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Fantasy Faction Writers => Writers' Corner => Topic started by: Yora on February 17, 2015, 10:20:24 PM

Title: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on February 17, 2015, 10:20:24 PM
Worldbuilding is always an interesting subject. The most common advice given to writers seems to be "don't overdo it, it's wasted time and will be annoying if you put it all into your story when you have too much". Which of course is very much true and writers should look out not to prepare too much background information that will never get used or put too much of that information into a story that is not necessary for the plot.

However, this does not really help at all with the questions how you actually do prepare a good world for your stories. So let's talk about that.

My own background is primarily from roleplaying games, where I have prepared worlds for my players to play in for years. But since I started getting interested in writing literature, one of the first things I noticed is that worldbuilding for stories is much, much easier and requires way less work. One of the biggest mistakes that people regularly make when creating worlds for games, but probably is much less common among writers, is to make a world first with no real plan how they want to use it later. That's a very bad approach that regularly creates bland and completely interchangeable worlds. I highly recommend tailoring your world specifically to the needs of the specific stories you want to tell. And that means first to make descisions about genre, atmosphere, "visual style", and overarching themes. Do you want to make something more heroic or epic in style? Will it be early modern, medieval, ancient, or even prehistoric? Do you want to evoke a familiarity with Europe or Asia? Maybe Africa or America, or something that doesn't resemble any specific place on Earth at all (more on that later*). Do you want to stay local or visit many different places? Do you want the option to hop around all over the world with episodic stories, or follow a single route in a heroes journey?

All these things determine what parts of the world you will actually have to develop. They also can make a difference for how you will create certain things, which is why you need to make these descisions right at the beginning. If you later change your mind or leave the descision for a later time, some of the things you have created might end up useless and redundant. And one thing that is important to understand is that you can't simply change any element on a whim later one. Once an image of something has taken hold in your mind it persists, and you will try to keep them that way even when you realize their current form isn't really ideal for your needs. You set out to replace them and then still end up creating basically the same thing again. Another factor are interpedencencis. Worldbuildig that seems really solid and satisfying comes from all the elements of the world being connected and building on each other. When you work out these five kingdoms and create their shared history over the past 1000 years and then later decide you actually rather have six, there is a good chance that it will show. The new one just won't have the same connections, you can see the seams. Same thing when you remove  certain element. If you decide at a later point you actually don't want to have any desert nomads and make the land they inhabited completely dead, all the fortresses on the desert edge seem rather pointless and why is there a big trade city on a road that is a dead end? Why are the locals influenced heavily by that culture on the other side of the uncrossable desert and where did they get those mercenaries who saved them against their neighboring enemy when the war had seemed already lost?

These examples are all things that can be fixed later. But it will probably never get as good as it would have been if everything had grown together side by side instead of one after the other. And it's additional work that could have been used on other things.

One thing that new worldbuilders for roleplaying games need constantly reminded of is that they only need to create details that will directly affect their audience in some way. Same thing with literature, except that the audience in that case are the point of view characters. If you want to write about politics and life at court, you need to do preparatory work on the structure of the government. This will almost certainly become vital for the story. You also need to create characters to fill many of the jobs at the court. If the story is about explorers of old ruins, all you might need is some clerk who hires them to find something for his boss. Who this boss actually is might be completely irrelevant for your plot, and he might never even get a name. If you want to write about some thieves in the slums who won't get involved with politics, the only parts of government that might be interesting are the magistrate, the judge, and the captain of the guard. Who rules the city or country and how government works could be left blank and doesn't have to come up in the story at all.
If you already know your work will be limited to a single country or city, you don't have to worry about how long distance transportation works. If you want to write something episodic where the protagonists end up in all kinds of different places you will only know about once you start thinking about a new plot for a story, this information might be quite handy. If they are going to Neustadt by ship and you already established that Neustadt is a port town in previous stories, readers will notice and the world seems more real.
And this is the big advantage of writing literature over writing for games: You have a very high degree of certainty knowing which places your characters will go to and what circles of society they will interact with. This allows you to scratch a huge amount of possible items of the worldbuilding to-do list.

*One thought on creating completely original worlds: It can be done, but there is a huge and invaluable advantage of repurposing places from Earths history. It allows you to just give a few key details about a culture or landscape and the readers imagination can fill in all the blanks with details they remember from the source that inspired you. Even though you say very little, the readers still see complex and detailed societies and locations.
Personally I prefer not to rely too heavily on this and not have any Vikings and Mongols in my world that only have a slightly different name. A great little trick to be both original and recognizable is to take a culture and put it into a quite different environment, or two blend two different cultures together. A great example of the later I've seen in the videogame series Warcraft. The Night Elves, apart from being elves, combine Scandinavian with Japanese elements. The result doesn't resemble either. In the world I am working on there is one human culture that is Chinese who used to live like Scythians but now transformed their society into Swedes.
Common fantasy races like elves and dwarves have become so well known with fantasy readers that they work just the same as archetypes than Vikings or Egyptians. While these are fictional, you can use them as well to mine for elements for your cultures. I have a race of little green men with large ears who are druids and alchemists but also build fortresses and mines like dwarves.

I'd be very interested to hear what kinds of worlds you have created for your works and what experiences you have made with them.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Justan Henner on February 17, 2015, 10:51:27 PM
Nahhhh, I just wing it.  ;)
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: JMack on February 18, 2015, 12:45:25 AM
I've been thinking about writing for, oh, 45 years, and have made a number of short-lived false starts.  Unlike may folks who post on F-F, I'm not someone who writes constantly.  In fact, it's only been since discovering F-F that I've started to have a bit of a renaissance in writing.  So, my world building experiences are limited.

But something interesting happened the other day.  I was writing what I thought would be a sword & sorcery novella, and allowing things to flow as they wanted to.  All of sudden, the world I was building on-the-fly linked itself to the one I spent many hours creating when I was 15.  My tough guy character became a new version of one of those long ago imagined heroes.  And as new things were being worked in, especially about the magic system, they began to explain and expand on what I'd imagined back then.  There are still some problems with all this: some of the old concepts don't fit well with the new ones, while others - integrated - are better and more fun.

Here's something that I keep thinking about: mystery.  Yes, by the end of Hero of the Ages, Sanderson leaves a number of loose threads in his magic system so that he can explore these in future books; but overall, the purpose of the Mistborn series seems to have been to explore and explain metal burning.  Meanwhile, I think about R.E. Howard, Tolkien, Le Guin and others who have magic in their worlds, have cosmology, they know all of it in the background, but the stories are about the stories and the people - not about the magic systems.

I think this goes to some of your word-building ideas, Yora.  I think you need the bones of the whole thing, but don't need to flesh it all out.  Le Guin certainly didn't need to have thought out all the places and cultures for the three of the Earthsea books, but she did need a framework.  God bless him, Tolkien was an obsessive (how did he ever have a son, no less a wife?), who had enormous amounts figured out.  Did he need it all?  Probably not, but it found its way into the stories and made you really believe in the whole thing.

I'm working on my story/novella/whatever tonight, and I'm not writing.  I'm working out the world.  Then I'll do some writing, bump into thing that don't work, and iterate on the whole thing.  t the end, I hope I have a story that doesn't explain everything, but leaves the reader with a solid sense that this place is real even if mysterious.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Skip on February 18, 2015, 05:29:41 AM
I view story and worldbuilding as a dialectic. Neglect one and you do harm to the other. While it may seem logical to start with one and derive the other, that's now how it has worked in my experience.

My world of Altearth is our Earth, but instead of barbarians invading the Roman Empire, it was monsters (goblins, orcs, etc.). As they penetrated the Empire, they also brought magic.

Now, you might think at first that my world building would be easy. I have the climate, the geography, even the history all set, though with lots of room to fiddle with the history. But I have had to invest an enormous amount of work, in three specific respects.

One, how to integrate magic into a historical narrative that is, for the most part, unchanged from Earth history (and Earth physics).

Two, where to put all those creatures. Given the geography of Europe, where do elves live? Wouldn't the presence of dragons cause some changes in architecture? And so on.

Three, how to make significant changes to Earth history while keeping the basic thread intact. For example, if it's goblins rather than Goths invading in 376 AD, where do they go after they are finally defeated? Does Theodosius still succeed Valens? Or, more significantly, do orcs conquer Constantinople in 1453? If so, what do I do with all that Ottoman history? And so on.

I could have tried working all that out, but I took a different path. I'm just writing stories here and there. I wrote one set in the 1950s, another in the 1400s, and my current one is that 376 invasion that's the start of it all. As I write the stories, I fill in bits here and there. It's been like playing jazz--I have a theme, but I can riff with great freedom as long as I come back to the main theme.

Is this a good approach? Give me 20 years and I'll let you know!
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Raptori on February 18, 2015, 11:05:42 AM
To me this has some very clear parallels to the planning vs discovery writing debate, though it's a bit more one-sided in terms of what most people think. It's something I've thought about a lot, since I don't agree with a lot of the advice given about it.

