1. Jetshroom
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    Jetshroom Active Member

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    How do you populate your world?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Jetshroom, Nov 25, 2011.

    When you create a setting for your story, the world in which your story takes place, how do you go about populating it?

    I'll use my story as an example.

    The setting is an Inn in the afterlife.
    The world is just an eternal gray nothingness.
    Human souls go there when they die. Some of them reach The Inn. Others don't.

    Now, for the purposes of this story, only human souls are necessary. But, I was wondering if
    I should populate the world with other creatures. The problem I'm facing is that if I do so, I could
    end up with a fairly generic fantasy setting. Imps, pixies, will o' the wisps, sprites etc. Which would
    probably detract from the story. BUT, not having something populating the world might make it
    seem too empty.

    So how do you decide what to populate your world with?
     
  2. Midnight_Adventurer
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    Midnight_Adventurer Active Member

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    Hi Jetshroom!

    I don't know if this is a strong or, for that matter, a good suggestion, but why not keep it as a grey oblivion? Like you said, populating it with the regular crowd isn't what you really want and I think having the Inn as an eternal nothingness adds atmosphere and a real sense of gravity to dying and the fact there, technically, could be nothing on the other side. In the end though it really depends on the context of the rest of your story and whether populating it or not will fit into that.

    I hope that was helpful :redface:

    Good luck :)
     
  3. Jetshroom
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    Jetshroom Active Member

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    Yeah, that's the thing Midnight, I think in the context of my story, it will work better as just an empty nothingness.
    However, it's come up a couple of times that it might be worth having creatures populating it. For the record, I'll be
    going with the emptiness, it is better.
     
  4. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm pretty anal about this sort of thing, and I go over the top with development which is why I don't write fantasy any more.
    When I do develop those sorts of things, even for sci-fi, I think about what's necessary. I think about the way that every lizard, bird, and mammal on earth has four pentadactyl limbs and I attempt to replicate that sort of uniform creation in animals.
    That's one of the reasons I love James Cameron's avatar so much. Every animal in his world is well-thought out and designed really well so they all look like they're a part of the same place.

    Think about it, though. Your setting is the afterlife. If everything outside the inn is a grey nothingness, then why not have "cloud" dogs and cats and such passing into view temporarily before disappearing just beyond the distance of what you can see? Like it's an animal's soul TRYING to come close, but not managing.
    I retract that suggestion if your characters leave "The Inn". If they leave the inn, I've got no idea. I don't really know enough about your setting to give that kind of question a deserving answer.
     
  5. Midnight_Adventurer
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    Midnight_Adventurer Active Member

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    Well there you go.
    It's always tricky coming up with the right solution, but in the end you'll know what's best for your story. I'm still grappling with my own indecisions for my WIP. It's also kind of hard for me to offer a good judgment when I have no idea what your story is about...apart from the fact it involves an Inn in the afterlife.
     
  6. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    I never taught of population as such , it sounds rather amusing.
    I tend to write and not think about it because when I write that image in my head.
    All I see when I start typing is a blank being filled up with words and so that is in a way populating a blank space with ideas.
    I mostly use imageries and so do not take a story as in having a place and a house say like reality.
     
  7. Slinkywizard
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    Slinkywizard Member

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    For me personally, when laying the groundwork for a story, I almost always start with something approaching a grey nothingness as you describe. Usually, what I find as the story develops is that this stops being interesting right at the point you say 'It's a grey nothingness'.

    Readers are clever and I think most would call that a cop-out, because ultimately a grey nothingness takes no time to develop. For me, setting and how it's populated should always reflect the internal conflicts of the characters. I actually wouldn't be able to do that with a grey nothingness unless there were no internal conflict and if that were the case, I would probably declare my story broken and start again.

    You make an interesting point that if it isn't a grey nothingness, then you'll have to populate it with pixies and so forth, but if I were building a limbo of my own, I wouldn't go anywhere near those fantasy archetypes. So, coming back to the point in the previous paragraph, if you're wondering what to fill it with, this is my personal process:

    What is my character's inner conflict?
    Let's say, for example, his wife was killed and he holds himself responsible, but now he's in Limbo he might have a shot at redemption. Maybe she's at the inn and he needs to get there, so his internal conflict is primarily guilt, followed by regret, self-loathing and hopelessness. I'd then list those facets out like this:

    Guilt
    Regret
    Self-loathing
    Hopelessness

    Using each as a header, I'd start listing things that are either the cause or the reflection of each, so:

    Guilt
    A police officer staring at you.
    A parent punishing you for stealing cookies.
    I'd then move onto more esoteric concepts like:
    Mankind's exploitation of nature.
    Dishevelled hobos with no place to sleep and nothing to eat.
    Inadvertently offending someone at a party.
    [insert a dozen more things that have the propensity for guilt]

    Obviously, the list would be lengthy for each aspect I'd want to reflect.

