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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » World Building

   
Author Topic: World Building
Valtam2
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The "Eye of the World" thread made me think about something else. What are everyone's thoughts on creating a rich world for the characters to occupy? What are your methods? I, personally, use the same world for all of my fantasy and the same general future timeline for most of my sci-fi. I like creating a world with history and a variety of interesting cultures. My fantasy world I've been adding to and perfecting for years. Do you feel that doing such a thing is too limiting? Sometimes I feel like I'm trying too hard to match stuff up with the timeline. But what about world building on a smaller scale? How do you flesh out the worlds that you only plan to use for one work? And what are the best ways to deliver the information about this world you've created to the reader, without simply info-dumping?
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autumnmuse
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I create new worlds with every story I write, though I do have one world that I've been working on since I was 13.

As far as how to present the information without info dumping, the best thing I can recommend is practice. I've gotten much better over time, and you probably will too. As for technique, though, try this:

Only present the information as it becomes important, and in matter of fact snippets or through dialogue and description. Don't forget that to your characters all of this is normal. So instead of a long paragraph about how your main character harvested alien turnips for years until he finally escaped the drudgery, perhaps have him look at a plate of turnips, shudder, and push it away. Say, "he couldn't bear the sight. Brought back memories of years of working in the fields." Or something along those lines. If you combine the information into little relevant details, trying to reveal character as much as the world, you should be off to a good start.


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Robert Nowall
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I lean towards a thoroughgoing deep background for the characters and story to play out on, both in reading and writing. "Depth" for me meaning the world the characters live in is well articulated, plausible, and contains few if any contradictions or errors. (I can tolerate a few impossible assumptions, I think.) Also the characters have to have "depth," too, in the sense that they came from somewhere (parents, schooling, homes and families, likes and dislikes, scars and wounds) and are, after the story, going somewhere.

Ah, if only I could *do* something well enough. From the mid-eighties, I tried to make my stories match up against a chronology I'd worked out...then by the mid-nineties decided too little happened over a period of years and it had to be compressed...but then how could I explain away the resulting inconsistencies? (Fortunately, the little that got printed (amateur publications) mentions few dates.)

I took great comfort in finding out that Tolkien was plagued by this kind of writing problem...


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rjzeller
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If it's fantasy, I start by drawing a map. It's amazing how much backstory and detail about a world/culture you can draw into a story just by working your way through a map.
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mikemunsil
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here are some links to worldbuilding sites

http://www.libertyhallwriters.org/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=16


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wbriggs
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And, the World Builders' Project: http://curriculum.calstatela.edu/courses/builders/
(a Cal State science class).

==

My novel will likely have a sequel . . . but even that will involve essentially a new world. Novels are hard work!

The one I'm thinking of doing for Card's class is set in present day, but involves things I am unfamiliar with (England, secret societies, and Celtic folklore), so it's a new task for research and world building.

Just my personal thought. I don't read fantasy much these days, but a generic medieval fantasy world doesn't interest me. SF ones do (also not generic). Fantasy does, but not if it's a knockoff of LotR.


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Miriel
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When I'm creating a society, I always start with the asking myself how the women are treated in society. What's their role? This in turn reveals the roles of husbands, brothers, and fathers. Once you have society figures out at a family-level, extrapolating what a civilization would be like with said values in the family isn't too difficult. This works well for me.
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Jaina
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quote:
If it's fantasy, I start by drawing a map. It's amazing how much backstory and detail about a world/culture you can draw into a story just by working your way through a map.

I agree. I found out that my main city is built on a hill, at the top of which is a spring, and social status depends on how close to the top of the hill (and therefore the freshest water) you live.

Another thing you can do is to start thinking about the world you live in, and what would be the same or different in the world you want to create. Differences can have a lot of sources and usually when you come up with one it leads to about a billion more.

Also, keep in mind OSC's reminder that usually the first thing you think up won't be the best you can come up with, so it's probably a good idea to play with your ideas a lot before you decide which you like best. And you can always change anything--though sometimes it takes a lot of work to change one little detail.


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Susannaj4
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I pictured it first, dreamed it actually.

A huge mountain , a village in the valley and a meadow with Hallowed ground. On the Meadow I built a Temple. The outside world is basically 1000 miles away, across an ocean. It can't be found unless you are summoned there. That sort of caused a problem for the timeline because the outside world moved forward. But when I am writing specifically for the place I created, time is relative.


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autumnmuse
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You know it's interesting you talking about dreaming your world first. My science fiction worlds have sometimes come from dreams, "Respite" being almost identical to a dream, for example.

But for the past two years I've had lots of dreams set in the same fictional city. I don't know why, and I haven't written any stories set in that city yet. But there's a gorgeous old house that's falling apart that I've tried to buy and restore in three separate dreams. There's an amusement park with roller coasters right next door to a huge mall and a very pricey hotel. I've had at least three dreams involving each. I can map out about a six block radius of the downtown; I've walked it several times. The north end of the city is bordered by a mountain range, and the sea is to the west. There's an old boardwalk in the rocks at the coast (not a nice beach, I'm afraid) that has featured in several dreams.

