1. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Fantasy/Scifi World-Building Development Clinic

    Discussion in 'Writing Prompts' started by Mallory, Jun 9, 2011.

    Need help fleshing out magical rules of your fantasy? Or the place itself? Or the type of creatures in it, or geographical attribues, or town layouts and buildings? If so, this is where to come.

    This thread is the same concept as the character development clinic (http://www.writingforums.org/showthread.php?t=38469), but instead of focusing on characters, the focus is on world building.

    I'm currently writing a YA fantasy, and I'm struggling to put together all the aspects of the alternative universe in a way that's not too vague, too overdone, a ripoff of the LOTR world, or anything like that. It's my first novel that requires world-building, but I figured that if I had challenges, so might other forum members.

    Here's how it works:

    -- Briefly state your MC's overarching goal in the story and the nature of the quest he or she goes on (or, if no quest, what types of adventures will he/she have in this setting.)

    -- Briefly describe the parts of the world you've got developed so far: geography, types of fantasy/sci fi races and species, water sources, etc. This includes the creatures in the world. This way we'll know to focus on the areas you don't have, not on the areas you've already got under control. Also, we can design Socratic questions specifically relevant to what you've got.

    -- What parts of the world/creatures are you stuck on?

    -- Any special traits: i.e. must resemble a certain time period for a reason, or must have a certain type of magic

    No one is going to tell you what to do for your fantasy world. It's yours to create. However, the idea is that if you post what you've got, what you're stuck and what you're looking for, other people can post questions that will get you thinking about where you're stuck and nudge you in the right direction.

    The helpers on the thread can ask questions to the world-building posters, with the idea that in order to answer the questions, they'll be able to come up with answers for where they are stuck. The questions should be things that get them thinking about issues they might not have thought of before, or that otherwise help somehow. (Not "what kind of monsters does your world have" when they clearly stated that's where they're stuck, but perhaps detailed questions about the traits these monsters ought to possess for a given situation the characters might face.)

    Anyways, just thought I'd post this here in case it helps anyone.
     
  2. Agreen
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    Agreen Faceless Man Contributor

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    Is there anything in particular point you're stuck on? I've found the best way to make a world that doesn't resemble Tolkien's is to look to other sources of inspiration than he did.

    For my current story, I'm happy for the most part with the world itself, I'm just struggling with some parts of the magic system- it somehow feels both useless and overpowered at the same time. Aside from the last section, magic is so rare, and generally so ineffective, it is more a superstition than an actual force which directly influences events.

    At this point in its history, no one knows how magic actually works, and each culture has their own theory.

    In Atea, a kingdom to the north of Doran, (the nation where most of the action takes place), magic is believed to be an expression of one's inner nature. It is tied to bloodlines, and those who are in power are in power because they most closely reflect the perfection of the goddess At and the god Om. Of all the various cultures in the world, their magic is closest to the magic of classical Doran (or Attis as it was known then)- for most people who display any talent for magic, it will be tied to one of the elements. Of all the cultures, their magic is the most basic and what I'm most comfortable with.

    Doran itself cast down their old gods at the end of a successful revolution three hundred and fifty years ago. At the time, they embraced a certain nationalism, believing that Doran and its people were greater than any divinity. This has in time evolved into a form of ancestor worship. The people of Doran believe what happens on earth is shaped by the heavens, and in turn the most glorious citizens of the past direct the stars. Their magic- the one I'm struggling with the most- is tied to astrology. In essence they believe that at certain times- depending on the individual, the visibility of the stars, the phases of the moon, and the shape of the night sky itself, certain actions are more... empowered at certain times, while others are weakened. So for example, if a particular city is facing attack on a night in which the stars are aligned against their commander, he might pray to his ancestors to send rain so that their influence is lessened. Despite it being a huge part of their culture, and something which shapes the majority of their superstitions, I'm still very vague on how it all works.


