Monday, January 30, 2012

World building: what ingredients do you add?

World Building

I mostly write fantasy and sci-fi books.  One of the things I have to pay attention to is what things do I newly create and what things do I leave the same as people know them in this world?  At the time of this blog post I'm writing in the world of Ryallon, where I base my fantasy series. Every once in a while, I'll share a little bit about the world building I do in the process.

When a person writes about something that happened in the past, it's wise to look at history books to get facts correct.  When someone writes about a completely fictional world, all of the details need to be built from scratch.

World building can be fun. I'm certain there are a few would-be writers who have spent years building worlds of fantasy and magic, but have never gotten around to writing an actual book in the world.  It's also very popular among gamers.

Describing a scene

One of the things I have to pay attention to is what things do I newly create and what things do I leave the same as people know them in this world?

I just gave one of the characters a mug of cool cider with a stick of cinnamon.  It helps the reader understand what the character is sensing at that moment.  But remember that this is a fantasy word, different from Planet Earth.  It brings to mind the question of whether or not that world would have cinnamon, cider or even mugs!

So I have to decide whether or not to make a new kind of drink or import something from Earth.  In this instance, I use the Earth descriptions because I would waste paragraphs explaining all the details of a newly imagined drink and spice to put in it.  By the time I was done, the reader would have realized that it was the equivalent of cider with cinnamon.  The point of that scene is to describe the character's environment, which is sitting in the kitchen of an inn.  Creating a new drink would not advance the story or future stories, so I used the Earth norm in that case.

Areas where I've decided to create new things

There are many areas in the world where I've added a new item not found on Earth.  This helps add to the flavor of things and lets the reader know they're in a new, fantastic land.  The key is to balance what's new and what's normal and it's hard to do.

In the second book of the Willden Trilogy, I created a whole new underground ecosystem that ended up being a couple of chapters of information dumping that I think detracted from the story-telling.  However, I'm a new writer and much of this is a learning experience.  It's also really neat to come up with some of these ideas.

Some of the things I've created or changed from Earth normal are:

Rojuun.  This is not only the title of the first book, it's a race of four-armed, two-voiced sentient beings that live in the vast tunnels of the world.

The vast tunnels of the world.  I've made it so that the crust of Ryallon is honeycombed with caverns, tunnels and underground bodies of water.  I also added an entire ecosystem of plants and animals to live in it.  Most things are luminescent to create light to see by.  This was done partially because it was cool and largely because I wanted my characters to be able to see without carrying torches everywhere.

I've made the world bigger to compensate for dragons and numerous ancient civilizations.

A system of magic.  There are aspects that are borrowed from other things I've read and aspects that are new.  An arcane wind affects only the caster of a spell.  Runes are used in magical items to store the magic on it.  Casting spells takes energy, which requires a mage to sleep for long periods of time and eat large quantities of food.  One of my favorites is that magic leaves behind pollution, much like science does.

Eye color.  This is one of my favorites.  Humans can have pink or grey eyes as standard colors.  It adds to the fantasy atmosphere of the world in a cool way that excites the reader (it excites me anyway!)

Dragonflies are dragon's tears.  They start out silver and gain color from the first thing they touch after hitting the ground.

There are numerous other little touches that let the reader know that they're in a fantasy world, but I try to make them as unobtrusive as possible.

Areas where I've kept things the same

There have been numerous instances where I've used Earth items for description because it would have distracted from the story to replace them.  It's a little disconcerting as a writer to create this entire alien planet and have pine trees, tea and cinnamon in it when everything would probably be vastly different in reality, but it has to be done.

I also draw on earth mythology and history to create some of the aspects of the world.  Dragons and Druids are a big thing.  I avoid going completely D&D by leaving out elves, dwarves, orcs and many of the other denizens of role-playing games.

Things I've left the same that many people may not consider while reading are:

Animals such as wolves, butterflies, most species of trees, grass, flowers (including types of flowers like roses), birds above ground, deer, rats (a must for any city).

Materials like wood, brick, glass, leather, cotton, wool, silk, steel, iron, brass, gold, silver and copper.  This includes the processes to refine them, such as smithing, tailoring and tanning.

Monetary values.  Gems and jewelry are very valuable as is land.  Gold, silver and copper are standard currency and rural areas use barter systems for the most part.

Weather is the same.  Most readers never consider this, but it's something that's often changed in sci-fi worlds where everything can be alien.

Dragons and magic exist, but they have unique traits that make them distinctive to Ryallon.

Time is . . . similar.  I use days, minutes, hours and seconds.  Most readers never even consider this subject.  I have never defined how long the days, weeks, months and years are though.  I haven't decided!  It seems like an odd oversight, but I simply don't know and I'm not willing to commit to it.  I honestly don't think any reader has ever noticed this fact without me pointing it out.

In conclusion

It's difficult at times to decide what ingredients to add to a world of fantasy.  The key is for the reader to be fascinated by the new things without being jolted out of the story.

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