I think the reason I haven't set any stories there yet is because each individual element isn't unique at all, and I like my worlds to be strange. But perhaps because I dream of it all the time, I should start doing so.

In fact, I've just figured out which story I will set there first.

So thanks for talking about dreams! Got me going.


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Constipatron
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At work I took an method I'd heard from somewhere: just pick up a sheet of blank paper and start drawing a map. The story, surprisingly, came from that map. It's the cause of my only fantasy story which, as I fleshed out the map, became more in-depth and meaningful with each detail.

I think that as I developed the map and the story, the people who came into the story started to make an impact on the geography. Just let the ideas flow, no matter how silly it may seem when it pops into your head, write it down and if it still seems corny after a while and nothing's redeemable about the idea, trash it. I don't know how it works for everyone else, but that's how I do it. Now I've got so many maps and settings I don't know if I can fit them into the story, kind of got carried away with it. Ooops!

I agree wholeheartedly with the other comments made. Dreams have been a sourch of story ideas for awhile though I've had to flesh them out when I commit them to paper; some details can be a bit vague. Most of the time I combine more than one dream to form the major bulk of the idea, give it depth and variety. If it's a dream that's connected, then I try to find a way to connect it with the others.

But, this isn't about dreams, really. Anyway, good luck!


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Constipatron
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spell check please... *looks for a dictionary* sheesh... sorry about that.
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Valtam2
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Dreams have never been a good source of material for me. I've tried to pick apart a dream to see if it would make a good dream, but it just doesn't work. My dreams are too random and nonsensical. And usually they're not even the cool kind of weird. Just the...weird...kind of weird.
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Constipatron
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Oh, I have to sift through the non-sensical, weird dreams too and more often than not they ARE just plain weird. Too weird to put into coherent words.
My world making, however, or map making, didn't come from dreams. The dreams inspired some of my drawings and some of my characters. They're often very flat too, so I have to do some creative adding to flesh them out. Often, what I draw or write do little justice to the actual idea inspired by the dream. Partly because I lack the current skill to articulate my ideas properly. Dreams are just one avenue, but I don't rely on them for map/world making. :-)

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Lord Darkstorm
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One of the problems with building a big complex incredible world, or worlds, that we love...we sometimes forget that the thousands of details we know as the writer has nothing to do with the story.

Why does the reader need to know that 100 years ago some hero died in the town square fighting off some invaders? Does it have a relevance to the story? Does it add to the story? Ok, it might make the place seem a bit more real, but what do you gain? If you spend several paragraphs talking about this long dead hero that will have nothing to do with the story, and the whole reason for putting it down is to ad depth...don't. If you have a child picking pockets in the town market and the main character happens to see the child, now you have a decision for your main character to make. Or you might include a bumb...or a cripple...or so many possible things that will bring the city to life. There is a point that we sometimes forget...life. Everyone here who wants to read a fictional histrory book, raise your hand....

Not seeing a lot of hands. So, if you think about it, how interesting is that monolog of history that will do nothing for your story? When we read we need to know about a place if it will have some interaciton with the living characters we do have some vested interest in. Unless the dead are going to get up and start moving...don't tell their life story. Stick with details that you need to provide as you need it. Everything else is for your own benifit.

If I know one of my characters grew up in magical castle that floated around the world, but the castle is gone and the character has no reason to bring it up...since everyone thinks he's nuts when he does...it only serves as an aid to you, the writer, in understanding your character. No matter how much we know about our character, only tell what is necessary to make the reader informed of details that need to be told.

So where do you put the backstory? Only where the story suffers without it. You would be surprised how little of the mountain of information you have that has to be added.

If you build a big detailed world, there should be no reason not to use it again and again. Unless there is only your characters and the walk on's you create to interact with them, then there will be other characters to do other things within the same world.


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GrandmaDeb
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If you really want details of your world / city / terrain / house and you are willing to spend the time, check out fantasypro.com. I use their products for creation. I'm very spatially-oriented and to see these places on the screen or a page helps to cement some of the mundane aspects of my writing so I can concentrate on the stories and characterization.
As for dreams...most of my plot lines developed from dreams that I have had. I have, of couse, fleshed out the stories and often gone on complete tangents to the original ideas, but I get the seed of the idea for the book.
Whether these turn into published novels remains to be seen.

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Robert Nowall
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Some further thought...though I investigated several auctorial aids that might be classed nowadays as "world building," (pre-Internet stuff) I've generally stayed away from them. I'm afraid of having any world I create look like a cookie cutter world. So I just go along, and add things to my universe and / or bag of tricks as they occur to me. (Just a while ago I needed a character who was part of a religious movement...I had to come up with one and fit it to my created universe, then distill it into a few lines of the story.)

Not that I didn't get some help and ideas from them...


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