1. cretinhop
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    cretinhop Member

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    World-Building

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by cretinhop, May 16, 2011.

    Okay, hi! So, I believe in making up a world as far as fantasy goes (versus playing it out on earth). It's not that I can't come up with a world, but I can't ever tell where to start. I know I should start with sheets and sheets for reference points, maybe sketch out a map, etc. I'm really bad at describing buildings because I lack the vocabulary in that area, but anyway, I guess my question is: how do you do it? Any of you, I mean. World-build? What sort of steps do you take to remember how you've set up a city, and how do you choose to set up a city? For instance, the place where I've set my character has been bouncing between port city and not for a while. Then deciding the size... I guess, creating something believable, engaging, and not too predictable. And, of course, what to include: what are the moral values of a whole people? Or, rather, a variety of peoples if you're character will be traversing the countryside (as mine will).
    What makes a fictional fantasy city believable and tangible to the reader for you, if you don't write fantasy yourself?
    /ramble.
     
  2. StrangerWithNoName
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    StrangerWithNoName Longobard duke

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    Imo, a realistic fantary city is a place where people can really live, I mean, it should have a source of water, a strategic position, an economy etc...
     
  3. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    First of all, you should figure out what kind of world/city your story needs. When you have a vague idea, you start with the details, like how they get their resourses. Food, water, building material, where the waste goes, etc. Then economy and how advanced they are. A little history, for youself, not the readers. Decide what's logical when thinking of the houses.

    To give you an example, here is my world:
    This is a desert world that is split up into five sectors. Because they live in a desert, they need a lot of storage space for their water reserves. Food is grown in greenhouses and the animals they kill for meat are raised on farms. The city is very high tech and modern, and densely populated. Therefor pretty much everyone lives in small apartments. Because it's a corportate world where most of the income comes from trade, there is significant class seperation, but little poverty as most people are employed. Because of the sparse amount of water, only the rich people have their own running water and the rest use bath houses and public taps. You can see this town has a pretty big weakness which I use in my story. If the water reserves are contaminated somehow while in a draught, the whole city collapses.
     
  4. SeverinR
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    SeverinR Contributing Member

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    World building will take time.

    For me I am creating a world as I go.
    I first started with my main nation, then added an enemy country.

    Then I added a small country next to the first.

    Now I am creating a desert city for my next story, and a couple other stories.

    My world so far is round, had seas and oceans, my first and anti-first countries are not the biggest nor most powerful.

    I would basically start small and build on it. Rather then spend months or years getting all the world "facts" created, when the world is only background.

    No one wants to read about how the fantasy world works as a whole. They only care that someone interesting is doing something to keep thier attention.
    I will amend the first statement of this para. No one wants to read about a new authors world currently. Become famous and everything written about your books will be in demand. (all things Harry Potter, middle earth, Star Trek)

    There needs to be the big picture, but keep it in perspective.
     
  5. Garfiun
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    Garfiun Member

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    SO how long do you take when creating a world? Ive been working on mine for about four days and have got a very long way to got, Probably another 4 - 5 weeks.
     
  6. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with Severin and spklvr, and would like to go on to say, as I have before, there is no point sitting down and world building before you write the world. You should have an idea of what you need before you start, and the rest of the ideas and building, at least in the first draft, should come naturally as you grow. Allow time for info dumping and tangents as you work it out, but don't waste time trying to draw a map.

    For one of my stories I knew the guy had to visit 5 cities, and the only map I drew was a line with 5 dots on it, and then the rest of the details were mathematical - working out travel distance and how many days, so the cities where few things had to happen in travel were a short distance apart, whereas when I needed the main character to meet some people, I had them give him a lift, so I made that leg of the journey 500 miles longer than the others.