This is a long post, so I think I'll add a couple of headings...  8)


"don't overdo it, it's wasted time and will be annoying if you put it all into your story when you have too much"

I've always disagreed with that, because it's based on two assumptions that I don't think are necessarily true. First, it assumes that extensive worldbuilding wastes time. Second, it assumes that you'll put too much of the information into the story. Both are very real traps that people often fall into, but neither is inevitable. My assumption (which could also be wrong) is that by "extensive worldbuilding", we mean worlds built in more detail and scale than is strictly necessary for the specific story being told.


Assumption One: Time

In terms of time taken, you can create both breadth and depth in a surprisingly short period of time. It's possible to create an overview of how society develops over millenia very quickly, especially if you aim to explain it in a condensed form. You can then elaborate and add detail to the time periods that interest you. In other words, you create an outline for the history of your world, instead of discovering it as you go along.

For example, to describe the central story of over a thousand years of a continent's history in one paragraph (roughly based on Europe, with minor changes):

A wealthy and powerful trading nation spent centuries expanding via a combination of conquest and treaties, eventually creating a mighty empire encompassing the entire continent. Unable to sustain its strength due to environmental and political stress, the empire declined and eventually split in two. The western half shattered into competing nations who jostled and warred for position and prestige. The eastern half reorganised and remained strong for centuries, eventually re-conquering much of the old empire. This new empire echoed the original by declining and disintegrating, and was eventually conquered by invaders from the east.

You could easily expand that forwards and backwards in time as well as sideways into different regions. Once you have that kind of overview, it's then easy to single out specific times and places that are relevant to your plans (or that simply interest you) in order to add some depth. When you focus on specific moments in time, the broad description gives you guidelines as to what caused the events you're focusing on and what direction you want them to take - just like a story outline. You can add smaller conflicts within the overall flow of history, add more detail and nuance to the central story, etc.


Assumption Two: Exposition

The second assumption is easily avoided: just put in what is absolutely necessary for the story to be understood. Easier said than done, obviously, but I don't think the only answer is to just not build a detailed world. It just takes a bit of practice, skill, and a certain amount of restraint to pull it off. Again, it's a clear parallel to the arguments for and against planning/discovery writing in my opinion.


Benefits of Extensive Worldbuilding

I also think there are benefits to extensive worldbuilding if you do it well. It helps when creating a dynamic world instead of a static backdrop, and allows you to create some meaningful history and myth for your world instead of throwaway phrases that might not connect with each other particularly well.

In the context of a single book/series, an extensively developed world can help in a number of different ways as well. It can help you create interesting characters that fit perfectly in their time and place, and avoid characters who don't belong there. It can help give your setting a stronger and more consistent feeling, because it's been created beforehand instead of improvised.

It can also be a great way of coming up with interesting plots. For example, several novels in James Clavell's Asian Saga are based on specific turning points in the history of eastern Asia - the origin of the Tokugawa shogunate and the founding of Hong Kong to give two examples. Creating a broad history of a fictional world can highlight the points in the world's history where events converge, points where you can write a story in which your characters have a hand in the course of history without drifting into cliche. I think the Liveships trilogy is a great example of how this can work, it's definitely one of the reasons I find those books so compelling.

A huge advantage is that it allows you to explore multiple points in the history of the world without having to worry so much about contradicting yourself. When writing the first book/series, you already know the general shape of the other events you want to explore. Again, I think that's a parallel to the plot/discovery debate, just on an even higher multi-series level.

Once you start doing that, it also allows you to play with the corruption of history; the way the story of the past becomes distorted and altered over time. People from different places within the same time period might see history in completely different ways, and that gives you potential conflict between characters that includes worldbuilding naturally into the story, while creating mystery from the reader's perspective if they don't know what really happened. I think it's easier to do this if you yourself know what really happened, because you can then work out plausible ways in which that history can be distorted.

There's a lot of potential there. While it's possible to make it all up as you write and hit those targets, I think it'd be more difficult doing it that way.


However...

With all that said, it's important to note that I think the initial spark can come from either direction. Creating a world for the fun of it can help you generate a huge number of connected stories. Coming up with a story first can be the beginning of an interesting world world. In either case, a more developed world can help make the story shine.

Also, I agree with @Skip (http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/index.php?action=profile;u=40131) that the two often go hand in hand. We often switch from one to the other (or do both at once) while we're planning things, because plot can inform worldbuilding and the world world can inform plot development.

 :)
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on February 18, 2015, 01:12:11 PM
Oh, I am very much in favor of quite extensive worldbuilding. The benefits you get from that are indeed huge and invaluable. But I also think that's the reason why you should keep your focus in mind. For a Pirate setting, you want to have background information that enables you to come up with great pirate characters and the people pirates are dealing with. So concentrate on working out the details for harbors, pirate nests, and military bases. You don't have to limit your worldbuilding exclusively to these parts of the world. But it's more than wise to regularly stop and think if that thing you are just working on will actually be that important. It would be unfortunate if you one day find yourself writing and not having a clue about how sea trade in the Carribean is working but you have figured out all political infighting at the courts in Europe. You might still have a great setting for a 17th century political story set in Europe and you could write about that instead. But it's easy to avoid getting into such situations by frequently examining what you are doing and how it relates to the goal you are pursing.

The comment about a thousand years of european history reminds me of one of my favorite examples of worldbuilding I've come across so far. The universe and history of the videogame series Mass Effect. These three games are pretty long and extensive, taking easily 80 hours and more to get through all of them. And I think the setting is one of the most interesting and authentic feeling that I've seen. Which the writers really accomplished with just five historic events. Just five pretty simple events over several centuries in an entire galaxy. But these events are wonderful setups for so many things and I think wonderful examples of how you can make history work for you. You don't need anything like a long list of wars and genealogies that spen dozens of generations like Tolkien did to set things up. It can be much more simple:
  • 2,000 years ago the Asari and Salarians needed a way to fight an almost unbeatable swarm of alien insects that were overrunning their planets. So they went to the world of the Krogan and taught them how to use spaceships and gave them all the weapons they want to fight the insect aliens. Once the Krogan had won, they didn't even think about stopping their campaigns of conquest and attacked colonies of their former allies instead. The Salarians and Turians eventually developed a bioweapon which infected all Krogan and causes almost all Krogan eggs to die before hatching, keeping their population barely stable at a very low level. The Turians say it was war and they had no choice, and the Salarians say it's the humane solution instead of outright destroying the entire human species and refuse to develop a cure for the disease. The Krogan very much disagree and lack all motivation to rebuild their world. What's the point if they can never regain their former greatness? Other species agree that something had to be done to keep the Krogans in check, but this seems entirely out of proportion.
  • 300 years ago the Quarians build a race of intelligent machines to serve as workers. When the machines started to show self awareness, the Quarians tried to shut them down. It didn't work and the machines fought back, eventually forcing the Quarians to evacuate the entire population from their homeworld and the nearby colonies. The entire species has been living on spaceships with terrible overpopulation with disastrous effects on their health. Now they are space gypsies, disliked by everyone. And they know exactly who to blame: Intelligent machines.
  • 100 years ago humans found an abandoned alien research station on Mars. From the machines they could get enough information to be able to build spaceships that can go to other stars, forcefields, artificial gravity, and, levitation devices, and had access to almost unlimited energy from very small power sources.
  • 25 years ago the humans first encountered the Turians and the two species usual approach to deal with strangers didn't mesh and they immediately got into a pretty violent war. Eventually the allies of the Turians stepped in and sorted things out and a few years later the humans were even invited to join their alliance. Many older turian and human soldiers still have severe reservations about each other, even though the younger people discovered that the two species have a lot more in common with each other than with anyone else.
  • 10 years ago new humans build new colonies near the border of Batarian space, which is pretty much completely controlled by pirates and slavers. At one point it all flared up into an extremely brutal and devastating war with the Batarian warlords with the humans won only with huge casualties and losses. The allies of the humans said they had warned them about colonizing that region and so it's not their problem. The government on the Batarian homeworld says the warlords are not under their command, so it's not their problem either. Even though the destruction of human colonies suits them very well. Usually, humans and Batarians in the same room is a fight waiting to happen.
And that's really all there is. There is nothing else to know that you would need to understand any of the complex relationships and interactions between the species and many of the factions. And what I find very interesting is that none of these events mention any specific characters. There is also virtually no mention of other events in the history of each of the species. You learn very little about how their homeworlds are governed, even though you get to meet many of their head of states. Nothing about the ecosystems and wildlife on their planets and things like that. Because this story takes almost entirely place on spaceships or uninhabited planets. If the characters are never going to visit these many worlds and interact with the locals, it's not needed.
When you know what your story is about and where it will take place, you can get a very long will with amazingly little worldbuilding.

