View Full Version : World Building & Character/Plot Development
July 20th, 2007, 11:25 AM
This is my first post; here goes:
I'm officially starting a project in the genre of Fantasy. I've put in years of dream time and note-taking, and now I'm at a point in my life where family/career allows me to commit myself to such a time-consuming endeavor.
But how extensive should I world build, furnish histories/timelines, develop plot/characters, ouline, etc. before writing the actual story?
My instinct tells me to follow the model of JRR Tolkien's Middle Earth. Perhaps not to that extreme, but to flesh out a world beyond the scope of what most published authors produce in todays market.
For those of you who have spent a tremendous amount of time on these aspects, was it worth it? Did you find that later on it bogged down your writing and got in the way of your creative juices?
July 20th, 2007, 01:43 PM
There have been a few threads on this exact subject, one quite recently, so have a look around.
Personally I like to REALLY flesh out my world. Most people will tell you it's just not worth it. But as long as you know that most of the history of the world you create will NEVER SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY and will never be read by the readers, and you are still OK with doing it, then go for it! Its great fun!
Im making a really detailed world for my narrative to take place in. Currently Im writing a big timeline. I want every nation to have a history, and I want to understand how the world went from how it was to how it is now. It just feels better to be writing about events in a world which has a real history rather than a skin-deep one.
Of course, most of this stuff will never be used. But I don't care, its fun.
Here are some extracts from my timeline to give you an example of what I'm talking about...
77 - The Council of Ereth Arc unites under the House of Ralianne.
87 - Gold is discovered in Naleag. Arcian and Miranian mining communities are founded.
106 - Ereth Hiran begins to become overgrown. Its government falls into decay and its people begin emigrating north into Vennimair.
150 - Dhainians come to power in Aradurn. There are uprisings in the streets,
but they are quickly put down and the leaders executed.
188 - People begin to desert Ereth Cathion as it falls into disrepair. The West Forest Road is built through Alvenne Forest, connecting Dheramad with Hoche.
July 20th, 2007, 02:39 PM
Much like Bethelamon, I completely flesh out a world. However, I do not get into too much detail as was exampled earlier. What I do is a world history [cataclismic events [volcano eruption/ island sinking/etc], then a species history [technological ages caveman/stone age/copper age etc.] but refrain from going into tribal/nation/country histories. This I save for when I decide when and where I want to place my story. I also make a complete theological history involving all the gods of all the species and their magical ages as well. Once I do that, I decide on a place and time for a story. Then I develope historical data as I go.
July 20th, 2007, 03:28 PM
I thought Id just put in a little more about the context of my world and narrative and how I make it...
Im not creating the world THEN finding a story to put in it.
I first came up with an idea for a story - the idea started with the mythology of the world I wanted to create (ie the legend of the Saints), then I thought up something which could lead to the events of the book (ie I devised how one of the Saints went mad and was left hidden on earth when his brothers departed, and this was the root of my story), then I got a ROUGH idea of what was going to happen in my story (ie I decided I didn't want a big quest to save the world with great wizards and kings, and I wanted a gritty, realistic adventure which was going to be related to this one Saint hidden on earth - but I didn't know WHAT exactly the story would be).
Then I decided what I wanted the world to be like. I brainstormed loads of ideas concerned with nations, geography, politics, technology, economy, etc...
One big idea I really liked was having the cities of the world built on the ruins of ancient cities. I wanted the civilisations of the Saints (ie the ancient days and all that) to be like what ancient Greece and Rome are to contemporary society. There would be ruins and artefacts from them remaining... I really liked the idea of a sprawling medieval city with remains of ancient city walls and buildings of office, and great networks of ancient catacombs spreading beneath the streets.... The 'modern' wood and plaster buildings, with remains of great ancient stone buildings... Broken statues from long gone civilisations in the town squares... you get the picture....
This led me to look at the ancient civilisations which are no more, and this tied in nicely with the idea of the Saints. So I had an idea to build my world on... It used to be ruled by the angel-like Saint characters, in great Romanesque societies with fantastic architecture and such. Slowly time had passed, there had been a fall and a 'dark age' and then a slow rebuilding, and my narrative would be set in a late medieval/renaissance society filled with crime, corruption, disease and war but also on the brink of new scientific discovery.
