1. InkDancer
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    InkDancer Senior Member

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    World Building: Where do you draw the line?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by InkDancer, Jul 10, 2008.

    Like many would-be writers, I have a half-conceived idea for a fantasy novel/series that I've been toying with for many years. As I've gotten older, the idea has matured with me, but I still don't think it's "ready."

    Most of the work I've done on it has been world-building. The main characters are pretty much all from the same culture (with slight regional variations), but as the novel progresses, the reader learns of the wider world in which they live, and learns things which challenge the assumptions made towards the beginning. In fact, the idea of holding on to one's own culture in the face of another is one of the major themes of the book.

    I know the general structure of each society. I have identified the "cultural heroes" that each group treasures (e.g., your George Washingtons and Albert Einsteins, the people who embody the values of that culture). I know the religion, the entertainment, the food. I've even traced how their languages are interrelated, although I have gone full-on Tolkien and invented them yet. I know which animals are important, for work and for pets. I've even invented the stereotypes that each culture has of the others, accents, and sayings.

    I'm sure that only a tiny fraction of this will make its way into the finished story, but I feel it's important to know in advance, since I can't really do "research" on these cultures, and I don't really want to make it up as I go along. The question is, where do I draw the line? At what point is the world building "done"? Am I using the world building as an excuse not to start the actual novel?
     
  2. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I've done much the same thing with the novel I'm writing called Venus Isle (A tribute to my favourite Guitarist Eric Johnson) and I had the idea of showing only a small amount of the fictional world (Only a few islands really) and hinting at a larger world beyond the small archipelago where Venus Isle is located.

    So I have only planned a small scope of it, leaving the others to my own, and the reader's, imagination.
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    It seems you’ve created an ethnography of sorts for your story. This is wonderful, and will, IMHO, provide a clean, consistent, well balanced feel to the end story you will create. (Did that sound like a breakfast commercial? I hope not.) :D
     
  4. Leo
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    Leo Senior Member

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    How well have you planned out the plotline itself?

    Have you just planned the world or do you have a plot as well?
     
  5. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    you know what I do not think you can have to much world building. the Simarilion by Tolkien is really nothing more than a history of middle earth and the rest of the world it takes place in, which is a huge world that middle earth is just a part of. It tells the history of the wizzards and of how all the creatures of the land were created. So I honestly believe there is nothing wrong with having some history
     
  6. Sophronia
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    Sophronia Member

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    Do as much as you need for the story itself, so you know the hows and whys of the story. If your story involves all the culture aspects, places, etc., then don't be afraid to expand your world and story to that point. Of course, even if your story doesn't include all the details, it doesn't hurt to make all those things you spoke of either. I wrote two series of books, and even if I didn't include all the cultural/world details involved in the story, I wrote them in an index and put those in each of the series for the reader's use. It also gave me good experience for the next books I wanted to write, as well as ideas on races, cultures, etc.
     
  7. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    I tried worldbuilding some cultures at the same time that I was writing the stories, so I got to see how the two processes panned out. I found that I had to keep going back and redoing the worldbuilding profile because it kept changing and I kept learning things that contradicted or modified what I'd already taken note of. Finally, I just gave up the worldbuilding profile completely and focused on writing the story. And that was where and how I learned everything I needed to know to make the story authentic to its world. I can go back and take notes on what's worked its way into the writing, but as for taking those notes first, and THEN doing the writing, that just doesn't work with me when it comes to worldbuilding. It's like writing indepth about a culture when you've barely even experienced it for yourself. You'll find that the notes you took are woefully out of date and, at times, entirely wrong.

    Worldbuilding is good, and fun, but it's kind of like creating a character chart--it's often better saved for when you've already written that character in action. My worldbuilding profile was static whereas the worlds I was writing kept changing as I learned more. I couldn't really learn about the worlds I created by answering static questions on a static profile. When I wrote about my worlds, however, I learned all sorts of things. Maybe this is "making it up as I go along," which you don't like, but a lot of it was stuff I already knew but hadn't written down or truly thought about yet. And, yes, some of it came about on its own as I wrote, unplanned. That's something that has to be taken into account when worldbuilding. The actual writing of the story itself will change what you've created, no matter how much you plan it out in advance. There will always be revelations you never knew about when worldbuilding. Writing the story is the best education for worldbuilding that there is. (Plus, when you write the story, you'll know what information you need more of and less of.)

    It sounds like you have most of what you need because even you admit most of it won't make its way into your work. If you keep focusing on world creation, you run the risk of never writing the story. And like I said, once you start writing, the worldbuilding information is going to keep shifting and changing. Worldbuilding is just a thing that works better with "experience"--experiencing the worlds you've created by writing about them. Worldbuilding questions and profiles are really good to use, but IMO it's easier to fill them in as the story goes along, not fill them out first, get every detail down, then write the story and find out that half the information you filled in no longer applies.