Now if you take for example The Lord of the Rings and know a lot about the background setting, there are actually numerous references to places, events, and people of the past all over the place. Weathertop has a long history, Moria has a long history. The giant statues of Gondorian kings have a history and the people they represent have a long history. Having characters mention them adds a lot of depths and atmosphere to the story.
But here's the dirty little secret: You can also make such references even if they don't actually refer to anything. "The door to the tomb of King Drognar shows him slaying the beast Slogthor with his magic axe Flamebeard, such ending the 300 year reign of the Dragon Lords." To make this reference, you don't actually need to have any clue who Drognar was, what this Sloghtor was, and who the Dragon Lords where and what they did those 300 years. To the readers it won't make any difference. If you can occasionally link these references with each other they will seem even more meaningful. But you really don't need to have any real history behind them. 2,000 years ago a guy names Armenius destroyed an entire Roman legion in a trap, forever ending all attempts to expand the Roman advances into Germania. That's a cool story, even though there probably are only a tiny handful of people who know a bit more about the entire complex situation of tribal connections and alliances and economic factors both among the Germanic tribes of the regions and the entire enterprise of Roman colonies. All factors that were hugely important for the buildup to the battle and the aftermath that followed it, but nobody really cares much for them.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Raptori on February 18, 2015, 01:29:37 PM
Yeah that's a great example, shows how much mileage you can get from a small amount of information.

I'm still ambivalent about throwaway references without any substance behind them, but I do see your point. The inspiration for the world my partner and I have built was a throwaway reference in one of the Farseer books (I think). That reference led very quickly to an unusual and complex society, if you can do that within your own books then I guess it can be a good way of developing and broadening your world.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Nyki Blatchley on February 19, 2015, 01:25:12 PM
But here's the dirty little secret: You can also make such references even if they don't actually refer to anything. "The door to the tomb of King Drognar shows him slaying the beast Slogthor with his magic axe Flamebeard, such ending the 300 year reign of the Dragon Lords." To make this reference, you don't actually need to have any clue who Drognar was, what this Sloghtor was, and who the Dragon Lords where and what they did those 300 years. To the readers it won't make any difference. If you can occasionally link these references with each other they will seem even more meaningful. But you really don't need to have any real history behind them.

Yes, of course you can do that, but I've found that, if I put in something like that, I want to find out what's behind it. One passing comment like that I made actually led directly to my novel At An Uncertain Hour. I wouldn't have written that if I hadn't made the off-the-cuff comment, but also if I hadn't followed it up. Tolkien did something similar with the cats of Queen Beruthiel - he apparently didn't have a clue at the time what the reference meant, but he subsequently found out.

I find that world-building works best as an equal partner of the actual writing. It's a kind of leap-frog - something in the world-making will give me an idea for a story, which will include some reference to a country or a historical period I hadn't developed, so I'll work that out and get an idea for another story... etc.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on February 19, 2015, 03:43:40 PM
Even if you do the worldbuilding only after you already have a good plot outline, knowing the world in which the story takes place helps you a lot with going beyond just the simple sequence of events and really making the whole thing come alive. Just knowing who does what and why is only half of what makes a good story, especially when it comes to fantasy.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on February 22, 2015, 06:27:39 AM
How much detail do you put into defining how the world came into being in the first place at the beginning of time? This is something I see a lot of people start with, but generally it seems to be something that is really completely irrelevant for pretty much anything.
Tolkien did it, so lots of people also do it. But Tolkien had a reason for it and had it part of his actual stories.

I touched on it only very briefly, and that is mostly as context for the magic system and doesn't enter in either religion or history to any meaningful degree.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Henry Dale on February 22, 2015, 08:10:51 AM
I put a crazy amount of detail in my "beginning of time", because the early species left more than just archaeological sites. They influenced many things to shape the world as we know it.
Then again there is near to a volume dedicated entirely to this first era so not worldbuilding for it would make no sense.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Rukaio_Alter on February 22, 2015, 11:24:55 AM
How much detail do you put into defining how the world came into being in the first place at the beginning of time? This is something I see a lot of people start with, but generally it seems to be something that is really completely irrelevant for pretty much anything.
Tolkien did it, so lots of people also do it. But Tolkien had a reason for it and had it part of his actual stories.

I touched on it only very briefly, and that is mostly as context for the magic system and doesn't enter in either religion or history to any meaningful degree.
Embarrassingly, I fell into this trap when I first started my book. I wrote a long prologue of the origin of my world which had barely anything to do with the story I was telling and 90% of which ended up being changed anyway. Luckily, someone else pointed how pointless it was and I cut it. Now, while I do have a very loose (and far more awesome) idea of the current origin of my world, it's not going to get more than a passing mention at best.

At a guess though, I think the main reasons many writers do it is because a) it seems very epic and biblical (key word being seems), b ) it's an easy way to do exposition and c) people are afraid that if you don't know the entire history, background and most prevalent type of soil of the world from the first chapter, you somehow won't be interested in reading the rest.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: JMack on February 22, 2015, 12:07:01 PM
I think the main reasons many writers do it is because a) it seems very epic and biblical (key word being seems), b ) it's an easy way to do exposition and c) people are afraid that if you don't know the entire history, background and most prevalent type of soil of the world from the first chapter, you somehow won't be interested in reading the rest.
I never reads book that leave out soil type and agricultural prices.  Thank goodness my world building hero, Tolkein, included a word about Longbottom Leaf in his prologue.    ;)
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on February 22, 2015, 12:32:01 PM
I think part of it is the common assumption that when in doubt, start at the beginning.

But in the end, a setting is just a setting for a story. Middle-Earth is a special case, because the creation of the elves and the relationship with the creator gods is the story he's telling in the Silmarilion. In the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, he wisely left those parts out completely.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Raptori on February 22, 2015, 02:24:49 PM
I generally don't like origin myths that are considered literal truth. It's probably the atheist side of me influencing how I see it, but they often feel like a childish attempt at grandeur, and jolt me out of the story a bit. That's not to say that creation myths are always bad - in the real world the Maori creation myth is pretty cool for example - but it'll bug me if they're of any more importance than as metaphor or characterisation.

The world we're building came about when gravitational forces within a nebula formed a star and several orbiting planets, which then developed according to the laws of physics. Imaginative, no?  :P The different cultures in the world will have various creation myths that will play a small part in informing their cultural norms, and may or may not be included in the story itself.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on February 22, 2015, 03:52:29 PM
For the purpose of storytelling, conflicting religious teachings are a wonderful thing. You can get a huge amount of texture for a world and the stories by having characters feel uncertainty about what is truth is what not, what is right and what is wrong, what is the will of the gods, what qualifies the gods to set rules, and what legitimacy priest and divinly favored lords actually have. If these things are undisputed and universally accepted without doubt, you lose a very significant aspect of what constitutes human relationships.
Having the story of the gods uncertain and the gods not directly expressing their will to the people opens a whole new dimension of potential depth.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Nyki Blatchley on February 23, 2015, 12:42:01 AM
In my world, it depends entirely who you ask. Every culture and religion has its own creation myth (or two or three) which some people believe in implicitly, but no-one actually knows - including the gods. My own explanation for the origin of my world is much the same as Raptori's.

It's always vital to be clear whether your POV is a follower of the sandal or of the gourd.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: James A. Hunter on February 24, 2015, 02:41:01 AM
World building is such a tough topic, because so many people do it so differently, and each way often works perfectly well. With that said, when I was fifteen I decided to start writing my first novel, a big long, epic fantasy novel that was horrid (I did finish it, took me something like four years! and it was awful). When I wrote that book I first did a massive amount of world building beforehand; designing maps, creating races, researching cultures, weapons, armor, history. It took ages and I wrote very little, because I thought I needed everything figured out before I began.

Since then, I've tossed the world building beforehand philosophy. Initially, I wanted to write about a specific world, which I would later populate with characters. Now, I do it the other way: I think of a character and I think of what kind of story that character should have, than I design the world around the character as I write the story. This has helped me in two ways. First, it makes it easier to avoid info dumps--I only give world building info once the story calls for it (because until it is needed, I haven't made it up). Two, it helps me write much faster. If I'm primarily concerned about the story first and foremost, I can get the bones of the story out quickly than go back and add world building details later to flesh things out. Helps me actually finish books.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Ryan Mueller on February 24, 2015, 05:12:08 AM
My worldbuilding is a bit of a mixture. I get some of the broad strokes down beforehand, but I leave most of it to do as I write. That way, my focus is on the story. I can always get in the right details during revisions.

