Worldbuilding without the laziness

worldbuildingWorldbuilding is an important part of the craft of writing fantasy. According to Google, it is defined as follows:

Worldbuilding is the process of constructing an imaginary world, sometimes associated with a whole fictional universe. The term “worldbuilding” was first used in the Edinburgh Review in December 1820 and appeared in A.S.

Inspired by some questions from my niece about how to tackle worldbuilding in fantasy, I thought I’d share some of the things I’d learned over the years building my world, mainly from doing the wrong things.

Things you don’t want

Patchwork Cultures

 Cultures or people existing side-by-side yet with no apparent interactions. Wars, racial intermixing and cultural exchanges should all take place when people live cheek by jowl. The melting pot is not a modern phenomenon.

The original conception of my world when I was quite young was full of cultures with real-world counterparts I found interesting, all lumped together with no rhyme or reason: 1001 Arabian Nights next to 12th-century England, next to 14th century Japan, next to stone-age Africa. Each of these places should have been influenced by its neighbours, rather than being plucked wholesale from the real world (where they are all influenced by their historical neighbours).

Bizarro Terrain Climate

Warm deserts next to cold forests, rivers that go nowhere, cities in the middle of continents with no apparent water source. This is a pet-peeve with fantasy worlds, particularly evident on maps that were not well thought out.

I was certainly guilty of this in my youth, as the original maps for my world had rivers that both started and terminated at the ocean (rather than flowing naturally in the quickest route from high ground to the ocean) and Arabian-style desert next to a northern European temperature forest. I also had hot deserts at too high a latitude and mountain ranges in bizarre places.

Things you do want

Verisimilitude

 Consistent rules in your fictional world are a must. If you establish that magic works in a particular way, then you must be consistent with that. Exceptions must be significant enough to warrant the attention that the reader will place on them.

For instance, if you establish that magic in your world is able to create fire and ice, yet cannot heal a person nor bring them back to life, and you then introduce a magician who can do absolutely that, you damn well better have a good explanation for it, one that is not a cop out and of plot significance.

 Call-Forwards

Important for ongoing series, or in multiple works set in the same world. Mention important persons, places and events as name drops at first, so that when they become significant in later works, they don’t seem to come out of nowhere.

For example knowing that your characters are going to visit the land of “Borf” in a later work, you add a reference to “Borf” in dialogue in a way that the casual reader might skip over. Then when a reader sees the place in the later work, they will be able to remember it from its first mention, creating a better sense of the world a real, living place rather than a stitched together concoction of plot-important places and characters.

Further Reading

The 7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding

Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions

25 Things You Should Know About Worldbuilding

Worlds of One Gender

memeIn the midst of writing The Slaves of the Horned God  I realized something about the story, something which the fantasy genre has suffered from in the past. All of the characters shared at least one aspect in quality: their reproductive organs.

Yes, it appeared outside of the main characters every character was male. It wasn’t planned that way, it just seemed to happen. Unfortunately my mind had somehow concocted a lazy “male, unless required otherwise” for all the new characters. This made the world seem to have the lopsided gender ratio of The Hobbit. Indeed it would seem that the novel would fail the Bechdel Test quite handily.

Female characters often get a bit of a raw deal in a lot of fiction. One of the biggest issues is them having a lack of agency, and ending up being merely an objective, obstacle or reward for the hero.

So I took a new approach, and changed the internal rule to be “only male if absolutely required to be.”, which resulted in some characters changing genders. It also resulted in one of the characters changing from heterosexual to homosexual, so we can consider that a double win for diversity.

 

(Oh and I do have a female character who is an oracle, but in my defense – she’s not blind…)

Endings

windsofwinterWith the news that Winds of Winter will not be released this coming year there are probably many who are disappointed (including, it seems George R. R. Martin himself). However it is probably better than such a hefty tome is finished well rather than quickly. As a big fan of the author and of the series A Song of Fire and Ice, I eagerly await its release – even if its still a few years off. In the meantime I advise fans to read A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms  if they haven’t already – its fantastic.

Such news turns my own mind to my progress on Book 2 of the Ap’Lydin Chronicles: The Slaves of the Horned God. With roughly 75% of the first draft complete, it is still well on track for release in 2017.  Book 3: The Tears of the Divine has a complete first draft but I expect this will be tweaked once Book 2 is released.

If you’ve read my book and enjoyed it, please leave a rating and review on Goodreads.

In the meantime, I will continue to update this website with character profiles and background information.

Middles

Winner-2014-Facebook-ProfileToday is the first day of Nanowrimo, an initiative where participants attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. Its great fun for the participants and helps give you the discipline if (like me) your greatest challenge is procrastination.

Although I am not participating this year, I did in 2014, and it was then that I wrote the bulk of the second book in the Ap’Lydin Chronicles: The Slaves of the Horned God.

As mentioned in the earlier post, once the original version of The Heirs of Lydin was split in half due to size, I realized there was a significant time jump in the middle, a time where there were some gaps left to be filled. Hence the idea of an “interquel” was formed, and the series went from one books, to two, and then turned into a trilogy. The Slaves of the Horned God is due to be released sometime in 2017, once all the required editing and tinkering has been completed.

Beginnings

The path that eventually led to The Heirs of Lydin was a long one.

I’ve always written – even from a young age, and the seeds that would eventually grow into this work were planted very early on. I was seven or thereabouts, and I wrote a rather rambling story call “The Elf’s Ring”.

fotrbookI’d always loved fantasy – and had been exposed to all the classics as a child – Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, along with various myths and legends – Greek and Roman, Norse and Celtic.

“The Elf’s Ring” was a rather rambling tale of an elf coming into possession of a magic ring – not dissimilar to Bilbo’s story from the hobbit – though my antagonist tangled with various creatures and characters from mythology, including a fire-breathing chimera. The elf didn’t even get a name until halfway through the story – Talan.

Although the original story is long since gone (thankfully), its memory lived on, including being rewritten several times as I got older. Alert readers of The Heirs of Lydin might even spot a familiar name.

Years later I began what would eventually become The Heirs of Lydin.  I think I was in my late teens. I churned out a few chapters with no thought of where it was headed until I got stuck, and then shelved it. It would stay in that state, almost in stasis, until one day I decided (after heavy encouragement from my future wife) that for once, just once, I would finish the darn thing. And this time I would actually plan and plot it out. It was finished in the space of two or so years, and then the editing took longer – as my time was put to more productive tasks (marriage, two children, work).

Then I discovered something. It was far, far too long.  Almost two hundred thousand words. So rather than one book, it became two – and soon three, but more on that in my next post.