1. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    Extreme Worldbuilding

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Inks, Nov 5, 2015.

    When I think of extreme worldbuilding, I think of J.R.R Tolkien's entire setting and works like Yoshiki Tanaka's Legend of Galactic Heroes. From both of these diametrically opposed settings, my ideal exists as a world as in deep culture as Tolkien and as rich in society and history as Tanaka. This has sort of run amok in my instance, but just how much is too much? When do you draw the line or simply stop being able to care or follow?

    The reason I ask is because in my current setting seems impossible to split out or summarize. The differences to the real world are so great that I think a info-dump of several thousand words would be necessary to explain the setting and culture. No matter what I do, I think any reader would be so overwhelmed and confused that even my best introduction will be taken as utter gibberish. I do not exactly want to explain how deep some of this "worldbuilding" goes, since I am kind of afraid of the looks I'll get about this. So if you could entertain me with your notions of "how much is too much" or when you simply stop caring about the setting. Please, it would be very helpful as a baseline assessment.
     
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  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I had similar questions a few months ago after reading two articles written by two of my fave writers, M. John Harrison and China Miéville. They have opposing views on the question, yet both manage to create very "big places" within books that sucked me in so I don't think I actually have an answer to your question, the same question that still churns in my mind, other than to say that I have seen products of fantastic delight where the writers went in opposite directions. China gives me a ravishment of world-building paint on the canvas in his Bas Lag novels and I was ready to find a lively part of New Crobuzon wherein to rent a flat. Harrison delivered a slightly euphoric, drug induced hallucination in Light and Nova Swing and I would go out onto my upstairs patio and imagine the Milky Way was the Kefahuchi Tract.

    Harrison's words are in the OP of the above link and Miéville's take is in post #15.
     
  3. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    J.R.R. Tolkien is an exception one in a million due to his academic background. I don't think trying to emulate him
    is anywhere close to possible or sensible.
    The trick is to show the reader just the parts they need to see/know; the rest is on you to know, analyze and process, decide
    what part of the iceberg to reveal and when.

    Your world can be dazzlingly complex, fair enough, still, you can start off with a brute sitting by the fire, skinning a squirrel,
    complimenting on its rich muscular build (an impression enhanced by hunger) and basically not even mention your complex
    world or a history of violence between opposing factions who, for various reasons, always try to depose the current king. That
    comes later - when the brute's hunger has been allayed :D Then you can have him ponder where he is, oh, he's on mission!
    What mission, what's its objective? Inner monologue etc. But, as you say, beware info-dump.
    Well-depicted worlds come in well-assessed doses...
     
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  4. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    Did you read China in English? I once had a peek into the original book and was mesmerized by the complexity
    of the language he uses. Even Czech translations render the intellectual stretch of his work. Some books must be
    utter hell to translate and his are one kind of them.
     
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2015
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Yup. In English. He is a true wordsmith. ;) And, yes, getting the same effect to come across in a translated version is a herculean task. :confuzled:
     
  6. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    @Wreybies - Very interesting, Harrison's viewpoint does conflict with Miéville though if they both managed to create worlds capable of drawing you in, then that means their development theory and process are different, but successful.

    @Hwaigon - The setting of my WIP is not as big as Martin or Tolkien's - though it tends to be extremely inward focused on itself to a critical fault. I wanted to push out a sub-plot into its own thing, but I found myself unable to describe even the basic premise without using more than a hundred non-English words in the first scene. Though inner-monologues are something I detest, you have a point. Showing is not everything, since a certain amount needs to be told to ground the reader with some context.
     
  7. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    @Inks

    ...but I found myself unable to describe even the basic premise without using more than a hundred non-English words in the first scene.

    Then there's no point of telling if you can't find the words. Show it.
    True, but you can tell an awful lot by saying. By putting words into your char's mouth.

    Having characters talk about the world they live in, let them have their say - by doing so you vivify them
    to almost-human beings. Try to guess how they would describe the world they live in, how they would
    argue with other characters about this or that event, have something happen that'll raise the issue in an
    interesting way.