For example, in my most recent epic fantasy, Watersong, I didn't realize until I was writing it that it would be a gunpowder fantasy. I was writing the second chapter, and guns suddenly showed up. From there, I just went with it, and I think it resulted in a better story.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: RussetDivinity on February 24, 2015, 05:19:24 AM
I've found that I worldbuild differently depending on the sort of story I'm writing. Right now, for instance, I'm throwing together the second draft of a sci-fi novel that's got the crew of a starship trying to leave the current arm of the Milky Way galaxy as part of a covert colonization effort into the other arms. The various planets humanity currently lives on are largely torn apart by riots, but I didn't start to get a feel for how they ought to be until very recently, and even now I'm not sure whether I've got it completely right. For another work that's still in the planning process (and is based roughly on the story of Anastasia -- I wanted to play with the lost princess trope), I'll need to get various details about the history and religion of the world set up just right before I start writing.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on February 24, 2015, 10:33:32 AM
When you make the world up as you go, do you tend to be writing something that is intended as a single story and then completed, or are you already considering to use it as a world to be revisited with other stories?
I think that may results in quite a significant shift in priorities.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: JMack on February 24, 2015, 11:26:10 AM
For another work that's still in the planning process (and is based roughly on the story of Anastasia -- I wanted to play with the lost princess trope), I'll need to get various details about the history and religion of the world set up just right before I start writing.
I just had this image of a portal being opened up as the communists are about to capture Anastasia, and she's pulled into another land for her protection.  Maybe not your approach ;D    but I've just had an amusing few minutes thinking about storyline.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Doctor_Chill on February 24, 2015, 04:24:37 PM
When you make the world up as you go, do you tend to be writing something that is intended as a single story and then completed, or are you already considering to use it as a world to be revisited with other stories?
I think that may results in quite a significant shift in priorities.

Quite possibly, but I wouldn't say always.

The first book I wrote in this "world" I'm working on went through so many world-building revisions that I had to scrap it, so I understand the need for a world that fits your work beforehand. By the time I began working on my second novel, I knew I wanted to play around in 19th century Western Europe. Had to do research on warfare, arms, chemical and industrial revolutions of the time, consequentially economic views and political views that influenced that, and moreso how crime came about from all this (I like to look at crime in most of my works). Of course, all research doesn't needed to be grounded in real-world analogies.

As Ryan said, I paint with large brush strokes when it comes to world-building, and don't really get my thoughts down on paper till they hit the first draft (or second or third). Never been a fan of documenting loads of information, which is bad for my memory when I try and come back to a project eight months later.

Anyway, I tend to world-build like I write. For instance, I had a concept shown in Ch. 4 that is expounded upon in, say, Ch. 14 (or Ch. 24 going by my alternating style). It later becomes a focus in the second novel (or is it third?) I'm working on, and so forth. I set a foundation and then I build off of it, but no amount of research or fore-thinking can save me if something interesting and plausible pops into my mind at the time. I think I have this approach to everything I do in writing, from plot to characterization. Feels more natural to me, namely because I'm not one to write down every little trinket of information that may or may not be used. Same goes for character profile sheets or even detailed descriptions of the plot (though I will say there is a lot of beforehand thinking that goes into that one).
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on February 24, 2015, 09:23:08 PM
I'd be interested in hearing what kinds of worlds you have made or are working on.

My Ancient Lands setting is roughly based on the premise of being a "generic fantasy world" with elves, dwarves, dragons, and giants, but set in a much earlier period than the one you most commonly see. A period when the elves and dwarves are still building their kingdoms and great halls, dragons and giants rule the skies and mountains, humans are wild barbarians and the south is full with lizardmen and naga. A world with few people, fewer cities, and vast stretches of wilderness. The metal of choice is bronze and social organization mostly takes the form of tribal confederacies, led by a king who is chosen by the other allied chiefs from among their ranks.
The world is highly animistic with shamans, druids, and witches being much more common than priests or wizards, and people worshipping the gods of the mountains and rivers near their villages instead of gods of justice or trade. Any time I see a fantasy world that mindlessly copied Tolkien and is a world in decline, I see mention of tales from the distant past, when the world was wild and ruled by spirits, and the first heroes slew mighty beasts, and it makes me think that I much rather would see more of that world of the past instead. If you get bronze age fantasy, it's almost always Greek or Mesopotamian, which is not at all what I am looking for.
I've had ideas for this world for a long time and used one with a similar premise for an RPG group for a while. This one actually evolved quite a bit stylistically from that original concept. There are now no more orcs, but a race of non-evil lion people, and the dwarves have changed into a race of rodent-goblins. I also added a lot of Chinese influences, in particular the style of weapons and armor, dress and food. Lots of bamboo constructions and East-Asian concepts of magic. The humans of the world most closely resemble what little is known about the ancient Scythians, who inhabited the lands between Eastern Europe and East Asia and are neither what we think of as classic European or classic Asian. I think this helps supporting the notion that these are unique cultures of that world and not old stereotypes with a made up name slapped on.
One very strange thing about this world is that the vast majority of inspiration come from spaces operas, none of which are novels. One very big one are the Tales of the Jedi comics from Star Wars, the other one being the Mass Effect videogames. But I think these are both working so well for me because they are not really stories about technology, but about highly intelligent and skilled warriors going to the most remote border regions to fight bandits and the corruption of an ancient evil. Make the laser swords normal swords and the space ships normal ships, the dark lords of the sith sorcerers and the evil machines demons, and you got perfect fantasy stories. Landing on a remote planet or an unexplored shore are really the same thing.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: JMack on February 25, 2015, 01:21:18 AM
I'd been thinking about a S&S hero for a little while and had built a bit of a framework, which became the early draft I recently posted in the Critique section of F-F.  As I was writing it, suddenly that hero became a character I'd invented when I was 15.  It wasn't that much longer before the whole setting became the world in which he lived: The Starlit Lands.

While I'm not certain of all the details (even almost 40 years later), the world goes something like this:

The world is encircled by the Worldmount, and on each great peak, a star shines.  There is no moon, there is no sun.  The light of thousands of stars swirls in the sky, waxing, waning and creating great patterns that make day and night, seasons, and tides.  The lands just inside the ring of the mountains is the Dreamreach, and no intelligent creatures can live there without being changed.  In the center of the world, humans, brin and other species live.  The setting is medieval, feudal -- sorry, no originality there.

Magic comes from the emanations of the stars and their interaction with living things.  Even though uncommon, the most common expression of magic is the carving of patterns into living tissue, whether animal or plant.  Usually this carving takes long periods and great concentration, which makes magic rare and valuable.  It can also lead to strange forms of slavery.  Rarer still is fast-acting magic, in which a pattern is drawn (scrived), takes an effect, but then kills the living thing that bore the pattern.  Rarest of all is magic that is scrived on inanimate things or things now dead.

There are several races of different kinds: both "natural" and "scrived."  Among the natural races, Brin are birdlike, forest dwellers (do not immediately substitute "elves").  Dreamers are giants who live in the Worldmount and tend the stars.  Humans are also "natural", but new races have been created by magic, with alterations scrived into their bodies: Gyrdon - wolf-spirited; Rath - dragon-spirited.  Finally, there are different cultures and ethnicities within natural humans, based on geography, environment, etc. including the Kolder, a tribal people living on the vast steppe between the Dreamreach and more settled lands.

When I developed much of this long ago, it was al very high fantasy, with some quirks I felt would play would common tropes: the great Quest would fail, a discarded member of the quest fellowship would find the rare magic item that would save the day, and the day would be saved a little less than everyone had hoped.  This said, it was still high fantasy in tone and approach.

Now I find myself more interested in finding stories and characters who can live and adventure in the Starlit lands.  I really don't care much about writing a grand trilogy.  But I'm really interested in finally writing about Faris, Fauvel, Jillan and maybe Blind Helen.  (Though I think Helen has a new home in my goblin-themed world.)
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Doctor_Chill on February 26, 2015, 05:36:15 AM
I'd be interested in hearing what kinds of worlds you have made or are working on.

You want the long version, or the longer version? ;D

Seriously though, I've spent the past four or so years of my life building this world up, so much so that even taking an eight month break does nothing to my memory. It's practically a part of my mind now, in that I remember the littlest of details scarily enough. So if you wanted to hear my extensive findings, I couldn't simply lay it down like you did the Mass Effect summary. I'd have to give out most of my long-winded findings and thoughts (save the ones that are important plot wise) which is daunting to say the least. But if you're that interested....Really haven't laid it down in one post ever, so it sounds fun.

But your idea of a "before the usual feudal era" sounds so intriguing. I've always been looking for a good Ice Age-esque novel, and while your's is more Bronze Age, it still has that sort of "survival" and "early humanity" feel that's always tickled at my curiosity. The East-Asian influences are just the icing on the cake! (I'm a sucker for them type stories.)

As for Jmacyk, have you ever looked at Mark T Barnes's Echoes of Empire trilogy? He deals with a lot of interesting races, of which your ideas remind me of. From Lion-men to Horse-soldiers to golden-eyed, two-hearts humans and marsh puppeteers (which are essentially frog-zombie-things), his lands is peppered with such interesting locals. I think you'd find it beneficial to check out if ya want.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on February 26, 2015, 10:19:03 AM
If you want to share, make it as long as you think you need it to state the basic idea. My world is also a bit more complex (http://spriggans-den.com/?cat=7) than this.

