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Ouroboros
April 12th, 2003, 08:51 PM
Quite often it seems that the practice of world-building is as much part of the form of fantasy writing as it is a by-product of it, in many people's eyes.

The materials thread particularly reminded me that many people write with an almost Tolkienesque approach where they construct their fantasy setting with painstaking detail, building whole political and social systems and drawing on this background as they venture into the writing. As a first time writer I couldn't seem to get the ball rolling unless I knew exactly what I was going to call obscure historical events, cities, festivals, elite cavalry, magical artefacts and whatnot in their fantasy world, and worried about these a lot more than the actual mechanics of what it takes to tell a good story.

I now write in a different way.

I have always felt that in order to write good fantasy, all that was required was to write well, in the same way as one writes well in any other genre: focus on characterisation, believable relationships, sharp dialogue and an understanding of the mechanics of plotting and pace. To me, the world-building aspect of fantasy is an inevitable by-product of the emerging story, but no more than that, and I feel that many have taken Tolkien's personal obsession as a linguist and philologist and ran with it, taking the genre in a direction it never had to go, necessarily...

The ultimate expression to me of skilled and fluid writing without the weight of unecessary background detail would be simple work like Iain Banks' Song of Stone. OK, I hear you say, it's not really a fantasy novel. But the point is, it could be. It's so open-ended it could be anything: the focus is on the relationship of the protagonist to his sister, everything else is gravy that Banks knows he can dispense with: place-names, dates, even names...

Likewise often times the work of David Gemmell is fluid and by the seat of his pants. He's been published for almost twenty years, and it's only his last novel which included his first map. Fans doggedly built up the mythos and background of his world, and in my mind completely missed the point of his work when they assembled chronologies, dates, timelines and what have you: again, Gemmell is writing about universal morals, and the questions facing a man whether he is a rock-throwing caveman, a Roman senator, or a genderless clone in the 15th century.

So what's my end argument? I would like to see less of an automatic association of the fantasy genre with the notion of detailed 'world-building' in people's minds. The practice of building a fantasy world and peopling it with your own carefully constructed society to me is another overrused cliche. I feel that if authors spent half as much time working on their dialogue as they did following in Tolkien's and everyone else's footsteps, the genre would be breating a bit easier.

Now you know how I really feel :D

Lucky Joe
April 12th, 2003, 09:07 PM
Originally posted by Ouroboros

I feel that if authors spent half as much time working on their dialogue as they did following in Tolkien's and everyone else's footsteps, the genre would be breating a bit easier.

Absolutely, world building is a nessecary part of writing fantasy of that there is no doubt, however unless you have an interesting story to tell and tell it well what it's worth?

Ouroboros
April 12th, 2003, 09:43 PM
I think if I were to pare down what I was saying:

All fiction to some extent requires 'world-building'- there must be history, a backstory ... for characterisation to actually be possible there must be a sense of the past, present and future.

But it seems to me that in the fantasy genre 'world-building' has become and end in itself. It clearly was an end in itself for people like Tolkien. But it has nothing, intrinsically, to do with writing an good novel, when taken to the extremes that it is in the fantasy genre.

rotty1021
April 12th, 2003, 11:21 PM
As a reader of fantasy, I love to see excellent characterisations, plotting, and theme. However, one of the reasons I enjoy fantasy as much as I do is because of the new lands that are created, ventured in, and dug into. I know I hate fantasy that has a cheesy, underdeveloped world. I think that worldbuilding is a key element in a fantasy novel, but agreeing with other comments, it is an extreme neccesity to be able to write a well rounded novel full of good characterisations, plotting, and worldbuilding (for fantasy).

I just felt like voicing my opinion, and am glad that I am not alone in seeing that others value worldbuilding, yet think that there is more to a fantasy novel than that.

choppy
April 12th, 2003, 11:38 PM
To some extent I can agree, with Ouroboros, but not entirely.

One has to look at why people are attracted to the classical fantasy genre (as either writers and or readers) to appreciate why "world-building" has become such an integral part of the storytelling.

The nature of this genre is speculation - if intelligent beings are confined to a given set of parameters, what can we expect? World building is means of defining the parameters under which one presumes to examine a given problem. In the context of a fantasy novel (and quite often a series) the problems typically examined deal with large scale conflicts, racial and ethnic clashes and phenominal amounts of power. In order to speculate intelligently, one must understand how everything in the world relates.

Even still, is the extent of world building that we see necessary? Probably not. But writers in this genre tend to enjoy the process of development. I believe that it has to do with escapism. Surely one can be sucked into a "good" story, whether one is aware that it takes place in a well-defined world or not. But when the book is finished, and the story is over, a reader that is left with a map and an appendix that chronicles the history of an emipre may be left with a larger appreciation for the story itself. Perhaps the lessons learned will linger just a little more because they have been established within a larger context.