    It now must look like I'm a seasoned author with a pile of novels published but it's just the observation I've made
    over the last time.
     
  8. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @Hwaigon: I have to say I love that Raymond Chandler quote in your sig. Beautiful!

    /threadjack
     
  9. croak3r
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    croak3r Member

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    I think Hwaigon is right, Tolkien is an exception since he can somehow pull off writing pages of history about a place thats across an ocean, but still keep your interest. Usually though i hate it when authors want to describe their entire world and it's history to you. If it's not important to the story, or isnt extremely interesting then i wouldnt bother.
    Also Tolkien does kind of do it incorrectly too. I had to stop reading the Children Of Hurin by the second chapter because Tolkien wrote so many names of people who where of no important that i felt i needed a family tree just to know who he is talkng about.
     
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  10. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    Thank you, it did sound sweet and familiar when I read it on the page - for obvious reasons, since I love coffee. He has more of such good lines.
     
  11. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    ...and, also, Tolkien was the first one to pull the feat off at such a grand scale. He was a first. That's why he's read.
    It's even like when reading him, he doesn't care about you or how the work is perceived, it's almost as if he wrote the
    stories (at least the more mythological ones) more for himself than for a broad readership. His tales are an exception, along
    with Hobbit, which I love.
     
  12. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    Basically, this, but I think there's a corollary: if you're just describing the world directly to the reader, it can get boring. But if you don't do enough world-building, you risk your world being one-dimensional, i.e everything that happens there is explained by only a few variables (like the conflict between your protagonist and your big bad, or the one interesting technology/society you thought up).

    I don't really think there is an outer limit on how much world-building, but I think it's very important to leave it subtextual: use it to inform your descriptions of certain places/people/events etc. so that they feel consistent. But don't ever come right out and say "And Fralgnir styled his hair this way because his great-grandparents moved to Thangorodrim during the Great Migration of 1147 of the Third Age, which was caused by yada yada".

    At least this is the ideal I strive for, goodness knows if I'll ever make it work or not.
     
  13. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think the answer to this is to actually use the world you've built. You don't need to build an entire world to do a story about a single town. But if your story is in a single town, you should be using the details and aspects of that town to build your story. Show off your town via your story--all the nooks and crannies that matter. If you want to show a particular nook, make sure something happens in that nook to draw the reader's attention to it. Do the same with your entire world as the scope increases.

    If you're not using your setting, why is it your setting? I agree you risk being one-dimensional by not doing enough world-building, but that's not the fault of character-driven narrative, it's a fault of lazy plotting. Give the characters reason to experience the different aspects of the world without it feeling forced.

    IMO, of course.
     
  14. croak3r
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    croak3r Member

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    Not sure if it's true, but i often hear he wrote The Hobbit and LOTR mainly for his kids. Could just be a rumor, but it would explain why he went into such depth when describing the world and such.
     
  15. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    True, I was having in mind the less known/read works like Hurin's children, Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and such, which it is off limits intellectually for children.
     
  16. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    Actually, that is interesting... though it has been part of the problem.

    Certain aspects in the settlements never really get away from the really dark history, so much so that the "common lore" of the world involves dealing with some of the darkness. My main characters which drive the plot? They are commonly in their 40s. I cannot possibly find a suitable reason to prefix their daily interactions among six difference species in tight communities of 130~ persons. Everyone knows everyone. Culture and interactions can have lots of implication and advance the plot without back and forth dialogue.

    Though another side issue is how some themes are very uncomfortable to confront. Rare is the case in which differences in which I find anything at all about the lifecycle. Most stories do not even confront non-human sexuality, let alone even puberty in characters. Everything is all so clean and pretty in that aspect even if it is gritty and dark in others... and here I end up having to deal with menstruation and such. Confronting it with a reader is probably like having "the Talk" to your children at least six different times, and still hoping that they have not tuned you out. I dread having to tell anything like that directly to the reader, I honestly want them to put it together since it is kinda rare that this daily topic is ever a plot point.
     
