Re: World building and writing style

#21

Stratothrax Wrote: One thing I've learnt about world building in past writing: while it is very enjoyable it is also a massive trap that is a drain on your attention away from the actual story. It's easy to spend all your time on worldbuilding and end up with little to no actual serial. I think a distressing number of projects meet that fate sadly, a ten foot stack of worldbuilding next to a 1 inch stack of story with no creative fuel left to work on the story.


You raise a valid point. I think it is possible to take the term "worldbuilding" far too literally, and to think that there is some sort of artistic obligation to literally map out an entire world before you write and post your first chapter set somewhere within your "newly-created fantasy world." 

I can think of some excellent fantasy novels (and shorter stories) in which most of the action takes place in and around a single city -- an independent city-state, or the capital of a kingdom, for instance. Sometimes the author tells us virtually nothing about any other lands that exist in the same world, because they have very little relevance to the plot of this story. So the readers just vaguely get the impression that the city is located on, let's say, the south coast of a larger landmass, and that it is a trading partner with another realm located many days' sail to the southeast, and merchants visiting from that other realm tend to have names that sound vaguely Arabic or Persian . . . but we never see a map of that other land; we don't even know the name of its current king; we learn nothing about its history (and precious little about the history of the city that is the main setting); instead we simply get to see some of the intrigues going on, within this single city, between important noblemen, wealthy merchants, members of the Wizard's Guild, the High Priest of the main temple of the city's patron deity, etc. -- and that's about it. No map is provided to the reader; everything that's more than, say, ten miles away from the city limits is very hazy in the author's mind (as far as we can tell) and some of it will gradually be "filled in later" if there is ever a sequel which requires the hero to travel far away from his beloved home town.

The author may well have done some of the things we normally place under the umbrella of "worldbuilding." For instance, she may have worked out some interesting "rules of magic" which are not simply swiped from some other popular fantasy novel. That helps makes her fantasy world distinctive; not just a virtual carbon copy of some fantasy world previously created by Robert Jordan, or Patricia A. McKillip, or Brandon Sanderson, or Ursula K. LeGuin, or whomever. 

And by the end of the book, the sincere young hero may have stumbled across a previously-unknown "loophole" in the conventional rules of magic. (Or he's discovered that the villain is already using a secret loophole, and the hero finds a new way to counter that dirty trick.) But that does not mean that the author has written, behind the scenes, tens of thousands of words' worth of material about the history of the Wizards' Guild, with a detailed description of how the commonly-understood rules of magic were gradually deduced by the early wizards, centuries ago, after many years of trial and error. ("Oops! Didn't mean to charbroil my apprentice! But let me make a note -- apparently, when I change this word in the spell, and add that gesture, it creates a Fireball that flies away from the palm of my hand and incinerates the first flammable object it meets! Very interesting! The old version of the spell could barely light a candle!")

Likewise, the author may have worked out a family tree for the current royal family -- such as, "King Konrad has been married twice. The official heir is Prince Dimitrios, his son by his first wife, and then there are three younger kids who are Konrad's children by his second wife -- one boy and two girls, of the following ages," and so forth. But we may never be told the name of Konrad's father (his immediate predecessor on the throne), and the author certainly doesn't need to compose a list of all the previous Kings of the realm for the past thousand years, with notes on how they were related to one another, and what sort of civil wars resulted in one dynasty being replaced with another, and so forth.

Re: World building and writing style

#22

Ramen Wrote: I don’t understand where the process of creating the story should start and when it should be critiqued. For example, how essential to a good story is fleshing our the world before the writing process begins? How much planning should be put into a good story? I hear of lots of people starting the process at world building and lots starting their books by just winging it. Is there’s a difference?

Secondly how much is too much in a text wall? And how descriptive should I be when not in action scenes?
     Many writers and not only writers (ordinary people also may get the inspiration to write some kind of story) wonder how to write a story so that readers are interested. You can start writing a story from the beginning, move to the middle, and end at the end. However, real stories are told very differently! So, we still come to the question - how to tell an ordinary story.
There are many techniques for writing stories. One interesting technique is the nested loop technique. 🔁 If you decide to write a story using this technique, you must "stack" several stories in layers. You should put your most important part of the story — the core of your message — at the center, and you should use the rest of the stories to explain the main principle.
Thus, if you follow this technique when writing your story, your usual and not so interesting story will take on meaning and readers will become interested in reading your story.

