Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Worldbuilding and other such endeavours

One of those traps that I see referenced throughout the Web is the apparent near-addiction quality of worldbuilding (okay, is it world building, or worldbuilding?). Now, most fantasy authors and budding-authors will likely mention they grappled with early on. “How do you worldbuild? What level of detail do you get to? Do you start at the micro-level and work up? Macro-level and work down?” To be honest, the best fantasy series I’ve read that apparently did this with no seams to speak of were Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, Orson Scott Card’s Ender series and Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry.

Tolkein spent ages of his time developing whole languages (the stories of which need not be repeated), which nowadays would likely be seen as diving a little too deep into the worldbuilding. The end result of his work largely influenced everything thereafter and he defined much of the commonly accepted tropes we see in fantasy novels today. The Ender series, despite being science fiction, drives a spectacular balance between the training school scenes Ender spends most of his time dealing with, while his brother and sister deal with Earth-bound “issues.” The pace of Ender’s Endgame made this an instant classic and favourite for me. Finally, the Fionavar Tapestry, with its other-world Arthurian legend left me wondering whether I could ever accomplish something this diverse and detailed. The man wrote poetry disguised as prose – that’s about all I can say. I won’t ever be able to match it, nor will I bother to attempt it.

When asked how do I worldbuild for the Realms of Ihr’Vessen, I can’t really define any particular approach. It was a process. I developed a macro-level picture with the history that led to the point where the Ochra Cycle kicks off. Thereafter, I delved into the micro-level stuff when plotting the chapters out. This sometimes necessitated a return to macro-level, just to make sure things meshed together. Otherwise, I tried my darnedest to remain tacked to the story, not the worldbuilding.

Then I ran into these two websites:

Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions

Limyaael's Rants

Patricia C Wrede’s article (first link) is more a series of detailed questions. That said, if there is a checklist to refer to before diving too far into the plot, it would definitely be this one! I’m happy to think that I’ve answered many if not most of the questions therein, certainly some of the more crucial ones. How they come across to the reader may be different, of course.

Limyaael's Rants (second link), with 346 rants and counting, is pretty tongue-in-cheek some times, but valid arguments most times. I know I’ve read many of her rants and wondered the same things, or made specific efforts to address a similar issue with my WIPs.

As a bit of a diversion, they sometimes re-check my train of thought, or remind to include certain references within my own work, to make sure I’ve hit all the right spots. I figured if I couldn’t answer a question related to something these two references bring up, how could I expect a reader?

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