Though I think I kind of forgott the main point: The story hook, so to speak, is that the mortal races now have their relatively well secured tiny corners of civilization, and now the chiefs and kings are eager to learn more about the ancient ruins that cover the wilderness, and what great secrets and powerful magic they might still hold. That serves as a setup for Indiana Jones-like plots, though sometimes there are old evils burried there, which makes for more Lovecraftian stories. Then there are also lots of spirits and graves of the ancestors, which makes a good stage for ghost stories both of the East-Asian and Northern European type.
I guess my background in writing for roleplaying games shows through here, but since my preferred style of fantasy is Sword & Sorcery stories, I think that matches quite well. I am also going for a pulpy feel, which goes together with the inspirations from Lovecraft, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars, which are all very pulpy as well.

Which brings up another interesting question: How would you say your choice of genre and story format affects the way you build worlds? For the writing I do, I feel I can pretty much ignore big politics altogether. The source of old ruins and the major powers of the past seem to me much more important than the current ones.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: JMack on February 26, 2015, 12:13:22 PM
I was emailing with a friend yesterday, and I noted that the Great Danger to the World trope doesn't currently interest me abiut any of the three worlds I play with in my head.  And I'm much more interested in relatively small stories with politics happening in the background and occasionally impacting my characters. Royals are not featured. For example, I'd like to write sometime about a fat old taverner who is the community leader and arbiter for an ethnic ghetto, or a goblin who discovers she can't put her heart into a box for safekeeping like the other goblins can, or a girl who goes off to find a new magic well stone for their farm's water supply. And for you @Yora (http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/index.php?action=profile;u=35236), a wolf spirit barbarian forced to return to settled lands for a cure to his progressive lupinism.

So, for the hack of it, world #2: YA, probably. Blend of Asian and European influences culturally, this a world in which spirits of the dead usually hang out with their living families, sitting in the garden or their rocking chair, quite visible in their shady way to everyone alive.  Some ghosts, though, are unhappy and wander, eventually fading as they get further from home or have no living relatives. Others are unhappy and angry, and become terrible Haunts. Nothing else abiut this world is clear to me yet, or that important, though I think I have a full story outline sitting around somewhere.

@Doctor Chill, I'll look for Echoes, sounds interesting and maybe useful.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Raptori on February 27, 2015, 09:03:00 PM
I keep trying to read this thread but the replies are essays... need to set aside a day or two to plough through it I guess  ;D
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on February 27, 2015, 09:45:41 PM
Say the person with the largest post.

But it's a big topic with complex intricacies. Not something to be reduced to a few buzzwords and and phrases of common sense.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Raptori on February 27, 2015, 10:02:13 PM
Say the person with the largest post.

But it's a big topic with complex intricacies. Not something to be reduced to a few buzzwords and and phrases of common sense.

(http://www.smiley-faces.org/smiley-faces/smiley-face-angel-006.gif)

Yep, and the posts seem really interesting and in-depth. I want to read them properly but for some reason keep finding myself skimming them instead  :-\
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: DRMarvello on March 07, 2015, 02:36:54 PM
Having done it three times now, I have a good feel for what passes for my "process" in world building.  ;)

I use a "just in time" method for world building as well as for inserting story world information into the text. In other words, I create what I need when I need it.

That said, the first story in a new story world requires a fair amount of up-front world building. That first plot won't gel for me until I can clearly envision the story world and its potential conflicts. I need to have a feel for the series arc, and that doesn't happen without a global view. For my trilogy, I did a ton of world building at the beginning, and then a bunch more between each novel. I'm sure I'll do more in the follow-on novels. For my contemporary fantasy series, almost all of my world-building was related to the paranormal beings and magic because I was able to use the modern world as a backdrop. For my western fantasy, I started with a specific point in history (~1895) and layered magic and fantasy creatures onto it. That took a lot more work than I imagined because I had to do a ton of historical research in addition to fantasy world building.

For me, the trick has been to use broad strokes in the beginning, and then focus on the details surrounding a specific event. I was very concerned about releasing the three books of my trilogy as I wrote them, but that didn't turn out to be a problem. It was easy to extend the story world as I went, and keeping things vague at the beginning helped me avoid writing myself into a corner later.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on March 08, 2015, 04:29:13 PM
I finally got done naming all the towns and cities I already knew to exist in my Ancient Lands world. I've been struggling with that for months! I think large part of having it done now comes from significantly having lowered my standards.  :D I just don't care anymore if they all sound stupid, bland, and replacable to me. And who knows, perhaps in 10 years people might call it my distinctive style of evokative names, that makes the world stand out from the crowd with its unique flair.  8)

The main reason I was bothering with naming 25 cities and 8 rivers in advance of them being used is that I like to drop hints that are references to a larger world beyond the immediate story. And since I want them to form a coherent picture over time, I prefer to know the basic identity of these places. Now I could just put down some notes and come up with names the first time they get mentioned in a story. Except that I can not come up with names while I am in the middle of writing a story! The whole process comes to a halt for at least 10 to 15 minutes and usually that's the end of my work for that day, giving up in frustration in the middle of a sentence. Using a placeholder name and getting back to it later just doesn't work for me.
So I bit the sour apple and set down for 4 hours, doing nothing but trying to find some halfway decent names. While it goes against the conventional withdom "you should not pour for hours over insignificant details", I still think it helps me very much.

As a suggestion for people struggling with names, I recommend picking some real world country or region and using that as a reference for how personal and place names sound. Elven names are based on the letters, length, and syllables of Swedish, the water people names based on Malaysian, the beastmen names on Mongolian, and the lizardmen on Indonesian. It doesn't even have to be a culture that matches the cultural archetype you are using as reference for your group. It's simply a guideline to make names that sound natural and real and are also consistent within that group. On wikipedia you can get lists for all major cities in pretty much every country in the world. Take one you like and switch a few letters, or take two and put parts of them together, then play around with individual letters to make it sound smoother.
Also consider place names that consist of two words that are separated by a space. This is one of the few cases where English kept the traditional practice of Germanic languages of writing compound words as a single word without space. So when you keep the name in two parts, it stands out. Tolkien did it a lot with elven place names, and he made the little extra effort to assign specific meanings to the prefixes. Anything that starts with Amon is build on top of a hill. And there's also a number of Barads and Dols. It's not difficult to do and a nice touch when you're dealing with lots of castles.

And a great secret tip that should not be shared around too much: While apostrophes are terribly overused and cliched, hyphens are not.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: JMack on March 08, 2015, 04:57:18 PM
Using a placeholder name and getting back to it later just doesn't work for me.
This may seem crazy, but at 10,000+ words in, I'm regarding all names (characters, cities, rivers, etc.) but about 10 as placeholders. This is because I'm discovering the things that are important in the world beyond the "hill", "fort", "town" prefixes and suffixes. I find it incredibly freeing to just slap something in and keep going, unless it's something really important to the music I'm hearing in my head.

But, I'll need to pause, maybe 25K words in, and do exactly what you just did. The thought of completing my first draft with placeholders is a bit much.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Conan on March 08, 2015, 05:32:46 PM
I mixed a nautical theme into some of the chapters of my debut fantasy novel. An ocean can be a constant in any alternative world; allowing for unknown creatures emerging from the depths, swarthy sea-folk dialogue, ease and speed of travel, and an isolated stage to dramatic events whereupon can be expunged effective author narration and meditative, melancholy soliloquies of integral characters to gain sympathy and sense of authenticity from the reader.
I hope.
c
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Raptori on March 09, 2015, 01:14:47 AM
Ugh naming. Hate it. In the end, we went and created a custom filter for this sound change applier (http://www.zompist.com/sca2.html). It applies the kind of natural changes that cause languages to evolve over time to create a new word based on the root you provide. Since we wanted something vaguely similar to the Romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian) we used Latin as the root language, and it works pretty well.

Whenever we want to name something, we come up with a name in English, translate it into Latin, then apply the sound changes to convert it into the language for the region we're focusing on (which is called Aestura). There aren't quite enough individual changes at the moment, so some words aren't altered by the sca, we'll probably come up with more over time so that it's more comprehensive. For our currend WIP the story stays entirely in one city, but if we need to we can use the crude English names and then just put the new ones in once they've been properly developed.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Rukaio_Alter on March 09, 2015, 01:53:15 AM
I'll throw my hat into the pile of 'really hates naming stuff'. I'm also horribly guilty of, like Yona said, refusing to come up with a name until I've reached the point in a narrative that I actually need one and then spending about 10-15 minutes on it, completely shattering my writing flow. I really ought to do like Yona has and make a grand list of names but, every time I work up the urge to do something like that, my brain tells me it's more important to work on the book itself so I do that instead.