Re: World building and writing style

#24

JenifryConan Wrote: Teach yourself that there is absolutely nothing wrong with making stuff up on the fly. Pantsing =/= failure! Give yourself permission to add a second main character in the second draft, allow yourself to completely change the antagonist in the third draft, and don't be afraid to deleting an important religion in the fourth draft because it cluttered up the story. Don't be scared of having to make these changes. Your don't need to get your first draft perfect the first time, because that's what re-drafting and editing are for.

So my advice would be to do the bare minimum worldbuilding required for the major plot/ character/ setting elements and then start writing the first draft.


For some reason, your comments about doing the "bare minimum" of advance worldbuilding suddenly reminded me of something that I hadn't even thought about when I was previously posting in this thread. It goes back to something that I noticed, and found amusing, when I was a teenager checking out one SF/Fantasy novel after another from the local library. 

More specifically, I am thinking about my snap impression of the (very limited) amount of worldbuilding that Terry Brooks did when he was just starting out by writing his first fantasy novel, The Sword of Shannara. Which became a runaway bestseller, and thereby launched him on a new career as a very successful fantasy novelist. (He'd previously been making his living as a lawyer.) In this context, as I talk about "worldbuilding," I'm concentrating on the geographical aspect -- taking the trouble to map out what your newly-created world is supposed to look like, as seen from high above. 

Here's a scanned image of the map found at the beginning of The Sword of Shannara. I assume it was drawn by the Brothers Hildebrandt (who were credited with doing various interior illustrations for that book), but I also assume it was closely based on some sort of rough sketch which Brooks had already been using for reference as he was writing his story, so that he could keep track of where Place A was in relation to Place B, et cetera.  
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The story opens up way down near the southwest corner of the map. Shea Ohmsford and his foster-brother Flick Ohmsford have grown up in the nice, quiet, wholesome, rural community of Shady Vale. One of their closest friends is Menion Leah, heir to the throne of the very small kingdom (what you or I might call "a city-state") of Leah, located a bit further east.

Near the center of the map is the ancient city of Paranor. As you get north of there, you get into the Northland. Going south from Paranor, you find the Southland. There's a bit of forest shown on the western edge of the map that's labelled "Westland," and some forest along the eastern edge is labeled "Eastland." We are told within the text, without getting much detail, that the Elves live over in the Westland, and the Dwarves live over in the Eastland. 

Shea basically spends most of the book traveling from the south end of the map (Shady Vale) way up to the north end (Skull Mountain) and then, in the final pages, he has already made it safely home again. But we gather that when things are peaceful, it might only take a couple of weeks to make such a trip. In other words, this map only shows us one small portion of the surface of one continent, and who knows how large that continent is, or how many other continents there are in this world? (Offhand, I don't recall anyone in this book ever even mentioning the existence of a known seaport, somewhere offstage, in any direction.)

Terry Brooks didn't give us any real description of anything else in this fantasy world (supposedly set in our own distant future, after cataclysmic events had reshaped the planet's surface) because anything that wasn't right there on the map didn't matter for his plot! That map was just enough to help us keep track of where different cities and things were in relation to one another, and thus how far apart any two characters were at any given time -- if one was fighting a battle in Tyrsis at the same time that the other was approaching Skull Mountain, for instance. 

Later, I visited my library again and checked out Book 2, The Elfstones of Shannara. It reprinted the map above, and also had another map located directly to the left of that -- the Westland. Apparently that strip of forest on the original map was just showing us the eastern fringe of the much larger region known as the Westland. The main characters of Elfstones had to pursue a dangerous quest into a certain portion of the Westland, so Brooks needed to show us something of the terrain.

Moving on to Book 3 -- The Wishsong of Shannara -- it was the same thing all over again, in the opposite direction! This time, there was a new map showing us a chunk of land over to the right of the original map, and so we finally got a good look at the bulk of the Eastland. Once again, the latest generation of young heroes had to make a perilous quest into strange territory that they (and their illustrious ancestors) had never before visited, but it all worked out in the end.

As I said, I was amused by the pattern that was developing in the second and third books. It was painfully obvious that when Terry Brooks was writing his first novel, he didn't know what the plot of the second one would be. And when he was writing the second book, he didn't plant any hints about how a future descendant of the Shannara bloodline might inherit a "wishsong" ability that would be crucial to the Big Quest that would drive the plot of Book 3. I was convinced he was just making it up as he went along, volume by volume, without having any sort of master outline for what ideas ought to be introduced in one book to lay a foundation for the plot twists of the next one. 