  17. ArcticOrchid
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    It might sound silly but in my case I am actually terrified of my world being scientifically inaccurate. There is magic, there are gods, it is a fantasy novel but like all fantasy writing it has roots in reality. The main character came to me first and when I started creating her world I realised how complex that truly is. It´s not enough for me to think that ok kingdom X is poor or city X is unstable because of a large influx of refugees.

    Why is kingdom X poor but not kingdom Y? is there ethnic diversity in city X? then why isn´t there any in town Y? why are there refugees? did the crops fail? why? the why´s are endless and subsequently the creative process is moving very slowly...

    I create a lot of my own animals in the world as they are a huge part of the origin of the world but still it is important to me for these imaginary creatures to make evolutionary sense. They belong and survive in their environment. I can´t just have a random pink cat.

    I bet the vast majority of this will never be in the story itself, a huge part of it is to make the world feel real to me. But I do worry a lot with finding the balance between showing enough of the world so the reader can make sense of it but not enough that it gets too boring.
     
  18. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    We could get into how much worldbuilding is or isn't too much, but that's actually not the most relevant issue in terms of writing an actual story.

    The key is to drop a character into that world and get invested enough in them that you see the world through their eyes rather than your own. That will then dictate what you do or don't have to know about the world for the purpose of the book, because you need to know what they see and how they perceive it - which is a totally different way of looking at the world than the view you have as the creator.

    For instance, I know that a lot of aspects of my near future are really weird and require a lot of "perfect storm scenarios" - heck, the entire culture looks like the 1950s and it's 2034. To my characters, however, this is normal and there's nothing particularly weird about the fact that all the hipsters are wearing poodle skirts - it's just one of those annoying little details about day to day life. They do, however, care if their aging iWindow system starts going on the fritz, because it really sucks living in an underground apartment building if you don't have simulated natural light and your air isn't scrubbed and scented. See where I'm going?

    So, my advice would be to start character building and get really focused on how one person sees that big world you've built - without the benefit of seeing the whole world or all the history before or after them.
     
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  19. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    To expand on the point where I am:
    *This is entirely different world from Earth that began at the dawn of time.
    *There are 16 different races of significant importance and four major societies, plus a few splinter groups.
    *One can trace the history of all characters - major or minor - back through time to their divine originators.

    There is no "oh that's based on X" - the world and its systems does not owe to any society from Earth. The art, architecture and clothing are all very different. The constant reinforcement that "this is not Earth" surrounds everyone because understanding the discussions of characters requires understanding the world's history and even basic differences in biology.

    To Commandante Lemming - The characters are already there, it is the problem in having the reader make any sense of their words. Explaining even the basic actions for some characters coming together requires understanding hundreds of years of history - not kidding on that either. This becomes about essential when it comes to family trees and stuff - there is just no getting around the different notions of sex, because the main characters are not human.
     
  20. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Okay, so you have a start. I would still say that the characters are your key to explaining the world to the reader.

    First off, you need to decide which aspects of the world are really, really important for your reader to know - and which ones are secondary and hence not as important to emphasize. This is difficult because you obviously love all of your world and realize how important each piece is to every other piece. You know who doesn't love all of your world, and who doesn't realize how it's all connected? Your main character. Rely on that person to tell you which details are the most important by looking at what they see and what's important to them.

    I don't know your world so this is a gross oversimplification - but you said your world has 16 races, right? Good - if your MC only ever interacts with three of them in this particular book, you don't need to tell us about the other 13 in much detail other than that they exist.

    As for attitudes about sex - again rely on your point-of-view character. You can communicate a lot of worldbuilding by writing from a point of view that accepts the weirdness as normal and not needing description - if you do that right the reader will fill in the rest. If your character thinks about sex in a way that is fundamentally different than ours, you don't always need to explain that to the reader, because the reader has already seen his thoughts and therefore can start to piece together how his logic works.

