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