped me fix a few things thank you
imo what the writer knows and what the author knows are two entirely different things.
Just look at all the extra information JK Rowling has released on PotterMore that she knew, backstories for every character, characters that we never even met etc, these things are all important to know as an author so you can build your story around these facts.
As a first time reader of a new fantasy world, I really don't want to be bombarded with facts. What I want is to go straight into the story and learn about your world as you go along (hopefully as I'm falling in love with it too).
Things like Pottermore, or all those extra Lord of the Rings books published from Tolkeins notebooks.. they're something to save and keep but not to share, even if you really really want to. (Until you have a wildly crazy fan readership and are no longer publishing books but want to keep your fans happy XD)
I've been writing a fantasy novel, as a beginner writer, it's pretty neat so far. I've gone through with drawing out a colored map of all the areas my characters will touch in the story. I'm also trying to see if I can put some tribal like stuff in there. So far I have Tribal - like camps, clothes, and arms. (Weapons)
Also wrote about my main character's personal history. Sorry this isn't really an "advanced" response.
Thank you. A topic I feel worthy enough to answer.
Okay, so I know there is such a thing as too much, but when it comes to Fantasy (especially epic fantasy), you have free reign. As long as you aren't pounding your readers with facts that don't pertain to the story, you can do as much as you want. I've developed four different languages (not actually words, per say, but things like "they don't have the word "the", don't conjugate words, and are afraid of the letter B") and over 12 political systems based on real ancient politics. I take bits and pieces of cultures, languages, arts, sciences, all of that and pack it into a story. In my opinion, this makes the universe that much more interesting. I wouldn't say "real" but I would say it makes it more believable.
My favorite example of more modern fantasy is "The Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss. His world isn't incredibly unique, but he takes such care to make everything so real in such a good way. The devil is in the details and - personally - it's my favorite part of writing. I have a small lexicon that is steadily growing. Nearly 40 pages of flora, fauna, languages, cultures, religions, nations, and technologies all based on realistic things with my own fantastical flare. I also have a 10 page timeline about lost histories and dead civilizations. I'm not bragging. I'm just saying that you can never have too much.
My friend and I joined our skills of world building and wrote a 15 page short story. And guess what! To our surprise, it got published. The story isn't that unique. Some may even argue it's cliche. But due to the fact that we immersed the readers in a whole new world that is not necessarily unique, but has its own subtle tastes, our story will be featured in a magazine come December.
The point is, don't listen to all the bigots and haters who say you should only worry about story. Bah! If you create a rich enough world, the story will happen all on it's own.
I like this a lot... Personally, I do encyclopedia-style notes on various topics and people as the ideas come to mind. I also drew myself a map and am in the process of filling in nations and their respective major cities. This let me figure out population, which then lets me determine economy, military strength, etc. I wrote a journal about how I did this, in case you're interested.
Mega-congrats on getting published? Which magazine is it? Since most of what I write is sci-fi (except for the story I'm referring to now) I'm most familiar with Asimov's, though they aren't really what I'm looking to publish my story in.
The magazine is called Tales of the Talisman. It should be released in December. It's a science fiction and fantasy magazine.
Personally, I have about 30 science fiction stories that I want to eventually sit down and write, and only one fantasy saga. However, I've managed to tie all of them together. Mwahahahaha. I will kill my readers.
Cool! Incidentally, my story is set in the same universe as some other sci-fi stories bouncing around in my head, but it's set farther in the future on a very far away planet that has a lower technology level. That's how it looks like fantasy but has no magic systems.
Viruses, natural disasters... I'm sure I can think of something, but I think I'll go with EMPs for now. That doesn't actually appear in the story, since the first chapter takes place around 1000 years after that.
And it's not even necessarily the history and lore, because that can get tedious and boring. But things as simple as telling the readers that squished fruit pulp is called pomace really makes a difference in how they read. When they're not only learning about your story and world, but about their own, that's what interests them. In some cases of course.
In general I find world building distracts from writing an actual story and then you have all those great ideas that you then want to squeeze into the narrative in whatever artificial, painful way you can.
