Thursday, September 23, 2010

World Building

Writing Worlds That Work by Carol Berg

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Who is Carol Berg?
"I am a writer of epic fantasy novels: ten published, one forthcoming, and two more in the process of bubbling up from wherever the ideas come from. Where did I come from? Though my home is at the foot of the Colorado Rockies, my roots are in Texas in a family of teachers, musicians, and railroad men... Since Transformation was published in 2000, my novels have won the Prism Award for best romantic fantasy, the Geffen Award for translated fantasy, and multiple Colorado Book Awards. They have been short-listed for the Compton Crook/Stephen Tall Memorial Award and for the Barnes and Noble Maiden Voyage Award, both given for the best first science fiction/fantasy/horror novel and for the Romantic Times Book Club Reviewers’ Choice Award for epic fantasy."
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Now for my notes from the Writing Worlds That Work Workshop.
World Building

First, you will need compelling characters. Then a setting that is so real the readers believe, become involvedin, aspects in the novel that may not even exist in the real world. But what is the difference between the wolrd and the setting?

Setting v. World

Setting is the where and the when of the story.

World is beyond the setting. It is the entire, interconnecting reality combined as backdrop that encompasses all characters, story, setting, etc. This goes beyond the story both before and after. Compared to an iceberg, the story is the portion that people will see but the rest is under the water.

There are a few options with world building. It doesn't have to be brand new worlds for a writer to actually work on world building. One option is to world build on a certain time and place in the real world. Another is to have something close to Earth but has elements that aren't found there. Another is to completely invent a new world, which still can have realism elements borrowed.
Key element to world building - Research!

While the story is often more important than the world, but it can be a good idea for certain novels. But it can seem like a daunting task to do when considering all the different elements that go into building a world. In order to get the would built, start with a segment of that world, any segment and go from there. Like writing the story, it's not always easy but it's almost impossible if you don't start. Those segments that you choose, however, should be ones that are key elements in the story because it's better to start with something you know that you'll need then an obscure fact that probably won't end up in the series ever.

After you start, don't do all of the world building before writing the first draft.  It's risky to do too much up front because it can become a form of procrastination, and/or too much information may be developed that will stunt the writing.

Some things to consider when world building:

    How do characters make a living?
    How is the economy reflected in different locations?
    What resources are available?
    Are there any exports/imports?
    What are the class rankings?
    What objects have value and why?

Diversity of races & langagues
    Are there clashing customs?
    What are group prejudices and are they based on reality/myths?
    What changes have occurred in history with the races/languages?
    Consider religion, science and beliefs of the races.

Racial and gender roles
    How do the roles relate during the times of the story and place.
    Don't force present day sensibilities if not realistic for story.

    Why are the cities(places) in their location? What is their reason? (river, etc)
    What does the location have access to?
    Do they have power?
    How much exploration is done?
    What does one set/location of people know about others in different places?
    If they don't know much, why not?
    Are there any geographic barriers?
    There needs to be log in the weather and geology.
    Tip: don't always copy Great Britain (has been done a few times in fantasy).
    Empires don't happen overnight.
    Have there been conquests in past or attempts made?
    What changes have occured over time in the land?

    What are the boundaries between magic, divinity, mythology and science?
    Are there flaws?
    How important is the Divine?
    How does human experience factor into things?
    Are there any myths? legends? important rituals? superstitions?
    Is there a range of believers? skeptics - believe a little - middle - fundamentalists

Magic (linked to the supernatural)
    Magic should have rules, limits and consequences.
    Why can't magic solve all problems? (food preservation, housing, etc)
    How does society in general feel about it?
    Does everyone know there is magic?
    Can anyone do it or is it special?
    Is it okay to use magick or is it banned?

Also, in world building, consider the world beyond the limited scope of the story. In theory, it should feel like the world existed before your characts had their story and it should, at the end of the novel, feel like the world will continue after it.

The information shouldn't be dumped in huge clumps. Remember the post on Exposition? That will come in handy with world information. One thing to remember is to layer/scatter the information in, making sure not to put too much in one spot.

This is a good start. There are many other places to look for information on world building. Despite having three different novels with a first draft done on each, I had never done world building. Not even for the mutant novels. But I am world building for the first time now with my steampunk idea. It's different but I can already tell it's going to be useful.

How about you? Do you world build?
Ever consider trying it, if you haven't yet?


Shallee said...

Ooh, love those lists of things to think of when worldbuilding! I tend to forget some of those things until I get to a certain point in the book where it's necessary, so this is so helpful for reminding me what's necessary ahead of time. Thanks!

Jules said...

Thanks for the wonderful information. You writers are such a welcoming bunch :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

J.C. Martin said...

Great notes! Invaluable for fantasy writers and people like me who are toying with the idea of foraying into the genre!

Dawn Embers said...

:-D Thanks all. I'm glad my notes are of use to someone besides myself.