The way Brooks was going, I rather expected the next book to advance our knowledge in another direction, such as showing us what lay immediately south of the original map, and then the book after that could push in the other direction by showing us a one-page map of what lay just beyond the northern edge of the original map. At that rate, it could have taken Brooks dozens of volumes to finally have mapped out an entire continent for us. (Then he could always start all over again with characters living on another continent, right?) 

That was not quite what happened, though -- years later, when I eventually read a copy of his fourth Shannara novel, I believe the map at the front was simply a composite of everything that had already been shown to us in the first three books, without adding new data. 

After that, I lost track -- that fourth book didn't do much for me, so I quit reading 'em. I still don't know how much of the surface area of the world of Shannara Brooks finally ended up showing to his readers in any subsequent maps in later volumes. But a little Googling confirms for me that the cumulative sales figures for the Shannara series have involved tens of millions of copies sold, meaning he's done far better than the vast majority of fantasy novelists ever manage. Evidently his "failure" to do a ton of worldbuilding at the very beginning of his first fantasy project, before he started cranking out one sequel after another, did not damage the Shannara books so badly as to prevent them from appealing to the target audience.

So my conclusion was, and still is, that while it may be fun for some people to develop detailed maps of one or more continents in a fantasy world, it is not "vitally important" for creating a literary achievement which will draw in lots of fans. Most of the prospective customers apparently are perfectly willing to accept the fact that, after reading the first novel in a fantasy series, they still don't know what 99.9 percent of that world is supposed to look like, and perhaps they never will. It seems their decision to press onward with buying and reading the next book (and recommending the series to friends and relatives) is based largely on other factors -- such as whether or not the storytelling itself gave them a special thrill as they were first reading it? 

Re: World building and writing style

#25
I feel like most of these questions are up to the writer, but I'll give my own personal opinion. 

As far as the world in particular, I think that sitting down and building up your world at least on a basic level is important to writing your story, but not absolutely necessary. I think it allows you to sorta understand your path and where you're gonig with things a lot better, so it's definetly good to do, plus it allows you to get an idea of the setting. Now, setting things in stone from the very beginning isn't something you should do, so even if you build up your world first thing, don't be afraid to alter it part of the way through so long as that doesn't create any plotholes.

As far as planning in general, I personally think that planning is the funnest part of writing. I know that each writer has different levels of planning. Some dont at all. Some plan a bit. Some plan to ridiculous levels. 

I will say the same thing regarding a plan. When you plan, or at least when I do, I like to lay out not the skeleton, but rather the exoskeleton. I say 'I want things to go in this general direction. These people go here and do this, these people go there and do that, etc.'

Once I have my basic structure set up, I little by little fill in the meat. It's really awesome to see an idea come to completion. For example, say you plan out an idea which will cover the course of 20 chapters. (Of course, before you write it you don't know that it will cover that much, but I'll use that for reference). 

I would first plan out essentially the very very basic idea. The big point. What happens? What big final scene am I building up to? 

Once I have this, I start thinking about a whole lot of other things. 

How does this happen? 

What characters are involved? 

What actions do they take? 

What developments happen?

This is what I would call stage 2. Stage 1 is the general idea or concept with almost no direction, perhaps just a final outcome, but stage 2 has some characters and general actions planned. 

Stage 3 is scene planning. Plan exactly what order youre gonna put your scenes in, and then write them. At this point, things may change in the other 2 stages depending on whether things actually make sense or not. 

Finally stage 4. Details. These are so important, and it's possible to plan some of these out from the start, but not easy to do so. These are the tiny little things that happen within each individual sentence. A symbolic trinket. A rainstorm during a scene of death. Things like that which give the story style and detail are very hard to plan out ahead of time, but are so important to the story. 

This is just how I do it. I would always suggest to keep yourself flexible and not lock yourself into something, and if you do that you can have a good plan and just watch as the meat gets filled in. It's very satisfying. 

As far as text wall, I think any more than 5 lines of text is pushing it. Thats my personal opinion. 

And finally, as far as detail goes.... well, I think this is completely up to the writer. Some people really like detail, some find it to be repetitive and making things take longer than they should. I personally like to do an exchange. I have a sentence or two of dialogue followed by a sentence or two of description. Or something like that. Depends on the scene tho.