    The main character's family come from outside Doran, from a land that, when they left seventy years ago, was well on its way to destroying itself. They believe that all of existence is one totality, and that it is most sublimely expressed by particular things- the brightest flower in a field, for example, would host the spirit of that entire field, which in turn is the localised expression of the spirit of the world. The spirit of the world itself they believe is beyond knowing, save in the forms it chooses to express itself in, and they've taken to informally calling this being the Nameless God. The Tarquins believe that by discovering the most spiritually attuned place in a particular location, and appeasing it, they in turn express the will of the world and earn its favour. How this works in magical terms is unclear, even to them, but it evidentially works. Within four years of landing in Doran, they had coerced its senate into naming their patriarch king. Since then, the Tarquins have only been defeated once in battle, betrayed thirty-five years ago in an unnatural valley formed centuries ago during the war for Doran's liberation, where their Nameless God could not save them. They have since regained power, but their enemies have taken note, focusing on those sites the Tarquins deem holy, and, should they rise in rebellion once more they know that these sites must be destroyed.

    Finally, there is Abhadun. Of all the cultures in the story, they are probably the closest to understanding how magic actually works- that this world, like those closest to it, the great hall of dreams, and the world beyond, are shaped by, and reflect, the beliefs and actions of those who live in them. On a spiritual level, they believe your experience in the Beyond is exactly what you make of it- and for them, it is a continuation of life. For someone burdened by guilt, it will be an endless process of confrontations between the guilty party and those they've wronged. Magic, to them, is a mediation of realities, a bartering of physical and metaphysical. Over the course of the story, the main character acquires a magical talent from Abhadun, which reflects her personality- she can, for a short period of time, hold an excessive amount of heat inside herself and release it as she wills. This can be strengthened by draining her own body heat, at considerable risk. Should she not release the energy soon enough, it will turn against her, burning her from within. Another character gains the ability to see into the past, at the cost of their own lifespan. Another can see into the future at the cost of memory. Another can heal, but to do so they must kill. These are all very basic applications of Abhadun principles- on a larger scale, they can open doorways to other worlds, at the cost of giving that other world access to this world. They can allow someone to enter the hall of dreams or the Beyond, but if they do so it will forever alter their experience with those worlds- it can cost someone their dreams, or, for a Tarquin, their hope of returning to the Nameless God when they die.
     
  3. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    @ Agreen that sounds like an excellent magic system, I'm not really seeing where the problem is. I reckon if you just worked on fleshing out specific rituals and stuff it'd be fine. Or is your problem that you're not sure how the astrology system can be manipulated to make say a fireball or another practical spell?
     
  4. JPGriffin
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    JPGriffin Senior Member

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    I think the magic system itself is fine, just needs some polishing up. Remember, unless if you want the process to be ironic in the fact that the reader knows the characters are doing it wrong, then you don't necessarily have to explain it. If it's a mystery to the characters, then put the reader in their shoes. Anyways, I like the idea of give-and-take-based magics. It's very original and if you polish up the details then it'll fit right in.

    I just have one question more for my own curiosity. Is the Doranian group supposed to seem more primitive in their dealings with magic? In the way that you described it, that's how I was understanding them.
     
  5. Agreen
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    Agreen Faceless Man Contributor

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    Writing an explanation of each culture actually helped me get a much better grasp of them.

    Thanks both of you for your questions/comments :)

    @Protar

    I think it's more a matter of having to do some research and flesh out astrology in this world. As such I bought a primer on the topic and I'm reading through to get a better idea of how people in the real world think astrology works. At this point, I see their approach to astrology as a calculation of benefits, risks, and probabilities. Ironic as it may seem, I think the astrologers of Doran are going to end up having more in common with scientists than traditional fantasy wizards.

    @JPGriffin- I think it depends on how you look at it. Magic = a function of belief and action in the world, and Doran in general is more materialistic and skeptical. Their magic is less spectacular, but as long as the astrologers can convince themselves and others that their complex charts actually meaning something, they do have a steady, predictable effect. When combined with the intense self-belief that defines a Tarquin king, Doran is very powerful.

    Where they've gotten into trouble in the past is with enemies taking advantage of their own system- they've lost major battles in which enemies pressed the action on a day the Dorans believed did not favour them. They try to keep their charts secret, but things can get very messy during internal strifes and civil wars. Other nations have started studying astrology so that they can exploit it against Doran.

    However, they compensate for their relatively disadvantageous magic by reaping the benefits of the emphasis they put on education. They tend to be better tactically, and are more technologically advanced. They have recently discovered gun powder for example, but have yet to invent firearms.
     