    For the most part, though, I just start writing, and think, "I need this, I need that..." and add it in as I go. Imagine cooking a big stew, and you've got a ton of ingredients there - I'd just be picking them at random thinking, "this might make it taste good!" until I have a big stew which might be too spicy or have a ton of useless potato weighing down the bottom, but at least all the details are in it, so I re-draft: get a new pot, and do the same thing as before but with the finesse I didn't have when I was improvising the first time.

    Like, I have this one village I use in my fantasy series, and I'm re-drafting now. The thing I'm noticing a lot is that it was only about halfway through I learned how to talk about it without making it sound like a town (I've never lived anywhere too small :p). So, changing all "my neighbourhood" to "my street" and cutting down references to shops, and giving a reason why there are 2 secondary schools - I moved the second one about a mile down the road just to make it clearer that it wasn't a weird contradiction to have a village of a few hundred people with 2 secondary schools. I'm getting in references to things I didn't know I was going to write until later, and so on.

    Maybe it sounds annoying work, but the story needed re-drafting anyway (never settle for a first draft :p) so doing your world building once you know how much world you need to build is infinitely preferable to writing out a book of local history and geography, only to find your characters breeze through it and never take a close look at all your little gems of information.

    Or worse, they do. :p
     
  7. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've been world building for one of my series of stories for almost ten years and I'm still learning new stuff about it all the time. :)
     
  8. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've spent two years on mine, and consider myself more or less done now. Though I actually finished the story first, then built the world properly and rewrote the story after.
     
  9. cretinhop
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    cretinhop Member

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    Ah! These are all so handy. My biggest problem in writing is needing to have every sentence perfect the first time. But, now that I realize this is wrong (partially with your help... I've been writing alone for so long), this will make world-building itself significantly easier! I have my story and know what sort of world I want, luckily, and I'm really, really excited to start building it. *u*

    It's so cool to see other approaches. Thanks again, you guys.
     
  10. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    I take almost as much fun from worldbuilding as I do writing. For that reason, I tend to spend a lot of time building my worlds - designing centuries and millennia of history (or at least a general overview of it, even if it isn't fully detailed), an entire geography, the different cultures and languages of the various peoples, and so on and so forth. If you are willing to go to this level of detail - or, well, any level of detail, where you wish to make the fantasy world believable, you should really read up on some relevant books. For instance, if you are trying to design a believable culture that isn't a rip-off of modern, Western values and practices, then you might have to read up a bit on anthropology. If you want to design a believable political system other than "democracy = yay everybody happy, and monarchy = boo, evil king!", then you'll have to read up some books on politics and/or political history, for example. Or, maybe you want the peoples of the world to develop gunpowder weapons similar ot ours - then you might have to read up on military history and maybe even physics.

    Of course, this doesn't mean you actually have to go do a whole crapload of research. Maybe it's not your thing, or maybe you are willing to make some things "unrealistic" for the sake of the story - but reading up on these things can help make your world more believable, and, furthermore, it might even give you some ideas, instead of having to rely on cliches and stereotypes. Regardless, if you do want to ensure that you don't rely on cliches and stereotypes, then it may not hurt to do a bit of research to get ideas.


    Also, you may want to look up worldbuiling or conworlding or conlanging communities online. There's a lot of these forums where there are people who may be willing to help you discuss these matters.
     
  11. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Wikipedia is awesome for this sort of thing. :D It's not like you have to reference it like you would an essay... You can get an overview of just about anything, and surprising detail on some things. Like, I went to look up recorders this afternoon to see if calling the bit you blow into the "head" was right (yes), and got a whole lesson on absolutely everything ever about woodwind instruments. :p
     
  12. Ophiucha
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    Ophiucha Member

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    There are a lot of different opinions on worldbuilding, and for some people, it isn't even much of a thing. Both Garth Nix and Michael Moorcock, respected fantasy authors, have said that they do not do much 'worldbuilding'. If they need a town name or an animal, they come up with it when it shows up in the story and they work it in. Garth Nix talks about how its less about knowing everything in your world, and more about creating the illusion that you do. Some authors, oppositely, think you should develop a functional conlanguage, draw some maps, and plan out trade routes before you've come up with your protagonist's name.

