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World-Building 101 – Part 1

March 15, 2012

The thing I like most about fantasy novels is entry into a brand new world.  The thing I like least is when that world is shallow and poorly built.  I dive into too many new worlds only to find that the author doesn’t have a clear picture in their own mind.  It isn’t enough to provide the written world.  For the reader to feel that they are actually walking on new ground, the writer must have a much more complete image than what is presented on the page.  The devil is in the details, folks.

Why should I know more about my fantasy world than the reader?  That’s a good question, and here is a good answer.  As a writer, the more invested I am in my created world, the more real it feels to the reader.  Is it important to convey a written description of geo-political structure of Yourlandia?  Well, in my own novel, The One Rider, there are snippets of this type of information, but the reader would get bored and fall asleep if I outlined every detail in some vomit-pail of narrative.  The best I could hope for would be that they would skim on to the cool stuff, but more than likely they will simply move on to read a story that gives them what they want.  As the writer, I need to know what’s going on.  Let’s face it, if I want to write with an authentic and authoritative voice, it is necessary for me to be “in-the-know.”  The reader benefits by being immersed into a world and society that have a quality feel allowing a sense of comfort and a deeper familiarity.

This was a revelation for me in writing my own work.  The first thing my darling bride asked after reading the first draft was, “How long do the dragons live?”  Really?  Of all the things she could have addressed, this was it?  The epiphany came when I realized that I didn’t know the answer.  That simple issue came across in the manuscript and made the world I had created feel shallow and incomplete.  I went back to build a more complete picture of Ashandor, the world I had created.  This intimacy translated into a more comfortable read in the revision.  Even though I never mentioned the life span of a dragon, my wife was more comfortable because other details came to the surface and hinted at answers to this and other questions about Ashandor, its inhabitants, and its dragons.  By being more informed myself, she took away more information, and the world of Ashandor gained a fresh lease on life.  That level of detail will also be crucial in writing the rest of the series.  [Selfless Promotion Alert: Book 2, The Stone of Power, is coming soon!]

I took the lesson to heart and stepped back from the writing process until I knew everything I could about my fictitious world.  It took some time to get the details in place, but the familiarity I gained made the writing a much easier task than before.  I could move around the landscape and interact with the characters in an entirely different way.

In Part 2 of this series, I will begin to look at the specific process that goes into creating a fantasy world that is believable and allows the reader to be immersed and invested fully in the story.  The extra, added benefit is a reader who will be compelled to finish the story, and isn’t that what we all want as writers?  Invested readers become fans, and they will return for more.  That’s a good thing.  Be sure to post your own ideas and thoughts in the comment section.

From → Art and Craft

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