February is Fantasy Month: World Building

February is Fantasy Month 2

Welcome, dear Reader! I hope you are enjoying Fantasy Month so far! Our focus this month is world building, and to get started, let’s talk a little bit about world building, shall we? What is it? And why should we care about it?

Well, from an author’s viewpoint (particularly a fantasy author), world building gives you a structure in which to create your stories. It is the foundation on which you build your plot and characters. There are hundreds of different aspects to our own world that we take for granted every day, and as an author, you have to decide which of these things are the same or different in the world you are creating for your characters to inhabit. It is fun. It is exhausting. It often requires spreadsheets and charts and possibly one of those enormous cork-boards with thumbtacks and strings and…. no? Just me? Well then.

As a reader, these fantastical realms are the places you get to explore in your imagination. The minute details that you may barely even notice can often be the very things that make you want to return to that particular book again and again. Of course we love the characters, and a good plot is important, but when we’re reading fantasy (or any speculative fiction, really) we get the added delight of exploring a whole new world.

Ahem.

But why bother world building? Can’t an author just make it up as they go?

Well, yes. Of course you can. I did!

When I sat down to write King’s Warrior, I did very little world building at all. I just started writing. All I knew was that it was a fantasy world, with dragons, and that they had an ancient myth that the sun was actually the eye of a great dragon who flew over the world each day and disappeared into his cave at night. (This myth never made it into the book at all, except that the sun is called the Dragon’s Eye).

The main problem with writing a story without doing any world building at all was that both while writing and then again when editing I got horribly bogged down by the details of the setting that I hadn’t worked out. The minutia demanded to be ironed out before I could move on, and it often got incredibly frustrating to have to stop the flow of the story in order to name a town or figure out the currency when all I wanted to do was take my characters on an adventure.

So, learning from my previous mistake: with Turrim Archive, we did a lot more world building up front. Before I started writing I had a map, a history of the world, the political structures, some of the economic issues and concerns, unique cultures for each of the countries, and the level of technology and magic within the world before I ever started writing a word. That doesn’t mean I had everything figured out, for example, I still haven’t quite named the currency… but that is a small thing to have to figure out in edits compared to what I had to work through as I wrote The Minstrel’s Song series.

Of course, these things are helpful to ME. Your style may be completely different. You may not need to do as much world building up front, maybe you are exceptional at filling in the gaps as you go with perfect consistency, and if so… I tip my hat to you! Please, stick around and tell us your secrets!

Throughout February is Fantasy Month, we’re going to take a look at some of the well-known fantasy realms and talk about what the authors did well (and maybe a few things they didn’t do well, not to be nit-picky, but even the best fantasy realms don’t do EVERYTHING right), and then I’m going to introduce you to a new realm that my husband and I are working on. I don’t have the story figured our for this next world yet, but I am excited about meeting the characters who live there, because it’s going to be a fun realm to play in. I hope you enjoy this month and our celebration of fantasy as we take a closer look at some of our favorite realms and dive down to investigate some of the work that goes into creating such a realm!

Mountain Segue

Talk to me, dear Reader! What are some of your favorite fantasy realms? What details help pull you into a new world when you are reading or watching a story? What missing details pull you OUT of a story? If you are a writer, do you enjoy world building? What is your favorite part of world building?

~ jenelle

18 Comments

John and Jenny Fulton

When I first started writing The Quest for Hope, I didn’t have a clear idea of the land or its landscape. It had been developed by the guy who hired me to write the story and I was afraid of describing it in a way he didn’t see it. The first round of beta readers proved that this uncertainty was obvious. I was given free reign over how this world looked, so I went back, did a hefty amount of rewrites, added in descriptive elements about the land, and felt like it was much better received. Plus, I now felt like it was really “my” story, even if I was writing it for someone else. I also learned that description doesn’t come nearly as easily to me as character development and dialogue. Yeah for areas to continually improve upon.