Anyway, back to the studies.

Acaptus
April 13th, 2003, 12:44 AM
For the most part, I agree with you Ouroboros. I focus much, much more on the plotline and the characters within the plotline, and the background, while most certainly known, is just that, in the background.

But, this is not entirely true. I have a very developed background, but this background is usually based upon a few key things that I want to explore. I don't invent a history just because I think it would be fun, I invent a history that is derived from the very nature of the world I have come up with.

And the plot arises when the steady course of things in the universe I have invented changes for some reason. This way, the characters within the story see their traditional world change around them and the reader slowly comes to understand the fantasy world I have developed over the course of the story. And by the time they have come to the full realization of what my world is, odds are it will have changed, and the plot will have concluded.

I try to make the background not just something fancy to show off to the reader, but something that defines the very nature of the characters, the story, and the plot.

Lucky Joe
April 13th, 2003, 12:59 AM
I really enjoy fantasy because it takes place in worlds unlike our own where things that could never happen here happen everyday there.

It's important for the author to know his setting and be comfortable with as many aspects of it as possibly, however I don't believe it is necessary to spend years creating this back ground knowledge unless doing so is something your are going to ENJOY, if so and that is part of the reason why you like writing fantasy then go for it, the work could only gain from all the background.

If on the other hand you prefer to wing it, creating political systems, species, goegraphy, powers, history etc as you go then go for.

I think either approach is just as valid as the other. The main thing (IMO) is to make sure you tell an interesting story without that whose going read it? Don't include things in the story just because you spent two weeks working out how the people of village Q trade with people in village Z when it has no relavence to the story and doesn't add anything.

I tend to wing the details for the first draft and come back later but for my next project I'm seriously considering spending some time world building because i think i might enjoy it and the work will ultimately benifit from it.

milamber_reborn
April 13th, 2003, 01:45 AM
I think this along the lines of the 'pre-planning or no planning' debate. It's a matter of how the writer feels they must approach their writing.

Pros: Less inconcistencies, less thinking off the top of your head, good foundation for future novels in the series

Cons: Time, effort, possible lapse in other important areas eg. characterisation

Obviously Tolkien enjoyed building an entire world and history and it served well in his stories. I think you need to find the right balance for the world you want to portray.

Pluvious
April 13th, 2003, 04:10 AM
Originally posted by Ouroboros

The materials thread particularly reminded me that many people write with an almost Tolkienesque approach where they construct their fantasy setting with painstaking detail, building whole political and social systems and drawing on this background as they venture into the writing.

So what's my end argument? I would like to see less of an automatic association of the fantasy genre with the notion of detailed 'world-building' in people's minds. The practice of building a fantasy world and peopling it with your own carefully constructed society to me is another overrused cliche. I feel that if authors spent half as much time working on their dialogue as they did following in Tolkien's and everyone else's footsteps, the genre would be breating a bit easier.

Now you know how I really feel :D

First off, this is an excellent subject. The fantasy genre could use some evolution along the lines you suggest.

However. I see where you are trying to go but I just don't agree. From my point of view world-building is very important and fantasy authors need to continue to improve in this area.

You are writing in a whole new world and I want to believe that world is real and complex (and that's not easy to fake). Not to mention the very act of building a world gives you story and character ideas (don't use the first draft cardboard cuttout characters and you'll be fine).

Like you said, though, fantasy writers need to focus more on characters and writing well. It may very well be that they do get too wrapped up in superfilous world concepts. But why can't authors do it all? Is it laziness, a lack of skill, a failure to understand, apathy, or what?

I feel partially responsible for this thread. When I said that I had all kinds of books and notes around when I write you may have misunderstood (actually I only hinted at how much I prepare in advance, since I don't want to be singled out). Yes, some of those notes are about the world. But most are about characters, scene ideas, and bits of dialogue that I have previously written or come across.

I like to be prepared and know what I am going to write so I can concentrate on the writing and not the "coming up with the idea" as I sit at my laptop. I'm hoping this will lead to a well-written novel in a complex world. Time will tell.

Bardos
April 13th, 2003, 08:00 AM
I agree with Ouroboros about plot, characters, dialogue, etc. And how couldn't I? Of course you need all this to write a good story!

But about world-building, I think it depends on the sub-genre you are writing in. If you are writing urban fantasy, or horror, OK you may not need to world-build. But if you write epic fantasy in another world, then my opinion is that you must have given so though to your world. That doen't mean that you have to be like Tolkien, with so many details. But, at least, you must have the general layout writen somewhere, and of course add or delete as you go...