    I'd try starting the story and seeing how well it moves along with what you already know. If you get stuck, you can always stop and brainstorm some more worldbuilding stuff. But writing the story is probably the best way to learn what you need to know.
     
  8. Sato Ayako
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    Sato Ayako Contributing Member

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    This is exactly what I've done. I created political systems, cultures, norms for greetings and food, even different animals.

    Where the world-building is "done" depends on the individual writer. If you need to know as many details as possible about the world you've created, you'll probably only be able to stop once you have cultures, histories, languages, customs, etc. detailed. You might want to put emphasis, however, on things you're interested in. For example, in my world, I'm more interested about the technology, the humans, and the aliens, so most of my focus is on the present with them. I'm not interested in politics, so I only developed the politics enough to know how the leadership works, how war is waged, etc.

    If you continue to world build despite the fact that you have enough of the world built to begin your story, you're procrastinating. Take a good look at what you've built so far. I bet you could start your story now. Don't worry if you run into a new detail. Take a break to fill it in to the overall world plan, then move on.

    I know I said the time when a world is done depends on the writer, but it can also depend on how much that writer is using it to waste time. Great job for being dedicated enough to build a world. Maybe you should throw that dedication into the actual story. The thing about world-building is, it doesn't really improve your writing skills. Only actually writing a story will. So while you're dallying with world-building, you aren't working on your story-writing. (Yes, yes, you could be writing short stories, but the overall point stands.)
     
  9. Samswriting
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    Samswriting Senior Member

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    World building... I would make the strong stand that the 'world building' is never done. At least not till you have told the story as far as you want to.

    Once you have enough of the world created, be it on paper or in your mind. All that is left is to write the story. As you write it, the world will grow, and change. And so the world building truly only ends when you write the last word of the last story in that world.

    Anyway what you describe, indicates to me that you are certainly at a point that you "could" begin to pen the story. But it's really up to you when you decide you have enough information to write the first words.

    Good luck and happy writing.
     
  10. inkslinger
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    inkslinger Contributing Member

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    I know what you mean. I also have had an idea for a while, and rather than actually writing the story, I have left the plot mostly untouched, and instead developed the 'world' of the story. It seems easier to begin with fleshing out a lot of the societal points first, but I feel like it sometimes gets in the way, and serves as a distraction to actually writing the real story. I've decided to only vaguely 'world build' until I actually get a good chunk into the story itself. A lot changes, anyway, as you go on and write. It's better not to make your world fit into the direction the words of your story are heading, otherwise it'll come out forced. Letting it all piece together here and there will leave you with your story flowing better in the end.
     
  11. ParanormalWriter
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    ParanormalWriter Contributing Member

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    Hi, InkDancer. Nice to see a writer after my own heart--that is,another fantasy fan. You know, the greatest thing about writing fantasy is the freedom to explore and create. World building is definately a big part of that, and it's one of the things that tempts so many RPGers into writing fantasy. It can be great just to play around with ideas, draw maps of your world, and create different races and forms of magic. I've definately been into all of that in the past.

    That being said, I've come to discover the drawback to excessive world building. When taken too far, it can hold back the actual writing. Somehow, you find yourself getting so caught up in creating worlds that you never seem to get around to creating that story to go with them. Oh, ideas are falling hard and fast, but you just don't feel READY. That's when you have to start drawing the line. When the world building gets in the way of the writing it's time to call it enough, and get started on your story with what information you have.

    Because the sad, terrible fact is that most readers won't share our passion for world builing. What they'll focus on is the characters and the plot. Everything else is just background. So, if you want to get beyond the phase of setting up your story and actually get it out on paper, you'll probably have to let go a little of your creative urge. You can still slip in cool little tidbits about your world's history and various races, but in the end, it's all gotta be stuff that's relevant to the story. If it doesn't further the goal of the characters, however fascinating the details might be, it's all going to be lost effort on the readers.
     
  12. Klee
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    Klee Contributing Member

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    I think you should always have options open. I mean, don't leave everything definite, you might find that you need a certain culture to behave some way but you've already stated how many cultures there are and how they behave and having a lost one suddenly appear might seem a little deus ex machina, or needing a certain tribe be in a certain geographical place where you've said before that it's deserted.

    Paranormal has some good suggestions that I agree with. I love world building too, but you gotta ask yourself what's really important for the novel, how much of it is gonna affect the story directly and if you're willing to change it eventually, because it might happen that you want to have something change to help the plot. I guess the way to think about is, you can carve the story to fit your world or, you can carve the world to fit your story?

    Either way and no matter what we say, it's your call and your decision. We can't really tell you 'yes, go on' or 'no, don't do it' because in the end it's your story and your world.
     
  13. InkDancer
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    InkDancer Senior Member

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    Wow! Thank you all so much! I think I do need to actually start working on the story itself. I really want to be able to share that world with other people, and I don't think an "ethnography" is the way to do it. I just hope I can write a story that lives up to how much I love the world it's set in.

    Thanks again to everyone!
     

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