I'll admit, I don't really have any problem naming cities, since I've got a fairly easy naming device for towns in my world and I also have patterns for most non-human races/cultures (when I'm not outright ripping off names from other languages like Hebrew), but I don't have any real rule for humans, so they're always a massive pain. I did briefly try giving humans a variety of names from different parts of Europe, but I eventually got really bored and frustrated with that, so now I'm just giving them names that I think sound cool. Hence why I have characters with names like Kalaith Gauvain, Grace Devione and Dauger Volke.

The other trick I tend to use when naming more minor characters is to use names from obscurer properties I like (usually films or anime/manga). For example, I named several orphan kids after characters in The Devil's Backbone and a whole group of military commanders after countries in Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic. Some of them I'll probably need to change before I publish and you'll obviously need to avoid the obvious ones like Han Solo, but it's a neat way to include shout-outs and easter eggs. And I doubt that many people will try to sue you.

Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Doctor_Chill on March 09, 2015, 03:24:35 AM
When it comes to naming, the only problem I have is coming up with accurate Polish/Romanian/Austrian surnames or whatnot. Drives me bonkers, which is why it's the least thought about piece in my world-building aspect.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on March 09, 2015, 11:23:05 AM
If you want accurate names, just look for lists of most common personal and family names for different countries. And then probably start at the bottom so they are not too common.
I also made a big list of personal names years ago. Mainly drawn from such lists of real world names, but any time I find an interesting fantasy name somewhere I add it to one of the cultural spheres where the sound of them seems to fit.
Even with a few dozen names for each group it's still always way too few, but it's a way to start to get a feel for the sounds.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Nyki Blatchley on March 09, 2015, 01:17:25 PM
I love naming - it's one of my favourite bits of worldbuilding. I try to avoid anything too closely parallelling RW languages, unless it's a context where there's a good reason for the parallel. Instead, I try to establish the basic sound and structure of the language the names are drawn from, and then create names fitting that structure. Meanings are less important - after all, the majority of RW place and personal names don't have meanings that are obvious in their contemporary languages. Unless it's a culture where name meanings are important, I'm suspicious of fantasy names that have too much meaning attached to them.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on March 09, 2015, 01:33:36 PM
Yeah, we got a lot of place names in Germany that sound like they have a completely nonsensical meaning, but they are just corruptions of much older names whose meaning has been lost long ago.
Which is something I found quite odd when I started learning Japanese. Since the writing system is based around fixed symbols with a specific meaning, and time a pronounciation changes, it changes consistently in all words that are using that symbol. You may not know how a place name was pronounced a thousand years ago, but the way the name is written has not changed at all and the meaning of each character is mostly still the same as it had always been. As a result, Japanese place names are incredibly mundane once you understand it. "Eastern Capital", "Narrow Island", "Pleasant Harbor". Same with Chinese.
Family names are the same and even many personal names are the same thing.

Which can be pretty fun, but only works for names that are in the same language as the book is written in. In an English book you might play around a bit with French, German, and Spanish words, but even then the chances are high that most readers won't understand it.

I decided to not use any names like Highport or Westgate because there are just so many different cultural spheres in that world that are relatively self contained and have completely different languages, and I think it wouldn't feel right if just one of them uses English names but nobody else. Especially since none of the cultures are in any way inspired by western Europe.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Justan Henner on March 09, 2015, 03:09:44 PM
Unless its for the sake of a punchline, my naming (at least my character naming) follows only a single rule: It must be easy to read in English. I take names from all over the world, but I avoid anything that has a pronunciation unlike it's spelling. Things with unusual phonemes (to an English speaker), like Nyugen,  Arroux, Persson, rarely make the cut, usually ceding favor to shorter names like Ped, Lu, Trin, Gahn, and so on.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on March 09, 2015, 03:20:14 PM
Yeah, though it's a real shame because English can't do words that end in E.
Or even more generally speaking, English has very weird phonetics in general and there's a lot of sounds you'll find in most languages you just can't really spell with English spelling.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Raptori on March 09, 2015, 03:33:47 PM
Yeah, though it's a real shame because English can't do words that end in E.
Or even more generally speaking, English has very weird phonetics in general and there's a lot of sounds you'll find in most languages you just can't really spell with English spelling.
And that's all before you take into account the huge variance in pronunciation in English  :P
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Justan Henner on March 09, 2015, 03:49:49 PM
Yeah, though it's a real shame because English can't do words that end in E.
Or even more generally speaking, English has very weird phonetics in general and there's a lot of sounds you'll find in most languages you just can't really spell with English spelling.
And that's all before you take into account the huge variance in pronunciation in English  :P

Sure, but it's not about making sure my reader has the correct pronunciation, it's about easy readability. Persson probably isn't a great example, English speakers could still read that without pronouncing it accurately, but there are a lot of english-phonetic translations of foreign words that are just a mess. Why unnecessarily confuse or burden your target audience?

Nguyen is a good example. It's easy to understand if you're familiar with it - if you know it's pronounced closer to "Win" or "N-Win" it's easy to read - but if you aren't familiar with that pronunciation, as a native English speaker you're unlikely to get there on your own.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on March 09, 2015, 03:53:33 PM
That is very much true. A name that most people would pronounce wrong if they were ever to say it out loud is not really a problem. A name that is difficult to decypher and to spell is much worse.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Raptori on March 09, 2015, 04:00:40 PM
Yeah, though it's a real shame because English can't do words that end in E.
Or even more generally speaking, English has very weird phonetics in general and there's a lot of sounds you'll find in most languages you just can't really spell with English spelling.
And that's all before you take into account the huge variance in pronunciation in English  :P

Sure, but it's not about making sure my reader has the correct pronunciation, it's about easy readability. Persson probably isn't a great example, English speakers could still read that without pronouncing it accurately, but there are a lot of english-phonetic translations of foreign words that are just a mess. Why unnecessarily confuse or burden your target audience?

Nguyen is a good example. It's easy to understand if you're familiar with it - if you know it's pronounced closer to "Win" or "N-Win" it's easy to read - but if you aren't familiar with that pronunciation, as a native English speaker you're unlikely to get there on your own.
Yeah, I didn't mean that it's worth considering or anything  :D

With all the different accents around, it's inevitable that someone somewhere will read the words you use in a different way to how you meant them. Nothing you can do about it really, and it's not really that big a deal. If it's important then that's where pronunciation guides come in handy (though tbh I always skil those...)  ;)
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Justan Henner on March 09, 2015, 04:07:23 PM
Yeah, though it's a real shame because English can't do words that end in E.
Or even more generally speaking, English has very weird phonetics in general and there's a lot of sounds you'll find in most languages you just can't really spell with English spelling.
And that's all before you take into account the huge variance in pronunciation in English  :P

Sure, but it's not about making sure my reader has the correct pronunciation, it's about easy readability. Persson probably isn't a great example, English speakers could still read that without pronouncing it accurately, but there are a lot of english-phonetic translations of foreign words that are just a mess. Why unnecessarily confuse or burden your target audience?

Nguyen is a good example. It's easy to understand if you're familiar with it - if you know it's pronounced closer to "Win" or "N-Win" it's easy to read - but if you aren't familiar with that pronunciation, as a native English speaker you're unlikely to get there on your own.
Yeah, I didn't mean that it's worth considering or anything  :D

Of course, I didn't think you were being dismissive or anything, I just felt I had described my reasons poorly and wanted to elaborate. Ironically, as is often the case, someone else still put it better:
A name that most people would pronounce wrong if they were ever to say it out loud is not really a problem. A name that is difficult to decypher and to spell is much worse.

Yes, exactly what I meant Yora. Thank you.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on March 09, 2015, 09:27:34 PM
I found this very interesting article about worldbuilding: STRANGE GRAINS - D&Difying 'The Art Of Not Being Governed' (http://falsemachine.blogspot.de/2015/01/strange-grains-d-art-of-not-being.html#comment-form)

The authors perspecitve is one of worldbuilding for games, but I think everything about it applies to worldbuilding in general. It's a couple of interesting bits from the anthropological book The Art of Not Being Governed about independent tribal groups in the Highlands of Southeast Asia, with some ideas on how they could be applied to a fantasy setting.
I've heard of the book a couple of times before, and it seems to be very interesting, basically arguing that isolated tribal groups have not been forgotten by the rise of civilization but originally went to those remote regions as a form of self-imposed exile, prefering the life of hunting and subsistance farming over the benefits of state government and all the downsides that come with it. It's a rather different type of barbarians than the Germanic and Mongol tribes coming in huge hordes to plunder and conquer the rich civilized cities.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Nyki Blatchley on March 10, 2015, 06:08:56 PM
Unless its for the sake of a punchline, my naming (at least my character naming) follows only a single rule: It must be easy to read in English. I take names from all over the world, but I avoid anything that has a pronunciation unlike it's spelling. Things with unusual phonemes (to an English speaker), like Nyugen,  Arroux, Persson, rarely make the cut, usually ceding favor to shorter names like Ped, Lu, Trin, Gahn, and so on.