So, how was I to get from A to B? I knew from the outset that I wanted to make a REAL world with a great history, that was half the fun of it! So I drew two maps. First a map of the ancient world, with ten great nations. Then a map of the modern world, filled with petty duchies and kingdoms and broken nations. The task was then set to write a timeline detailing how it got from A to B.
Slowly the ten great nations, abandoned by their Saintly founders, had crumbled and broken apart into war and anarchy. Out of these ashes new nations had risen and fallen, and slowly evolved into the modern world.
And I still have not worked out all the details of the narrative. I have the 'mythology' aspect all sorted out, but haven't really finalised what the actual plot of the story will be!
July 20th, 2007, 06:27 PM
Thanks for the input!
Now for a couple more questions. ;)
At what point do you feel satisfied with the amount of world building, outlining, etc. you've done before you're ready to start the actual writing process? How much time does this take?
July 20th, 2007, 08:04 PM
You know, I've been trying to write a response to this thread for quite a while. With a name like "World Builder," I've got to have something helpful to say on this subject, right? I keep trying, but I can't come up with any general advice. I haven't found a consistent way to develop a world, each of mine have grown up in different ways.
One world began as a story. I had a story, and needed a world for it. I made a map for that story; and that map made new stories; which filled in more of the map. I refer to it as "The Big One," since its the setting that houses the majority of my fantasy stories. That's its purpose now, to house and generate stories, and the world building was done to maximize its potential. Though the magical rules are universal and definite, practical application of those rules allows for a great variety of expression. Though I've mapped most of the world, its broad and diverse enough to host all manner of ideas. Sometimes ideas for stories are generated just from the base material: at some point in history, I know the people in a certain region had a revolution and it becomes a story. Other times, the story comes of its own volition and I have to find a place for it; the story of a demonologist and his tainted daughter find a home among in a city that put aside its old religion and adopted the southern religion long ago. From those story ideas new world building details emerge.As the story is written the political, cultural, even geographic background is developed.
For another story, with the world title "Periplus of the Celestial Sea," the world building was derived rather haphazardly as ideas collided. At its core was a map of Pangaea (http://scotese.com/newpage5.htm). It didn't look like the nondescript blob of land typically associated with the ancient super-continent. It had character and it intrigued me. I made a version of the map for myself and thought it would make a good map for a flat-earth setting. But it was a setting without a story until one day I accidentally filed the map away with some notes for a story without a setting. Or rather, a story concept. It didn't really have characters or plot yet. Just an general, overarching conflict. Some time later, I read 'A True Story,' by the Roman satiricist Lucian and some major inspiration hit me. I now had a protagonist, a setting, a conflict. I have all the immediate and universal details of the world building done, which is to say I know, generally, the main character's place of origin, some vague bits of its neighboring nations, what manner of gods rule the planets and what kinds of creatures inhabit them, and as always, how magic works.
The mechanics of magic were essential the creation of another world for a story that I'm writing with two old friends. Before we did anything else we decided that we did, in fact, want magic in this story we wanted to write, but we wanted it to be different from the magic used in any of our other, independent stories. We decided it would have some terrible, irrevocable cost. In order for a person to use magic, the magician must ritually kill another being. Death became a central theme throughout the rest of the development of the story. We determined what happens when a person dies, what sort of gods dwell in the world beyond the mortal plane, and how their motives influence the physical world. I drew up a map, but my friends refused to let me move much beyond the borders of the story. We only developed the world as necessary to develop the characters we had created. Once we knew who our characters were, what they wanted, and how they all fit together we began outlining the story and more of the world was filled in while we went. As the plot developed a city much like ancient Alexandria in terms of learning and the Vatican in terms of religious significance rose out of nothing. Mountain spirits sprung out of the rocks as needed, and artifacts of an ancient empire were uncovered. All in all we're discover the world as we plan.
So, I guess what I'm trying to say is, enough is enough. When you think you've got a solid foundation for the story you want to write, you can write it. If developments emerge in the process of discovering your world that alter the story, that's what second drafts are for. More often than not, those organic surprise discoveries are more powerful than anything you can force upon the story at initial creation. Certainly "The Big One" would be considerably weaker, more simplistic, and extremely cliche had I left it where it stood where it started. Letting the world grow on its own makes it all the more believable.
