In working on the backstory of my newest novel, I’ve strayed into the euphoric nightmare shared by most fantasy writers–world-building. It is here in the vast blackness that is potential where fantasy writers first lift their fingers over their keyboards and with the first few strokes either triumph or fail.
I believe it can go largely undisputed that J.R.R. Tolkien set the bar for fantasy world creation. His Middle Earth is so real you could plunge through the page, step onto the ground and start walking in any direction. In your travels across his landscape you would never wander into a blank area or cross a foggy, half-imagined portion of the scenery. In Tolkien’s mystical land there are no gaps, no missed opportunities. Middle Earth is whole, a world as full as our own. Prete-a-habiter. The only downside to Tolkien’s masterful accomplishment–it took him over twenty years to build.
So comes the task I’ve been struggling with for a few weeks. I have to build nine fully fleshed worlds and not be mostly dead before I’m done. There are some great resources on the Internet, of course. My current favorite is a fill-in-the-blank sort of question sheet offered by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. This sheet has been a great help to me in the past few days as I struggled to figure out what I had missed in terms of culture, geography, history and mythology. It has given me a direction, and–better still–kept me fixed on my course. There are many other resources out there, including numerous helpful sites for RPGs, and my newest inspiration, the monstrous Otherland novel series by Tad Williams. Seeing that modern, non-obsessed writers have indeed created believeable, multi-world novels is a huge comfort.
I was watching something on TV the other night (Robot Chicken or maybe Family Guy) and the characters were lampooning the fact that George Lucas is a terrible planet creator–making one only of sand, another only forest, another only ice… This easy route is the enticing lure I’m trying to evade, the pitfall I’m determined to dodge. You won’t find whole languages in my book, or even histories detailing every single year since the beginning of my worlds’ inceptions, but they will be whole, fleshed out and believable–with many different climate zones. And I won’t be sixty when I’m done.
March 10th, 2009 at 11:02 pm
gd google ate my post grrrrrrrrforgot what i said 😦
March 6th, 2009 at 11:43 pm
Robot Chicken rocks. ;)I was seriously into world building when I played D&D years ago. I enjoyed the process greatly (not to mention writing the story skeletons that I'd later guide my players through.) People laugh at D&D, but it really can inspire the mind in various ways.
March 6th, 2009 at 4:27 pm
Miladysa — The nine worlds all have to do with penitence, if that’s a hint of where I’ll be going with them.
March 4th, 2009 at 11:09 pm
I’ve got to check out that question sheet too :DGood luck with the world building – I am very interested to see what sort of worlds you build LOL
March 4th, 2009 at 4:53 pm
Sidney — I believe it. That man was focused beyond the mortal. I’ll be happy for 1/1000th of what he had.
March 4th, 2009 at 2:43 pm
It’s probably on one of the Lord of the Rings commentaries, but I saw some interview with a scholar who said there’d never be a world with as much development as Tolkien put into Middle Earth. I suppose that’s true since it was a life’s work.Hope your efforts go well.
March 4th, 2009 at 4:49 am
Charles — It’s much better than writing reality-based novels, all that fact-checking and such.Steve — I was understating the hugeness of that site. There are actually many, many fact sheets on there, all having to do with different aspects of world-building. A very handy bookmark, indeed.Kate — Well, I tried writing a-la-Steve (by the seat of my pants) and my WIP looked like swiss cheese, with so many blanks to be filled in that I quickly lost control of everything. So, I’m back to plotting everything out on my index cards.Archavist – Thanks for stopping by. I was never one to pay much heed to the maps and genealogy charts in the beginning of fantasy books. Having admitted that, I also feel there is a necessity for a writer to know everything about the world she creates for her audience. It’s all in the balance of how much of that knowledge is used for personal reference and how much is divulged within the pages. Too much detail in a novel can many times be overwhelming and turn a fast-paced story into an alternative history lesson.
March 3rd, 2009 at 10:18 pm
That’s what’s often put me off fantasy – the maps,charts,political histories etc. In fact the last fantasy I really enjoyed was Lord Foul’s Bane.
March 3rd, 2009 at 9:51 pm
Great tip! It’s just what I need for my current WIP. Good luck with yours – may it not suffer as many deadly gaps and black holes as mine currently does. 🙂
March 3rd, 2009 at 9:25 pm
I’ve been toying with the idea of trying my hand at a bit of science fiction. I may need that question sheet before long!
March 3rd, 2009 at 7:38 pm
I love that aspect of writing fantasy, although it often does call for quite a bit of work. I’m going to check out that link about the question sheet. sounds intersting.