    Again, I can't see your work, but it sounds like your fundamental problem is that you think you have too much worldbuilding information to possibly communicate to the reader in one book. If you think that, you're probably right. The question then becomes which pieces of that information the reader needs to know to understand the specific story they're reading and the specific corner of the world they're in. The rest can wait for another book. You essentially need to triage your worldbuilding info and make some hard choices to cut all of the information that is not essential to the immediate story. You as the creator can't make those cuts - your main character can.

    Start thinking from the worm's-eye-view on the ground in your world, that will tell you what matters.
     
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  21. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Also, maybe stop assuming your readers are human. I know that sounds weird, but as a mental workaround, you might be able to decide what to cut by assuming that your audience are all the same race as your main character. That will allow you to talk more fluidly and make assumptions that certain things are just accepted. Your actual human readers will be able to gradually piece together the logic rather than having it force-fed, and they'll sink deeper into the POV.
     
  22. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    I do not have the ability to explain here the full complexities and I know such an endeavor will lead to more questions. I began with your assessment and that is why the text is so dense in the first place, but I have been trying to give context and explain so that something which doesn't require reading nearly 500k words of the main story to be understood. This is a sub-plot I am trying to split out and be an acceptable stand-alone. I do not want to spend thousands of words summarizing basic societal things in this split, but that is my fear.
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2015
  23. AlcoholicWolf
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    AlcoholicWolf Contributing Member

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    Write to your heart's content. Write for yourself. Worry about "killing your darlings" later on. If you have it all there to begin with, you can always take it out again. Easier than putting it back in.
     
  24. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is really good advice. But I'd add to this the idea that you should stop worrying about how much need to be explained. Write it the way you want to write it, without thinking about what the the reader does or doesn't know. When you're done with the draft, get a good beta reader (preferably a writing colleague) and have them read it cold, without any explanation from you. When they finish, interview that person about what they understood, and what messed with them. You can't really judge how a reader will handle something until you have an actual reader.

    I feel your pain on explaining the realities. My world isn't half that complex but the worldbuilding I do gets a lot of pushback from a lot of readers who reject my premise (It's near future, and it's funny how much people think they know about their own future, and how angry they get when you shatter their illusions). However, I think the questions you're asking now might be better addressed AFTER you have a finished draft for people to read.
     
  25. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    True, I suppose it might just be easier to explain to readers as necessary after the fact... should questions come up. That way the omniscient narrator can be included to provide clarity as needed.

    As a note, 10 of the races are ever-present, with 6 different ones surrounding the MCs at all times. This is compounded in complexity because each species has several castes, differing ways of speech and expression, differing values and clothing.

    A basic breakdown in Ibikian settlements shows castes along the lines of:
    Tein - Administrative / Military
    Cien - Administrative / Medical / Arts / Therapeutic / Domestic
    Huan - Carpenter / Farmers / Military / Grunt Laborer
    Maien - Farmer / Boneworkers / Traders
    Miren - Medicine
    Human - Clothcrafters / Fishers / Merchants /Grunt Laborer / Niche artisans

    This is not repeated in Danek or Huden settlements because there is no division of labor based on species nor is there a need to. Though the government system is probably weird, there is no real life equivalent upon which I can even describe a multi-faceted caste system like this.

    Though it was the intimacy-topics that really make it awkward for me to explain, because the society is vastly different and indulges in such topics. Two Tein sisters trying to have their respective children mate and such. Been sort of sensitive as to the red ribbon on human girls - indicating menstruation. Though I suspect the reader can piece together the majority with some thought, the "daily life" matters being ever present. Periods of relaxation being forced upon workaholics and such.. and the whole Cein breastfeeding Tein children being probably more confusing concepts without deeper inspection.

    When you start having 441 year old divines into the mix with a bunch of MCs in their 40s... yeah it gets a bit much in places. Guess I will just bang it out and hope I do not need to do much explaining in the end.
     

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