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  1. QualityPen

    QualityPen Member

    Nov 14, 2016
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    West Coast of the US of A

    Proper Depth of Background Material?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by QualityPen, Nov 29, 2016.

    How much background material is reasonable to create before writing the actual narrative in a fantasy or sci-fi setting? I have two books in the works and neither has been moving along much because I've been spending months researching and developing the settings. In the last 3 days I have created a family tree for my main character and his spouse going back about 200 years and then created a fairly detailed map of the land he lives in. This is just a small section of the world map I am working on...


    Some of this is important to the story, but many of the details I spend time coming up with I know I will not use directly in the story. Do you usually produce this much detail for your setting or do you let the setting write itself when you write the narrative? Do you think I am doing too much work here?
  2. S~A~W

    S~A~W Banned

    Nov 27, 2016
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    Take a page (pardon the pun) from painting. When you are sketching your new idea, you are painting. When you are cleaning your brushes, you are painting. When you are mixing your paints you are painting. Painting is not just when you dip that Grumbacher into your palette.

    People will mention Tolkien. However, it's hard to see what the "appropriate" amount of time to spend on a work is. You may have an average time (for a lot of average work), and that's nothing to use as a guide. The best guide I can suggest is use your own judgement. When you have what you need as a foundation prepared, you're the best one to know.

    Once you're set, and off to the races, I've heard said two finished pages a work day is an average output. I can't say for sure, since I write verse. But, that's what I heard, anyway...or read, one of those two.
  3. Denegroth

    Denegroth Banned

    Nov 20, 2016
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    South Florida
    You're only doing too much work if you don't enjoy what you're doing. If you don't use everything you've ginned-up in the work you're anticipating starting, perhaps it can be of use in some fashion later. I say well done.
  4. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

    Sep 6, 2014
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    What's your goal? If your goal is to have an enjoyable hobby and you're enjoying what you're doing, then - yay! Keep doing it!

    If your goal is to build a career as an author... you may need to look at things a bit more carefully. Most of what you're working on for projects like this likely won't (shouldn't!) be included in the finished version of your story. Is it absolutely necessary to you as part of the creative process that you figure all this out? Okay, then, if it's absolutely necessary you have to keep doing it. But if it isn't absolutely necessary and you do want to create a publishable novel in a timely manner, you may want to cut back on the pre-writing.

    Creating stuff like this is fun; writing is hard work. It's tempting to stick to the more immediately satisfying stuff, but if you want something to be written, you will eventually have to write it...
  5. Cave Troll

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

    Aug 8, 2015
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    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    Just how long do you expect them to be, or are you starting a couple of series?

    I am with @BayView on this one.
  6. terobi

    terobi Senior Member

    May 20, 2015
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    Manchester, UK
    The thing is, you're eventually going to want to use the "iceberg" approach to your worldbuilding - the idea that what you really want to do is just mention in the finished work the things that are important then and there, but leave the impression that what you see is just the "tip of the iceberg" and there's a hell of a lot more underneath that we just don't see.

    Now, if you want, you can spend decades coming up with the structure of the city's sanitation department, the social structure of the native fauna and the recipe for the famous Warriors' Black Ale - but you're unlikely to ever put those things into a book, so why bother? This is often called "worldbuilder's disease", because some people spend years doing exactly that.

    Plenty of successful books simply don't bother. Look at Harry Potter, for instance. No matter how many pages of "behind the scenes" info Rowling writes, it's fairly obvious that the series was simply made up as she went along. We don't ever hear about the "accio" summoning charm before it becomes important in Goblet of Fire, at which point it's suddenly used all the time. Where that is successful is in giving the impression that there's a lot more to the world that we're not seeing - so that when something new is introduced, we're hearing about it for the first time because Harry's hearing about it for the first time. Most of the other characters already know about it, but have simply not mentioned it to him.

    If I were you, I'd just start writing, and flesh things out when they need fleshing out. If the organisational structure of the local plumbers' union suddenly becomes vitally important, then spend a few hours fleshing that out, write it into your notes, and carry on.
  7. EnginEsq

    EnginEsq Member

    Oct 29, 2016
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    This. We're letting our story build the geography of our world - if we need a mountain or city to be somewhere, we plop it down. The geography and backstory got a lot more interesting over time as a result.
  8. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

    Jul 7, 2016
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    Several months of planning is a lot of time to invest in a project without actually doing any of the writing. I get that some people are planners and others write by the seat of their pants, but eventually you're going to have to write it. That's when you can really have some fun with everything. It sounds like you are more than ready. I say go for it!
    BayView likes this.
  9. Selbbin

    Selbbin The Moderating Cat Staff Contributor

    Oct 16, 2012
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    You're doing the fun part, not the important part.