    I fall somewhere in the middle, but definitely more towards Nix and Moorcock. I know what is needed to be known to write the story, and I let atmosphere dictate the level of realism. My story takes place in a mollusk's shell floating in an ocean. I'm not too concerned with a river's flow at that point, though I do maintain a certain level of consistency necessary for the sort of story I am telling. Merely not realism. And I don't know much at all about the economy of the world, beyond some basic "this is the currency they use" sort of things needed to show my protagonist buying a piece of steak.
     
  13. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    I would like to add to this: though I'm the kind that does all the detail and stuff, with all the conlanging and conculturing and what not, it's more because I find creative entertainment, if you will, in those things as well, and not because I find it necessary.

    Ophiucha is right in saying that sometimes all you need is the illusion that you actually made a believable, detailed world. Readers probably won't even care if you mess up the reigns of King Aofijdf and Awuerjt who lived 124538 years ago so long as it doesn't really matter to the plot.

    If, however, you are the kind like me who likes to put a lot of work into creating a unique world, then you must remember that the story should still have more precedence than the world. If there's something in the story that conflicts with something in the world, then you probably should fix up the world, and not the story. Be willing to change the world to meet the needs of the story, and so forth. For some things, like conlangs, this doesn't really matter; for other things, such as the progression of the events or the geographical locations of things, you might very well have to do a lot of changing of the world in order to meet the needs of the story.

    Still, however, sometimes it also works the other way as well - maybe you thought of something in your world that could actually help improve your story. Maybe you offhandedly created a minor kingdom in the corner of your world whose rulers were descended from political refugees from your main kingdom and who currently control the trade routes to, say, spices that are currently very lucrative - oh, wait, now you suddenly have made yourself a little enemy for your 'protagonist' kingdom to fight (for both historically political and economic reasons) that isn't some cliched evil dark lord!

    I think that that in itself is the best thing about worldbuilding in detail - it allows you to pull things out of nowhere without really pulling them out of nowhere. Need some enemy for your heroes without relying on some cliche band of chaotic orcs or trolls? Maybe have a bunch of nomadic raiders seeking to control the trade routes to the west. Need a reason for the current rulers to not trust your heroes besides some lame "oh we don't like non-royals" excuse? Maybe it's because the heroes are from a regional group the rulers don't trust, because that regional group rebelled 20 years ago because of an economic depression caused by a lack of demand for that region's previously money-producing cocoa crop because scientists/mages have made a new type of cocoa crop that can grow anywhere.

    And so on. Point is, worldbuilding in detail, though not necessary, can help you enrich your story by providing you with extra elements that you might find use for later on.

    If any of that makes sense.
     
  14. MrNomas
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    MrNomas Member

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    Generally, I start with an idea of the world. Usually based on the idea of the characters and the plot. Then I start writing. At some point, there ends up being too much about the world/society to remember and I stop writing the story and start writing down the world stuff. Then back to the story, back to the world. Over and over until it is done.

    Fantasy novels are really a different breed. They require you to keep many different parts of society in your head. It takes a lot of concentration. I'd say it would be a good idea to at least have a clue as to how things would work particularly between the religions/government and how money and such things as food and defense work but the specifics can certainly come organically as you write. I'm just terrified that I'd write myself into a hole and get stuck for lack of a little planning.
     
  15. Garfiun
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    Garfiun Member

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    wow ten years im just hoping to get a basic layout before I start writing then add to it as I go on.
     
  16. SeverinR
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    SeverinR Contributing Member

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    I learned world building basics in AD&D, I created what was needed and ignored other aspects.

    I would say the one important thing, don't fence yourself in, always leave a wilderness or territory unknown to build some different place, to make rumors, or lore.