July 21st, 2007, 03:43 PM
There is no time table on worldbuilding or a set amount of notes you need. It all depends on what's in your head, and what is most comfortable for you. But, in order to know what point that is for you, there is only jumping in and finding out.
A big clue, however, is when you are worldbuilding and your mind spends more time turning to the story then its time to stop building and start writing. Also, if you are writing and your mind is stuck on some world-building thing, its time to stop your story and build.
July 22nd, 2007, 02:53 AM
Iím no expert on this (and as you can see, this is actually my first post) but I recently asked myself the same question. What inspired me to respond here is I love your question: does setting the world up in detail stifle creativity.
Iím reiterating some of what World Builder said, but in my experience: it does not stifle creativity (though I may not go as far as some in this area). For me the creativity also comes from the characters interaction with each other and their environment. I believe this aspect is adaptable even in a set world based on your characters. I personally believe that flexibility at this point is essential, otherwise all you have is a really cool (specific) world, but no actual story.
If the general rules of the world are not in place this could lead to inconsistencies and confusion. But once the world is set, the characters that live in that world interact within it as suits their own unique traits. So for me itís a two step process, both of which I believe to be creative endeavors. The first is creating the world with as much detail as needed in order for me to clearly see the characters in it (general history, customs, industries, etc.). For lack of a better way of putting it: I keep going until the world is completely inhabitable. At first this was tough for me, it is a vague statement, but as I went along I simply asked myself over and over whether I had a clear picture in my mind how people function and interact on a daily basis, and are there any inconsistencies that arise because of my choices. Personally, I need enough Ďrulesí so characters can interact in a way that is relatable to the reader, as different as those rules may be from everyday experience.
The second step for me, which is a continuation of the creative process and in my opinion no way limited by the previous choices, is picking unique people in those created environments to follow around. Then I see how they respond to the problems that arise in that world. The second step for me is what is more fluid, the characters interacting and in some cases changing their environment I flexible, depending on the individual people involved.
Two references on world creation you may have seen (but just in case) that I like: www.sfwa.org which has a lot of good articles (especially, on this subject: www.sfwa.org/writing/worldbuilding1.htm
and Orson Scott Cardís How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy
hope this helps; best of luck
July 22nd, 2007, 08:47 AM
I would say only do as much as you deem necessary, that is to say what best works for you. Everyone has different methods to tackle their work and the best suggestion I can offer is to try as much as you can. You can always cut out a lot of the material you've researched for the final drafts anyway. But also remember the story you're telling, how all your characters interact with another and the overall themes that underpin it which imo shouldn't be forgotten either. There's a fine balance between building a pre-defined or imaginary world and focussing on the story at hand.
For me, I love world building and I enjoy doing the research for it and then sharing it with others if possible. Since most of what I write is set in imaginary industrial-magic worlds I still find the need to find things that relate to our own world particularly in regards to how societies work, philosophy, engineering and millions of other facts. The amazing thing I find is how many different ways there are to approach creating worlds, which is one of the major pleasantries of creativity I think. :)
July 22nd, 2007, 10:14 AM
The more you do the more believable your world is going to become. Keep that in mind.
If you don't do any planning beyond the broadest, most basic strokes that's going to come across.
Try writing about something you know practically nothing about. You'll only be able to list the few details you know, and trying to pull 400 pages of information out of you is going to be very, very difficult. Any new piece of information you learn on the subject will likely go into your novel. In other words, only the most important aspects will make it in, which will make your world feel artificial.
Then write about something you know a great deal about. Something you think you know more about than anyone you know. You'll know all the little nuances of the subject, the things other people don't know about, and you'll be very, very confident in your knowledge. That'll come across in your novel, because rather than trying to turn 2 pages of information into 400 pages of book, you'll have 2000 pages of information and you'll have to decide what not to include. This'll come across, and it'll make your world feel much more believable, like there's more information about your world than what you've written on the page.
In my opinion, it really depends on what you're doing, and what you feel comfortable with, but there's no such thing as too much, only too little.
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