    World building is fine in itself but it inhibits, not helps, story building. As others have said, let the story dictate the world, not the world dictate the story.
    Rosacrvx and BayView like this.
  10. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

    Sep 7, 2016
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    As someone who is right there beside you with the "create everything" mentality, I'd like to offer you the following anecdote:

    Once upon a time, as I was finishing up my second draft of a manuscript, I noticed that I put in specific "it took this many days to get to this new town" pieces of info during the traveling section of the story. This sent me on a month long journey mapping out the exact distance and route that my characters traveled to get from point a to point b. I designed a map SPECIFICALLY for this ONE problem. This single 'problem' set me back a MONTHS worth of writing, and I was frustrated every minute of it.

    Was it important? Yes. To me.

    As the creator, you must know more about your world than anyone else. You should know its in's and out's, because detail is the polish that will make it shine. Most importantly, you must love it enough to write about it. If that means writing down three complete religions before you begin the story, than do it.

    But you should never, ever, EVER let the process of creating new things be an excuse, a time-sink, to avoid writing your story. You should never FABRICATE problems to excuse yourself from writing what needs to be written. The facts you think you've set in stone must bend for the story. Characters, people, places, must bend for the story. Empires must rise and fall for the story. And you control it all. Never ever let yourself sink into the mindset of "I can't do that because this is the way it is". It will always, cripplingly, waste your time.

    Are you doing too much work? Heck no. Just be sure you're working on what really needs to be worked on.
  11. IHaveNoName

    IHaveNoName Senior Member Community Volunteer

    Mar 15, 2016
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    Two words: Thumbnail sketches.

    I'm also building a world (in which I intend to set multiple stories). I've got a map, most of the countries named and laid out, the magic system, races, important organizations and factions... and most of the entries have 500 words or less, because they won't really appear in the story. I just need enough information so that I can pull out details while I'm writing (what's the language of Amand? Who's running things over in the Imperium these days?), and if I need to expand on it in the future, I can. The really important stuff - yeah, that gets the full treatment, but even then, I only have as much as I need (mainly because I suck at coming up with all the minutiae).
    I.A. By the Barn and Infel like this.
  12. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

    Aug 23, 2013
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    I spent over a year working on a fantasy world I loved with characters I loved, and I spent months working on a bank robbery scene that I loved with characters that I loved, but I couldn't come up with any good stories for either.

    Realizing that my bank robbery took place in my fantasy world gave me a story about my bank robbers discovering the supernatural for the first time.

    Basically, the four components of a story are Plot (what's happening and how it's happening), Characters (who's doing it), Setting (where and when it's happening), and Theme (why you care about it happening). When adding depth to one component isn't giving you ideas for the others, try coming up with ideas for the other components separately and see which ideas fit with the component you started with.
  13. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

    May 20, 2012
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    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    I did this for my first novel years and years ago - I had a diary for the mc, maps, a timeline going back 100 years to keep all the townfolk straight, drawings of clothes, artwork etc. Some of this junk helped the first draft but it is time consuming and can be used to endlessly procrastinate - cause it's essentially easier to see the end of an organized project rather than writing out the actual book.
    I've never organized this much again and find that my worlds are just as interesting. But if/when I return to reworking that book I will use a map and a timeline (it is part mystery so details are important)
    One good trick I've taught myself to is to limit my time spent on planning. 1 week - one month or even limit the projects. That way I won't drag it out.
  14. mikasa

    mikasa Member

    Nov 10, 2016
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    My 2 cents, if you think you are spending too much time world building, it sounds like you want to get to the story part. Just go for it and see what comes of it, if it turns out you need more details you can always go back to it later. Maybe the story will change how you want your world to be too, if the world is all set in stone it might feel like you have to follow what you have, you won't be free to tell it how you want to. I don't feel there is a "proper amount," it all just depends on how integrated things are. If characters use that information or the reader needs it to make sense of a situation or motivations. Otherwise I feel a story could get away with very little world knowledge if the characters are good and make sense in the context of the world.
    terobi and Simpson17866 like this.

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