"It's no good!" Cried Sasquatch "I can't find the batteries anywhere." "Then it seems we have no choice. We must travel to Lord Booksbook's magocatic pinnacle before we can change the channel." A grave look came over Dullahan's face. The magocratic pinnacle was well known as the centre of hatred of spikefur hatred and Sasquatch, being half spikefur on his mother's side, as a result of the shortfellow raids during the ghostmountain wars in 1327 SE (second era), would not be welcome in the magocratic pinnacle. "Impossible!" Sasquatch physically recoiled at the very notion. "Even if we could get into Booksbook's magocratic pinnacle we would have to cross between the Dunderchow and Rockthorn tribes. That's no man's land!" "That's true and it would be twice as hard since the new Rockthorn king declared Rockese to be a heretical language and they all started speaking Thornish." "If we have to go to the Magocratic Pinnacle, we would be better off going through the High Moon Wood Elf lands to the west of the Dunderchow. I can speak ancient High Moon Wood Elf well enough that we should be able to pass through unnoticed." "Alright. But we'll have to leave our Scortix here. They're illegal weapons in High Moon Wood Elf cities." There was a distinct tone of disappointment in Dullahan's voice. He'd never traveled without his Scortix by his side since before he'd met Sasquatch. Since the time he spent wandering alone in the Unknown Lands. A time he didn't like to talk about. He drew his scortix from its scabbard and took a longing look at the blade. Free of blood stains and with a jade core wrapped in dwarven firesteel, it was the most beautiful scortix in the world. At least as far as he was concerned. Dullahan sheathed the scortix and rested it and its scabbard on the mantel by the TV. They were off.
Alright. So that's a deliberately extreme example of world building gone wrong. But the gap between world building for a story and world building for the sake of it is a small one. Really, unless it is actually relevant to the story, you can skip a lot of the details. But then I'm also not a fan of high fantasy as a general rule. So I guess some people like that kind of obscene level of history and detail.
When I build a world, I sit down, draw a map, and then highlight different cultures in each area. Remember that neighbouring countries will probably have similar traits (unless they've always been at war since time immemorial, but that's unlikely). Just remember, when you go ahead and write your story, don't just smack all of the details on one page, weave it in so that the reader almost doesn't notice the lesson.
That kinda sounds like what I did. I have a map posted, but it's more nation-centric than purely cultural, since a large part of the world resembles Renaissance Europe. There are still tribes in some places, but most of them live as minorities within the boundaries of established states.
When it comes to world-building, it usually depends on the genre. For example, if you're writing a romance story, you wouldn't place so much emphasis onto the actual world the characters live in because the important part of the story is in the character development. Likewise, in dystopians and fantasy worlds, the setting is just as important as the plot so it needs to be described in detail - which is why Tolkien has so much detail.
Of course, if you choose world-building as your main focus, you usually have to sacrifice some other part of your story. With my examples above, in a romance story, you favour character development over world-building. In dystopians and fantasies, the world is a defining aspect of the story itself and is equally important to the plot - with the trade-off that character development tends to suffer.
Despite my having never read a straight-up romance novel, I'd assume you still have to do your homework. Like, a lot of the romance novels I see at the store have some faceless buff guy wearing a kilt. Now I'd guess that the author should do some research about Scotland before they write their book. But that's just me, I suppose...
I think the consensus reached so far in this thread is that world-building is good, but mostly for the author. The reader should not be accosted with background info, but rather given bite-sized pieces at appropriate times o they can come to the realization that there's more to the world than they first anticipated. That's what I've taken away from the discussion.
world-building is good, but mostly for the author. The reader should not be accosted with background info, but rather given bite-sized pieces at appropriate times o they can come to the realization that there's more to the world than they first anticipated.
Yes, that makes sense. I think that's actually a good piece of advice to remember, no matter what genre is in question.
YTcyberpunkFeatured By OwnerNov 18, 2012Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I LOVE stories with their own worlds! I'm just gonna break this down, tell you what I like and dislike. IT'S JUST MY TWO CENTS, no one has to agree with it.