    I haven't written why the two main countries are commonly at war but it will come up so I will figure it out when I need too.

    World building can be fun, but in the stories its all scenery/backdrop.

    My desert lightning dragons have blood vessels in thier wings to regulate heat much like desert animals. Unlike the Desert Fire dragons, the lightning dragon is not impervious to heat. This is why they don't do well in cool weather, the blood is cooled when it flows through the wings(like a radiator), bringing down the core temp good when its 120f, but not good when its 35f.
    Also helping to disperse the heat produced when flying.

    Making the animals function in the world. While not common, Desert Lighting dragons love having large pools or moats in their lair. (Maximize their electrical weapon.) The wet metal armored warrior makes for a nice conductor for the energy to flow through if they attack the dragon at home.
     
  17. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    What a great discussion. My approach is to not worry about world-building until it comes up in the story, like Nix/Moorcock, but then I go into huge detail as to why that particular thing is the way it is. For example, when I came up with an alien that doesn't have a nose but has an excellent sense of smell, I immediately figured out how that creature evolved to be that way. One thing I'm pretty good at is pointing out flaws in the world-building of books/movies/tv shows, so I try to analyze my own work with the same skeptical scrutiny.

    I keep a log of what I call "Puzzles." These are anything from plot-holes to continuity errors that I am aware of but have no solution for yet. I look over them constantly and try to brainstorm ways to solve them. A lot of times, when I finally do find a solution, I can bend it to solve multiple puzzles at once.

    To build off what others have said, world building is important, and it's generally better to have more detail than less. However, the more detail you have, the more tempting it is to put it all in your story. This will bog down your story, like the #1 criticism of LOTR: too much detail, way too slow a story. If Nix says all you need is enough to give the illusion you have built an entire world, then that is all the detail you need even if you have a lot more.
     
  18. Daydream
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    Daydream Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ah I have to say I love the level of detail put into LOTR! One of the many reasons I love it ^^ It just makes it more believable I think.
     
  19. Leonardo Pisano
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    Leonardo Pisano Active Member

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    Fantasy worlds are not my thing, but as a design engineer by education, I would approach it as 1. focus on objectives 2. functions (actions needed to achieve your objectives) 3. functional elements (how the function will be delivered) 4. fleshing out details.
    A living being usually has needs according to the Maslow scale. Maybe you can invent yours (!). Then your environment ("world") will emerge more or less automatically, as the needs need to be fulfilled to progress in life.

    HTH.
     
  20. Pythonforger
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    Pythonforger Carrier of Insanity

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    For me, I start out with a general idea of the world, then start on the specifics.
    Usually I'll divide the world into several sectors(cities) which will each be unique, but possess some common trait.

    As example, here is a world I created. This is a copy(slightly edited as I tend to use shorthand in my writer's notebook) of the description I made for myself. It's unnamed, but ironically, one of my favorite worlds.

    xoxOxox

    Sectors:Wastelands, Cog, Hope, Crypt
    Areas:Wastelands
    Cities:Cog, Hope, Crypt

    Made out of 3 cities, all underground. The area above is Wastelands.
    Cog is a steampunk city powered by millions of ever-turning gears.
    Hope is a city bustling with life, and is focusing on trying to make the Wastelands habitable again.
    Crypt was where dead bodies from Cog and Hope were dumped, but eventually Ghouls started to build small pieces of shelter there and it grew into a city
    Ghouls, which are mutants which mutation has been affected oddly by the massive piles of corpses, live in Crypt.

    History:This world used to be full of lush trees and strange but wonderful animals. Humans lived together in peace. Then the Cataclysm happened. A rift opened in the sky, tearing the world apart. Scientists created a device to close the rift. This device, while it worked, produced incredible amounts of radiation. This radiation, combined with the already ravaged world, turned some humans into mutants and made others adapt. Cog and Hope were built, and Crypt a few decades after.

    Population:Small but made of hardy, ruthless people and mutants.