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jenelle

I totally understand that! My husband started creating the world of Turrim way back in the first year we were married. He kept hinting that I should write stories in this world, but I was hesitant to do so, worried I would “write it wrong” or not the way he envisioned. It took him four years of convincing me that I could use the framework he’d created and tweak and adjust to my heart’s content and it wouldn’t offend him if I changed things, before I actually started writing the first book!

World building is not my forte. It totally is Derek’s. Character development and dialogue are where I excel, as well… so writing this month’s series of posts has been a good exercise in stretching me, and I’ve enjoyed working on these posts with Derek. Hopefully you can find something helpful throughout these posts. New things to think about, or maybe just different ways of thinking about things when it comes to world building!!

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Sarah Pennington

Great post and great points. I’m excited to read this series!

I think that language and lore are two of the big things that effect how “real” a world seems and how effective the worldbuilding is.

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jenelle

Thanks! I’ve been enjoying writing it! I hope it’s helpful to someone :)

Lore is definitely a big thing that helps add a level of reality to a story for me, as well.

By “language,” do you mean when an author creates a language for the world and uses the words, or like the language in which the story is written (archaic vs contemporary)?

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Sarah Pennington

Both, to some degree, but closer to the former. It’s less creating a whole new language and more creating the slang and expressions and such that reflect the world in which the characters live. I think that most fantasy authors these days try to do that to some degree, but some (*cough*SandersonandStengl*cough*) definitely do it better than others.

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Kessie

I love worldbuilding, but my stories favor a more contemporary setting. For my dragon cozy mysteries, I drew heavily on Grimm, with dragon and drake shifters living among humans, having to be licensed, and cops having weapons specifically to deal with them.

For my paranormal romance trilogy, the magic system is a slider from death to life, with a lich kept human by the magic bees who gather life-filled honey. I wanted to make the point that death magic can heal and life magic can kill, and that just because someone has “bad” magic doesn’t mean they are “bad”. (I wrote it as a reaction to Shadow and Bone because I loved the Darkling so much.)

For my superhero stories, I drew on My Hero Academia’s world of syndicated, sponsored heroes and the villanous underworld, except all my supers post their exploits on Herotube for those sweet, sweet ad clicks. And what happens when a new hero films something involving a secret superweapon and it goes viral, endangering him and all his friends? (Due out in March).

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jenelle

These sound like fabulous worlds with a lot of thought behind them. I particularly like the concept of the sliding magic system where your point is that the USE of the magic is what makes it good or bad, and not the magic itself. :)

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beckythemothling

One thing that always helps me with worldbuilding is to read lots of history and to read about different cultures. There’s so much inspiration to be found from real life. I love reading about folklore for that reason, too!

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jenelle

Yes!!! History and different cultures are great to read about and help you give a different feel to your fantasy. I’ve enjoyed doing that for Turrim Archive and making it feel both grounded in reality but also very different from my own everyday experiences.

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Christine

I have definitely learned that I do way better if I plot out my world beforehand. It becomes so flat and boring if I dive into the story without planning it out first. Which if funny! Because I think my PLOTS I pants turn out better, but my WORLDS I pants are just nonsense and disjointed or boring. I don’t even know. XD I think worldbuilding just isn’t my strong suit, so I have to really put effort into it and take out time to think of creative things. Whereas with plots I…hardly ever run out of ideas. Usually I have to CONTAIN my plots so they won’t become 10-book series. Hehe.

Honestly? My best worldbuilding tool is looking up epic fantasy pictures on Pinterest. Lol. It’s just so inspirational!

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jenelle

Ooh, I love looking at pictures for world building inspiration, too!

I love pantsing as I write my plots… but I’ve found that my best method is to have a solid world and a basic, general outline so that I have ideas on what the story is about and where it’s going, but plenty of room for my characters to veer off in their own direction and drag me along with them. Usually, they’re right.

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jenelle

I do enjoy discovering a world and letting it unfold around me as I write. Unfortunately, for me that usually means a LOT of editing and hassle later on. :)

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