1. Adam Bolander

    Adam Bolander Senior Member

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    Deep or shallow worldbuilding?

    Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by Adam Bolander, Jul 10, 2021.

    When it comes to high fantasy, how deep do you go in your worldbuilding? Are you like Tolkien, where you know every single event that's happened since the beginning of time? Are you like Sanderson, where you keep the worldbuilding mostly to what's relevant to the main plot? Or are you like [insert third author I'm too tired to think of] where you focus almost entirely on the characters and rarely (if ever) mention the world they're in at all?

    While I'm fascinated by the lore authors like Tolkien create, I've never been able to do that myself. I'm more of a Sanderson level worldbuilder, because I like delving into the histories and mythologies of my worlds, but I try not to let it distract from the main plot. If it doesn't effect the main characters in some way, I don't bother thinking it up.
     
  2. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Contributor Contributor

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    I do what I would call a 'decent amount' of world building prior to writing a novel (or series). I have the framework with some of the details, especially those relevant to the current story being told.
     
  3. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    That's how I look it. Good for the author to cypher a significant outline of the lore, but the reader only needs to know the relevant, character/scene contextual parts. Where writers get into trouble is when they vomit the lore all over the place, obscuring the visibility of the story. It's that whole "it won't make sense if the reader doesn't know XYZ first" trap.
     
  4. Adam Bolander

    Adam Bolander Senior Member

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    As much as I respect Tolkien, I admire his writing more than I actually like reading it. He's got some legit amazing lore behind Middle Earth, but the way he writes his books is just boring to me. If there was a book that just told the history and lore of Middle Earth without needing to read the novels, I'd probably love it.
     
  5. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    The Silmarillion does that, basically.
     
  6. Lazaares

    Lazaares Senior Member

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    Worldbuilding's part of the hobby and fun for me; I mostly do it parallel to writing as an extra. When immersing in worlds built by others I often find deep worldbuilding is vastly superior. When you push the narrative first, you will either bend the worldbuilding for it or cut corners (and create plot holes). The latter's never a good thing to do.
     
  7. Le Panda Du Mal

    Le Panda Du Mal Active Member

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    I love both Tolkien's lore and his writing. I think the world he created is a marvelous achievement. It is a feat made possible by a lifelong love of studying history, language, religion, mythology, etc. It is not the only way to "world build" though. Some authors do it in considerably broader, impressionistic strokes, by sustaining a certain atmosphere or sensibility rather than meticulously plotting out the world's history, geography, languages, etc.
     
  8. Joe_Hall

    Joe_Hall Active Member

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    I tend to build my world, especially its map, cities, cultures, ect. Then my characters have their adventures in it. I do not go Tolkien level with seven dialects of elvish language. I write as a hobby, not as a lifetime career. One thing that I find helps me is to make mini-wikis of locations, cultures and characters as I write them so I can keep things consistent.
     
  9. Terbus

    Terbus Member

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    Currently Reading::
    Fatal Passage by Ken McGoogan
    I've gone in-depth without being carried away; at least in my opinion. I have two high fantasy worlds, and each has reserved detailed attention, although in different ways. I'd be glad to answer any questions.

    The history of my human based world goes back a around 700 years, which covers the founding and backstory of every major power. It's basically just a timeline with notes, but it covers all the relevant information. With that world, it's not relevant to know how the world was formed or how it will end. I did spend a lot of the on the cultural aspects of the important powers, covering everything from trade and religion to building techniques. A lot of this information is not plot relevant and will appear only in passing, but I found it important and interesting.

    I know the circumstances of how my other world was formed, mostly because one of the side characters was there when it happened. I've spent a lot of time on the timeline and creation aspects, mostly because I have relevant history covering about 10,000 years. Well not immortal, the main race has an average lifespan (when not killed) of about 2,500 years. There are several characters have been around for most or all of that time. I did less cultural world building in this story, however, I did not neglect it. I know a lot about customs and dress, but there's been no need to go greatly in-depth. I add and edit as needed.

    Overall, I took a Tolkien approach with my second world and a Brandon Sanderson with my first. For me, it really depends on what's necessary for the writing. My second world has living characters who are all but ghosts in the current time we'll my first struggles to track history in a very human manner.
     
  10. Mullanphy

    Mullanphy Banned

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    My current project, underway since 2016 with no measurable results, is a series about the colonization of a planet generations distant from Sol. Part, and I emphasize "part", of the reason for lack of progress is a lack of understanding of the world, its cultures, how it got how it is, and where it might end. So, I am now world building with as much detail as I can stuff into it. How many details will be used is up for grabs, but I think I'll be able to write a much more readable story by knowing as much as possible about the world and its people. Plus, building a world, even a fictitious one, is fun.
     
  11. Not the Territory

    Not the Territory Senior Member

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    I end up using the lore as a slave to the story. So long as the reader doesn't find out, I think I'm good. That means I keep pre-emptive worldbuilding to a complete nil. That said, in editing I have to go back and plant the seeds of what I ended up needing later in the story in order to keep it from looking like what it is: some shit I made up on the spot.
     
  12. thewritingguy

    thewritingguy Member

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    It depends honestly on where your focus in the book is. If your book is focused on characters and political drama like Game of Thrones then you don't need to go crazy with lore. On the other hand, if you want to just have an immersive experience, then lore is one of the best ways to achieve that. You can try doing both as well, but your focus always has to be somewhere.
     
  13. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    I guess I'm weird, in that I know the deep lore that never gets mentioned in
    my stories, only the important stuff to the story it self. I guess if I really felt
    like nerding out over the extra lore, I could write a separate guide full of it.
    (Ah, whom I kidding, nobody is interested in all the extra fluff anyways?) :D
     
  14. Stephen1974

    Stephen1974 Active Member

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    If you don't world build in a fantasy setting them your readers will default to the 'real world' to find a connection and the story will just be weak. It will cease to by fantasy and will just become cosplay.
     
  15. Bolu Kai

    Bolu Kai Member

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    I use what I’ll refer to as iceberg worldbuilding (iceberg effect). Readers only see a percentage of the story world, but the author has to know more than what’s on the page. I tend to go overboard with worldbuilding because it’s my favorite part, but I don’t include everything in the story (even if I really want to). For stories with lots of lore I keep a story bible to catalogue the different aspects of the worldbuilding.

    I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way. There are a lot of different reasons you may choose to write similarly to Sanderson or Tolkien. It could the writer’s voice. If you’re story has a character vs society conflict, the story may need more worldbuilding (society) to sell that conflict. If the story has a character vs character conflict, it may not require as much worldbuilding. It’s also a matter of story length (e.g. short story, novel). You can’t include as much worldbuilding in a 20 page short story as you can with a 400 page novel.

    On a side note, keep in mind that Tolkien was shooting to create a mythology for England that could rival the mythology of surrounding countries. That’s why the lore is so deep. That’s why he created an entire language.
     

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