    Technology:The small bits and pieces humanity could scavenge from the ruins of the old world. Interestingly, each city has its own unique technology. Cog is focused on mechanics, Hope is focused on creating and recycling energy and Crypt is a hybrid of both cities because of the odd bits and pieces raider ghouls stole from the two cities.

    Factions:Onyx, based in Cog. Wants to bring Hope and Crypt to the ground, and use their resources to rebuild humanity. Shinox, based in Hope and Cog. Wants humanity to work together to kill all the Ghouls and mutants. A faction of Ghouls which has no name and is based in Crypt. Wants to kill all the humans for their flesh. Neutral toward mutants. Ravage, based in all three cities and made out of all three races. Wants to merge the cities and make one big city, Gaia.
     
  21. cretinhop
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    cretinhop Member

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    This was an excellent way to put it! Haha. As before, everything all of you have said is incredibly handy to me, for I've never actually spoken to any other writers before... They simply don't exist in my city. But this is just a really good way to put it... I guess that's really all I have to say. Thanks again!!
     
  22. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    Keep in mind you don't need the whole world built straight away. Go into detail only in the places you need to, which will be the locales your characters visit and any locations vital to the back story. There's no point making an elaborate history for a kingdom that doesn't feature until the fourth novel. What you should do however is make up some other place names and maybe have a very basic idea of what they're like. Then throw them about a bit in your characters conversations. This way when you finally do get to writing about them in detail they won't seem tacked on, and the reader will go "oh yeah I know that place."
     
  23. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Ah, now it's time for a lesson in, WORLD COOKING!:)

    One great way to make a unique world is to get a generic setting, say a generic fantasy setting, and then turn one element of it on its head. This will cause a ripple effect that makes the setting more unique from that single change. If not completely unique when done, repeat until completely unique and consistent.
     
  24. Florent150
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    Florent150 Member

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    To put a slightly different spin on things, one of my first steps is to take a dystopia-eutopia "scale" and decide, for the particular story I'm doing, how far dystopain or eutopian the world should be "themed" as. Of course, this is in terms of style; because stories revolve around conflict, obviously the theme isn't going to be 100% eutopian, and usually veers either a little or a lot towards dystopia especially if it's an epic-fantasy.

    So, for example, if the decision I take is that this world is going to feel seriously dystopian, most of the locations I develop from then on follow this parameter; every village is depressed for one reason or another, natural beauty is being/has been sucked away, safety is seriously compromised, and so on. If I want a eutopian theme, for me that usually means I'm going for a picturesque world, natural beauty in abundance perhaps with tropical themes, clean machines, so on (but as I said, due to the nature of conflict this is usually just a mask for true dystopia under the surface)

    Like I said, this is usually more of a scale; mildly dystopian, very eutopian, etc. But from here I take my other "broad" decisions. Technological advancement vs Primitive medieval fantasy, and decide that as a scale as well. These kind of steps tee up the main components of the world.


    After these have been established, more general decisions come in; how many notable locations do you need in your world that's going to be in the story? how large is the world going to be? And as has been said, naturally evolving parameters like how do these cities access their resources? what governmental system/s is/are in place?


    This is just how I like to approach it, and I'd also point out that I like to draw a lot of maps. The simple reason is if I know specifically where everything is, scenes in the story can be related to the world. "POV char is facing this direction when talking to another person, and therefore these mountains are visible in the background." It's not necessary, but personally I like to be organized in that kind of way so everything makes perfect spatial sense to me and I can add details like that into scenes.
     
  25. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    On further ponderization, I'd say every city should have a unique "hook" that ties the whole thing up in one neat package of a concept. This could be physical characteristics, political regime, overall city philosophy, or anything. Kind of like how Venice is a city on water, and the streets are like rivers, or how that village in Avatar was on a tree. Whatever it is, it should tie into every aspect of the culture of that city.
     

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