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.