  6. Daydream
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    Daydream Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ah thanks for making this thread Mallory :love: Gonna post on this when I've sorted my world abit better ^^
     
  7. JimFlagg
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    JimFlagg Contributing Member

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    I have a problem coming up with planet types that are not a the standard Class M from Star Trek.
     
  8. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    A planet doesn't have to be neat and green for it to be habitable for humans. Look at Arrakis from Dune. It's a giant ball of sand but people have managed to survive on it.

    All a planet really needs for humans to survive on it is a breathable atmosphere and a water supply. You could have the surface of a planet be unstable to the point there are constant earth quakes and volcanic erruptions.

    Likewise, you could have a planet whose surface is 90% water with a few small continents. :)
     
  9. JPGriffin
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    JPGriffin Senior Member

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    With a Sci-fi story, a planet inhabited by humans can range from a perfect ecosystem to a barely surviving colony. As for Fantasy, technology won't be available for many forms of life to survive unless if some ancient technology or magic is involved, so those will generally be the green and blue planets we know so well.
     
  10. Word Dancer
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    Word Dancer Member

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    For a sci-fi universe working out the rules in advance is also helpful.
    Does the universe have:
    1. FTL travel
    2. FTL communication
    3. Time Travel
    4. Aliens
    5. Are habitable worlds rare or common?
    6. Are teleporters possible?
    7. Are energy shields possible?


    I developed one universe with no aliens, FTL travel or time travel but it has FTL communication.
     
  11. Mortified Penguin
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    Mortified Penguin New Member

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    Word Dancer pointed out some stuff I'm having trouble with. Here's what I've got.

    1. Yes
    2. Yes
    3. No
    4. Indigenous animals, but not intelligent.
    5. Relatively common.
    6. Hadn't thought about it, but could somehow relate to FTL travel.*
    7. Preferably in some form.

    One thing I've been looking into a lot is power (energy) and weapons (lasers). While "thinking it up", I imagined that the universe would run off of nuclear fusion, with wind and solar power, as well as hydroelectric dams, supplementing it. And I imagined, if there was some form of laser-like weapons (and I think lasers are cool, so I want them), they would be powered off of micro-fusion reactors, so that ammo is almost infinite. I did some "research" (went to Wikipedia because I'm lazy), and learned that Wikipedia thinks this is the most plausible way to power a laser gun (or particle beam, or plasma rifle, or pulse rifle, or directed energy weapon. They had a lot of pages, and I can't remember which mentioned it.) I also looked into nuclear fusion for a while, and apparently "a fusion reaction using only deuterium from sea water would have fuel for 150 billion years". And I also learned that the waste left behind by nuclear fusion isn't that radioactive, and the radioactivity that does exist dissipates relatively quickly.

    I feel like I've got that handled, but would love to hear some input on it. I would also like help on FTL travel. Preferably, I'd like to learn about some form of FTL travel that seems and sounds plausible. That, and energy shields. I haven't quite got those worked out yet.

    *If, for example, the FTL travel was similar to "Slipspace" in Halo, then you could essentially just travel through objects at incredible speed and "teleport" to a location. Teleportation isn't important to me, but if there's a plausible method, why not?
     
  12. Word Dancer
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    Word Dancer Member

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    There are a lot of ways you could go on FTL travel. Tachyon drive, wormholes, etc. You could even try to come up with your own.
    Basically nothing with mass can travel the speed of light. And even things without mass can only travel at the speed of light. You could get around it by creating a bubble universe around your ship that can travel FTL, or you can find a way for your ship to temporarily have negative mass.

    How fast depends on what you want for the stories in your universe.
    If you want more of a "space is the new ocean" type feel, make travel take weeks or months instead of days.
    If the point is to have lots of great places for your characters to go to fast you'll want faster FTL.
    Of course if you have story universes you can experiment and tell different kinds of stories with different rules.
    Imagine a universe where you can talk with someone on the other side of the galaxy almost instantaneously but are still limited by the speed of light.
    Or a universe where matter can be made to travel FTL but no particles for communication can. FTL probes would have to be dispatched to systems for updates and messages could be delivered by ship.
     

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