That's all very well if you just have two or three contiguous countries at a time, but if you're actually creating a world there's a point where that gets repetitive and unbelievable. If you don't at least hint at there being a huge variation in name-types throughout the world, it's going to come over as very artificial.

Yeah, though it's a real shame because English can't do words that end in E.
Or even more generally speaking, English has very weird phonetics in general and there's a lot of sounds you'll find in most languages you just can't really spell with English spelling.

It always annoys me when people say they're "spelling phonetically" and what they mean is they're spelling the way it would be in English. English is one of the least phonetically spelt languages there is (although I think Gaelic has it beaten). For the record, if you're actually spelling phonetically, you're using scores of weird symbols the average reader would never understand.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on March 10, 2015, 07:59:36 PM
You can spell wonderfully phonetically in Japanese. Unfortunately it's a script not known to anyone who doesn't know or learns Japanese.

Gaelic spelling is indeed pretty much the total opposite of phonetic. Some of the letters don't even affect pronounciation in any way, they are more like footnotes that tell you how some letters would have to be changed if you used the word in a different combination with other words. Which I think is actually quite useful for non-natives who want to look something in a dictionary but don't do these mutations automatically in their head. (mbad is pronounced mad, but the dictionary form is bad)
Gaelic spelling does not have useless letters.

Unlike English, in which the letters "ough" can be pronounced "u".  :D
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Justan Henner on March 10, 2015, 08:10:37 PM
Unless its for the sake of a punchline, my naming (at least my character naming) follows only a single rule: It must be easy to read in English. I take names from all over the world, but I avoid anything that has a pronunciation unlike it's spelling. Things with unusual phonemes (to an English speaker), like Nyugen,  Arroux, Persson, rarely make the cut, usually ceding favor to shorter names like Ped, Lu, Trin, Gahn, and so on.

That's all very well if you just have two or three contiguous countries at a time, but if you're actually creating a world there's a point where that gets repetitive and unbelievable. If you don't at least hint at there being a huge variation in name-types throughout the world, it's going to come over as very artificial.

But it's artificial either way. Nguyen isn't an accurate representation of the actual sound, it's the best guess english alphabet translation of a foreign word. It's artificial. Hell, English is so wacky, we don't even trust people on what their own languages and countries are called, even when we can spell something close to accurate. (i.e. Deutsch vs. German, España vs. Spain, Polska vs. Poland. )

I don't see a problem with simplifying for English readers, and I don't think it prevents you from creating different naming structures either, especially since the best you can do short of using the word's native characters, is a best guess anyway. For most cases, it's basically what English has already done, I'm just taking it a step further by avoiding/restructuring those words inaccurately described/hard to read in English spelling. [I feel like Slavic languages are a particularly good example, at least here in America, since most Slavic surnames (in the US) have been completely Americanized.]
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on March 11, 2015, 02:31:38 PM
Today I sat down to do some more work on my world and realized to my surprise that it appears to be done. It's an idea I've been refining for four years now and much of it is based on my attempts to make a world for an RPG which started 10 years ago.

For any specific story I still would have to make villages, caves, ruins, and a cast of characters, but all the global parameters are set and completed. I don't think there is anything left that would have me stop during writing and think "I need to decide how this works in this world". I know how everything works, I know where everything is, and how it's connected.

Great!

What now?  :D
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: CameronJohnston on March 11, 2015, 02:36:37 PM
Today I sat down to do some more work on my world and realized to my surprise that it appears to be done. It's an idea I've been refining for four years now and much of it is based on my attempts to make a world for an RPG which started 10 years ago.

For any specific story I still would have to make villages, caves, ruins, and a cast of characters, but all the global parameters are set and completed. I don't think there is anything left that would have me stop during writing and think "I need to decide how this works in this world". I know how everything works, I know where everything is, and how it's connected.

Great!

What now?  :D

Lots of story writing! No excuse now :) 

Either that or get building the underworld, the otherworldly realms etc
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Raptori on March 11, 2015, 02:48:59 PM
Awesome! Next step: celebrate.  8)

If you don't have stories in mind already, what I would do for a next step is list which settings/time periods you feel you'd be most interested writing about, and see if any inspiration strikes. If you do have a story in mind, then start writing/planning! :D
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on March 11, 2015, 02:49:58 PM
Already done.

Yeah, it's really about turning some of my numerous outlines into first drafts. I think I am going with the lizardman demon hunter who was hired by the dark elf pirate queen to be dropped off at a volcano island to find and destroy the demon possessed shaman who has his follower sink merchant ships in the region (together with the cargo, that's the terrible thing about it!)

I can safely say I am very pleased with the result.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Doctor_Chill on March 11, 2015, 02:51:56 PM
Yeah, it's really about turning some of my numerous outlines into first drafts. I think I am going with the lizardman demon hunter who was hired by the dark elf pirate queen to be dropped off at a volcano island to find and destroy the demon possessed shaman who has his follower sink merchant ships in the region (together with the cargo, that's the terrible thing about it!)

Can honestly say I'd read this in a heartbeat.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on March 11, 2015, 03:23:46 PM
Speaking of which: I can't really think of any fantasy stories in which the protagonist isn't a human, elf, or hobbit or some kind of small talking animal in a world of small talking animals.
Nonhuman characters are plenty, but they never get to be the hero. Spock, Chewbacca, and Thorin are generally the best you will get. Lots of great and beloved characters, but they are never the hero. Of course they can be villains and when a setting has nonhumans the boss villain will usually be one. Even if all his minions are humans.

That always seemed very strange to me. I can understand writers thinking that it might be tough for readers to go into a strange world without a human protagonist to take their hand and guide them  hundred or even fifty years ago. But now the concept of fictional humanoid species and magical worlds really isn't anything new or unusual anymore.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Raptori on March 11, 2015, 03:35:37 PM
Already done.

Yeah, it's really about turning some of my numerous outlines into first drafts. I think I am going with the lizardman demon hunter who was hired by the dark elf pirate queen to be dropped off at a volcano island to find and destroy the demon possessed shaman who has his follower sink merchant ships in the region (together with the cargo, that's the terrible thing about it!)

I can safely say I am very pleased with the result.
Sounds good to me! I guess then it's either start writing, or start writing a detailed outline. We're probably about as far out on the planning end of the spectrum as possible, in the middle of working our outline into a beat sheet at the moment  :)

Speaking of which: I can't really think of any fantasy stories in which the protagonist isn't a human, elf, or hobbit or some kind of small talking animal in a world of small talking animals.
Nonhuman characters are plenty, but they never get to be the hero. Spock, Chewbacca, and Thorin are generally the best you will get. Lots of great and beloved characters, but they are never the hero. Of course they can be villains and when a setting has nonhumans the boss villain will usually be one. Even if all his minions are humans.

That always seemed very strange to me. I can understand writers thinking that it might be tough for readers to go into a strange world without a human protagonist to take their hand and guide them  hundred or even fifty years ago. But now the concept of fictional humanoid species and magical worlds really isn't anything new or unusual anymore.
Hmm, if you rule out humans/humanoids as well as talking non-humans then what's left?  :P
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on March 11, 2015, 03:46:55 PM
I only said humans and elves, and Tolkiens two books with a hobbit. There are hundreds of humanoids people have created to populate their worlds but they are never protagonists, only sidekicks and villains.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Raptori on March 11, 2015, 03:58:36 PM
I only said humans and elves, and Tolkiens two books with a hobbit. There are hundreds of humanoids people have created to populate their worlds but they are never protagonists, only sidekicks and villains.
Yeah I guess, I'm usually pretty skeptical about humanoids though  :P

Thinking about it I really liked the bits in Mistborn from the kandra's perspective, more unusual stuff like that could be really good.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Rukaio_Alter on March 11, 2015, 04:15:29 PM
Speaking of which: I can't really think of any fantasy stories in which the protagonist isn't a human, elf, or hobbit or some kind of small talking animal in a world of small talking animals.
Nonhuman characters are plenty, but they never get to be the hero. Spock, Chewbacca, and Thorin are generally the best you will get. Lots of great and beloved characters, but they are never the hero. Of course they can be villains and when a setting has nonhumans the boss villain will usually be one. Even if all his minions are humans.

That always seemed very strange to me. I can understand writers thinking that it might be tough for readers to go into a strange world without a human protagonist to take their hand and guide them  hundred or even fifty years ago. But now the concept of fictional humanoid species and magical worlds really isn't anything new or unusual anymore.
I assume it's mostly a simple of fact of relatability. Audiences and authors can better relate to a human protagonists because we ourselves are humans. If you have a nonhuman protagonist, they will likely have a nonhuman way of thinking (or at least a different way of reacting to the world around them) that will seem odd to the audience and make them more difficult to follow 24/7 (as opposed to simply having them as a side character). Not to mention, it's more difficult to write, so many don't bother. I've got a story I'm  working on where the protagonist is a demon lord (long story), but even with that he still thinks and acts largely like a human (albeit a fairly arrogant and douchey one).