    The next thing I'd do would be to find commonalities between the different concepts, locations and objects on the list. Keep those that gel together, ditch those that are extraneous.

    Then, I'd begin designing my world based on those concepts. Introduce some interesting rules for that world and find some way of making any aspects that sound a bit cliche unique.

    What you'll have then created is a place unlike any other and within which every element of your character's internal conflict is evidenced in metaphor. This would allow me to, in every passage of description and circumstance, increase the emotional efficacy of my protag's plight, with very little effort. Conversely, a grey nothingness would deny me any and all expression of character for any time my protag or anyone else spends within it.

    I read 'Surface Detail' by Iain M. Banks recently. What blew me away about it is just how fantastically well Banks does this. Scenes of loneliness are played out atop isolated high-altitude mesas, scenes of high action and viscera in spinning, noisome carnivals of alien life.

    That's just the way I work, but my honest advice would be to try and avoid 'A grey nothingness' at all costs. Try writing the back cover synopsis for that and you'll see just how much less interesting it is.

    I hope that's been helpful to you. Everyone works differently and this is just how I go about things when writing sci-fi. I cannot speak for anyone but myself.
     
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  8. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    How do I populate my world? Well, when a man and a woman get together... lol ;)
     
  9. RusticOnion
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    RusticOnion Contributing Member

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    Wait, are you populating the inn or the nothingness?
     
  10. ScreamsfromtheCrematory
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    ScreamsfromtheCrematory Member

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    I look at the general "conceptual idea" of the world, the subsequent thematic content it implies, and attempt to create entities that usually evoke it or contrast it although for the most part, it is the former. In a harsh and barren world where resources are scarce and civilization is minimal, I would create inhabitants who are adapted to survive. They may be shrouded and sharp-eyed wanderers travelling in closely coordinated packs, massive and streamlined subterranean monsters, who avoid the glaring sun beneath the shifting sands, and bizarre vegetation that leaches water from any other living source it can find, turning itself into a deadly life-draining oasis.
     
  11. RW James
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    RW James New Member

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    This is probably over-simplifying: But in a short story there should only be elements (or characters) that can help tell the story. Anything else is superfluous. Anton Chekhov, the Russian playwright, said that if a sword is on the stage, somebody better use it before the curtain falls. I feel the same is true of the short story.
    In a novel, often you can broaden the scope a bit to help set the scene, and introduce elements (or characters) that really do nothing to advance the story and their only purpose is do define the setting.
    Lastly, your dilemma reminds me of something I ran into a lot with songwriting - trying to say too much in one song and finding that I had actually written two or three songs. If you want to play with fantasy characters in a story that doesn't need fantasy characters, perhaps you need to write a second story.
    Just a thought...
     
  12. James Berkley
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    James Berkley Banned

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    That’s something I enjoy a lot. I have found in my little writing that plot writes the setting to a extent. once I have a plot line I extrapolate the conditions that must exist for it to happen. Then I sort of create people, groups, sub cultures, organizations that are likely to exist because of these conditions. Then I have fun of creating details and hierarchy in these organizations. then finally characters from these organizations. for example I just recently detailed out a feudal style class system on a remote planet that has week central control. I even designed a lot of how there schizo tech (and why schizo tec) army is organized and armed. Then, I created the characters from this society and added on their own personalities to their class and social standing.
     
  13. Jetshroom
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    Jetshroom Active Member

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    Wow, this was awesome reading people's attempts at populating my world. Such similar ideas yet so completely different in execution.

    For the record, I was talking about populating the world, not the Inn itself. And it was more of a philosophical question anyway since the story actually takes place for the most part, inside the Inn. In one sense, the Inn is the world. But, there is a world outside the Inn as well.

    To change the setting, the main character is a thief in a capital city. The world is a fantasy world, how do you go about populating it?
    As other people have said, it often comes of simply writing the story. You populate the world with what's necessary to the story. If you character has to fight a dragon, then your world has dragons.
    If your character has no interaction whatsoever with the Two-Headed Hermit Moth then there's no point writing it in.

    But then Screams and Cruci seem to do what one of my friends does and invent a very rich, full world that is heavily reasoned and explained but completely alien to our own.
    That way, the information is there, in case it's required.

    Thanks for the replies, interesting stuff.
     
  14. Devrokon
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    Devrokon Senior Member

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    I like the idea of your story, just thought I'd mention that. I have no idea how to fill a world because it all is already set out in my head, but I mostly do fiction that is realistic to a certain degree or based on the world itself.
     
  15. ScreamsfromtheCrematory
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    [Whoops, wrong thread.]
     
  16. je33ie
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    je33ie Member

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    This is a great quote! I feel like it should also be true in a longer novel to some extent... even if the sword isn't used to kill someone in the novel, it should at least be there to help provide context around the person who holds it.
     
  17. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Words of wisdom!
    I learned something I haven't thought much about by reading your post!
    Thank you! :)
     

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