What I want to see: * A mood to the world. Like how Middle Earth is vast, woodsy, and has a serene feeling to it (the battles notwithstanding); the world of "Blade Runner" is dark, smoky and rainy, full of neon lights and punks; the future of "Snow Crash" is wacky, chaotic, and fast-paced. * Subcultures. Sure, have a "norm" for how your societies or species behave and think, but throw in some countercultures just to mix it up. Maybe most elves are serious and Vulcan-like, but there's a small group some belong to that are party-animal hippies. * A pop-culture. What's Frodo Baggins' favorite book? What musician does Luke Skywalker like to listen to the most? What's Captain Janeway's favorite holoprogram? I'm not asking for tons of detail, but just some mention. It makes the world feel more real, like people actually live there. * HINTS of a history.
Don't like to see: - Every little detail about the world's history, relevant or not. I like hearing characters talk a bit about their world's history, so it feels real and interesting. But I don't actually care about the whole history of the fantasy world. If you write a "history book" for your story's world, I won't read it because I just don't care. - Your own language. Okay, now *just seeing* characters speak alien languages is cool. Making up a certain sound and rhythm to your elf or Martian language will make your story awesome. Having a *few words* figured out, just so a character can say "Oh, that's the Dwarvish word for 'door!'" is also cool, makes it seem real. But if you actually invent a whole language....some readers may be interested in it, but I won't be among them. I can barely motivate myself to learn real foreign languages. If I'm gonna learn a fictional one I'll learn the lingos that the genius Tolkien created. (It was cool when he did it, but, well, none of us are Tolkien here.) - Presenting an obvious ripoff world, and expecting us to be interested in your slightly altered version. Okay, sometimes the setting isn't too horribly important. Lots of stories copied Middle Earth or William Gibson's dark future. When the story is interesting and the setting isn't too important, that's okay. But when you *draw attention* to your ripoff world, and try to make us interested by going into detail about its history or geology or whatnot, all you'll do is remind us of the much cooler world you ripped off, and how lame this one is in comparison. In other words, don't go into detail unless you have a very original world to show us.
That's some pretty good advice. The language thing is particularly interesting to me, since one thing that seems to happen quite a bit in fantasy and sci-fi is highly-fractured societies that can inexplicably understand one another. I've learned languages by immersion before, and it's hard. Initially, everything sounds like gibberish; then you'll be able to pick out words, until you can understand most (but never really all) of what you hear. I actually plan on using a real- albeit very obscure- language in my story, since I can force my protagonist to learn it the way I did. I also don't have to make up grammar or words.
I like drip feed the background into my worlds. Yo' gotta keep the reader interested in this new world, so I don't like to tell them everything. Even then when nescessary I keep it to a few sentences or through dialogue and actions.
In my Sci-fi story I make gropus religious, political, racial stand out. If they are "christian" then they will become more than just a reference, but an influence to situation. No point explaining to the reader that religion is still alive only for it to be completely irrelevant. The world should be introduced by the readers eyes, don't hover over them going. "Oh, did you know that Britain and China fought in the [insert generic generics]. I like to show it, even to the point the old British commander says chink and the old chinese commander says white devil. The reader will slowly learn about my universe as the characters and dilemma broadens. I never try and overload the reader with text, because even I have managed to fail reading a book that takes more than five pages to explain the universe in one go.
That's something I've noticed with my own work. I created my fantasy.sci-fi world around three years ago and have since had ideas for sequels, prequels and short side stories to do with characters other than the MC. I think that more you can give to your world, the more it can give back.
My thoughts exactly. The story I'm working on now is actually a far-future sequel to a story I came up with in junior high that has since changed enough to be unrecognizable to the original version. There are also prequels and sequels in the works that cover various points from 300 to 1000 in the future from now.
Actually many people find Tolkien's work to be unreadable, since it carries on much like a History lesson. They'll watch the movies maybe, but I know plenty of people who have never gotten through the series.
Not all stories are aided by great detail, they can bog you down too. Tolkien is a master of detail, but the man was a professor before an author and the book reflects that fact. It's great if you are able to get into the appendices and prequels, but it definitely affects who your target audience is.
Honestly, I feel The Song of Fire and Ice series make for a more entertaining read. It still has great depth and really a exciting plot, but it doesn't read like a history book since it's not over burdened.