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that trail of thought is inherently correct, since I'm of the opinion that a competent writer can pull off any premise. It's just my explanation as to why I don't think we see many non-human protagonists around.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: JMack on March 11, 2015, 07:37:03 PM
Maybe the best example of non-human hero I can think of is the fabulous SF book: Startide Rising. The main characters are genetically-engineered dolphins who are part of a mixed human-dolphin spaceship crew. Great work to make the dolphins unique but "relatable".

Yes, I enjoyed the kandra very much, too, although:
their sudden and complete demise with barely a sentence spared on it bugged me
and somehow, I kept thinking D&D monster manual "gelatinous cube" whenever their pre-kandra life stage was described.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Doctor_Chill on March 11, 2015, 08:18:57 PM
I'm reading a collection of short stories by Hannu Rajaniemi and my favorite so far is from the narration of a dog. There's also been one from a "server" dragon and a talking bear. Sad that I don't see this enough in Fantasy, but I do think SF lends itself better with voice recognition technology so humans are better integrated into the story.

But yeah, not enough stories from the POV of a Dragon, let alone merely about them in F. I'd also garner to say it's easier to tell a "novel" from the POV of a humanoid perspective (because as some said, easier to relate to and that's probably the biggest connection in a book) than compared to writing about a fish in a short story where the attention and depth has a little more leniency.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: JMack on March 11, 2015, 09:26:06 PM
But yeah, not enough stories from the POV of a Dragon, let alone merely about them in F.
Dragons have sort of forced themselves into my WIP  :o, especially last night as I was writing some cosmology. I've begun to think about book 2 (oh, boy, is this cart before the horse!) and started to consider a dragon or a "brin" for one out of several POV characters therein.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Nyki Blatchley on March 12, 2015, 12:27:53 AM
Unless its for the sake of a punchline, my naming (at least my character naming) follows only a single rule: It must be easy to read in English. I take names from all over the world, but I avoid anything that has a pronunciation unlike it's spelling. Things with unusual phonemes (to an English speaker), like Nyugen,  Arroux, Persson, rarely make the cut, usually ceding favor to shorter names like Ped, Lu, Trin, Gahn, and so on.

That's all very well if you just have two or three contiguous countries at a time, but if you're actually creating a world there's a point where that gets repetitive and unbelievable. If you don't at least hint at there being a huge variation in name-types throughout the world, it's going to come over as very artificial.

But it's artificial either way. Nguyen isn't an accurate representation of the actual sound, it's the best guess english alphabet translation of a foreign word. It's artificial. Hell, English is so wacky, we don't even trust people on what their own languages and countries are called, even when we can spell something close to accurate. (i.e. Deutsch vs. German, España vs. Spain, Polska vs. Poland. )

I don't see a problem with simplifying for English readers, and I don't think it prevents you from creating different naming structures either, especially since the best you can do short of using the word's native characters, is a best guess anyway. For most cases, it's basically what English has already done, I'm just taking it a step further by avoiding/restructuring those words inaccurately described/hard to read in English spelling. [I feel like Slavic languages are a particularly good example, at least here in America, since most Slavic surnames (in the US) have been completely Americanized.]
I'm not saying don't simplify at all, but when I either write or read about another world and its cultures, I want to explore the differences, not a guide for dummies. If you restrict yourself to short, English-type names, I'm just going to find that boring.

I totally agree with your analysis of how people from other cultures are expected to conform. I call it bigotry. If fantasy, which is supposed to embrace otherness, kowtows to that bigotry, what hope is there of becoming more accepting of RW cultures?
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Justan Henner on March 12, 2015, 01:59:05 AM
I totally agree with your analysis of how people from other cultures are expected to conform. I call it bigotry. If fantasy, which is supposed to embrace otherness, kowtows to that bigotry, what hope is there of becoming more accepting of RW cultures?

I'm a little confused because I'm not sure which part you're referring to that is bigoted... I'm assuming you mean the Americanized Slavic names reference and the Ellis Island style "here's a new name, forget your old one, live with it," that such Americanization implies. I agree there was surely a lot of bigotry involved there, but I don't think restructuring bad or inaccurate English letter representations of foreign phonemes is bigotry, especially when applied to secondary world fantasy... I also don't think best guess, English letter translations of foreign phonemes is bigotry either.

Even if it's inaccurate I don't see any other way to represent that information, short of using a word's native characters, which quite frankly, would be an absurd standard because obviously you can't teach every English speaker every foreign alphabet and the corresponding phonemes. (In fact, it's physically impossible. After a certain age, the brain loses the ability to process certain phonemes (http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/the-bilingual-brain/) if not exposed to them on a regular basis. Most English speakers will never be able to understand those phonemes unused in English. A best guess interpretation is not bigotry, it is literally the best we can do.)

If you restrict yourself to short, English-type names, I'm just going to find that boring.

I agree with you here. I don't restrict myself to them, I simply prefer them for the culture I'm writing in. Indeed, I would say it's part of that culture. When create new naming structures outside that culture, I branch out to different forms, I just prefer to use easier to read spellings (Wynne vs. Nguyen). I think you can still get a lot of diversity from that though. If you're saying that choosing Wynne over Nguyen is bigotry, I don't see how considering Nguyen is the French Alphabet equivalent of Vietnamese symbols. It's already been "reprocessed" so to speak. (If I were writing in our world, I wouldn't do that because the spelling Nguyen has cultural connotations for certain groups in our world, but when working outside our world's cultures, I don't see a problem.)
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Raptori on March 12, 2015, 04:13:42 AM
Yes, I enjoyed the kandra very much, too, although:
their sudden and complete demise with barely a sentence spared on it bugged me
and somehow, I kept thinking D&D monster manual "gelatinous cube" whenever their pre-kandra life stage was described.
Never played much D&D so that didn't happen for me  :P Also...
I get the feeling that he didn't make their demise a big thing because he had already planned for them to be restored by Sazed, so in his head they weren't really gone. Possibly. It's the only think I can think of, since it really is downplayed.

Dragons have sort of forced themselves into my WIP  :o , especially last night as I was writing some cosmology. I've begun to think about book 2 (oh, boy, is this cart before the horse!) and started to consider a dragon or a "brin" for one out of several POV characters therein.
Planning is good, if you don't have a long-term plan then you'll end up having a set of disconnected novels instead of a series that interconnects  :P
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on March 12, 2015, 09:36:23 AM
and somehow, I kept thinking D&D monster manual "gelatinous cube" whenever their pre-kandra life stage was described.
There is Rusty & Co. (http://rustyandco.com/comic/1/), a comic about three D&D monsters going on adventures.  :D
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: JMack on March 12, 2015, 10:53:37 AM
Also...
I get the feeling that he didn't make their demise a big thing because he had already planned for them to be restored by Sazed, so in his head they weren't really gone. Possibly. It's the only think I can think of, since it really is downplayed.
Er, they were? It was such a fun and goofy ending, like everyone emerging from the hatch in Lost, that I somehow missed that.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: JMack on March 12, 2015, 10:55:25 AM
and somehow, I kept thinking D&D monster manual "gelatinous cube" whenever their pre-kandra life stage was described.
There is Rusty & Co. (http://rustyandco.com/comic/1/), a comic about three D&D monsters going on adventures.  :D
Ah, jello with bones. Memories of my teenage years...
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: JMack on March 12, 2015, 11:00:53 AM
Nyki,
Is
Quote
RW Cultures
a reference to "Read/Write cultures" (I tried to google what you might have meant.) if so, not sure how that fits the discussion, and if not, same. Clarify?
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Raptori on March 12, 2015, 12:46:01 PM
Also...
I get the feeling that he didn't make their demise a big thing because he had already planned for them to be restored by Sazed, so in his head they weren't really gone. Possibly. It's the only think I can think of, since it really is downplayed.
Er, they were? It was such a fun and goofy ending, like everyone emerging from the hatch in Lost, that I somehow missed that.
Yeah, they're background characters in the sequel, not sure if the original trilogy mentions it. According to the info online, TenSoon and MeLaan are the kandra in the sequel, though they're impersonating people at the time so you never realise exactly what's happening. So they're not dead at all  :-\
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Doctor_Chill on March 12, 2015, 02:21:23 PM
Nyki,
Is
Quote
RW Cultures
a reference to "Read/Write cultures" (I tried to google what you might have meant.) if so, not sure how that fits the discussion, and if not, same. Clarify?

Don't want to answer for him, but RW usually stands for "Real World."
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: JMack on March 12, 2015, 02:46:25 PM
Nyki,
Is
Quote
RW Cultures
a reference to "Read/Write cultures" (I tried to google what you might have meant.) if so, not sure how that fits the discussion, and if not, same. Clarify?

Don't want to answer for him, but RW usually stands for "Real World."
(crawls in a hole feeling pretty stupid)
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on March 12, 2015, 03:14:14 PM
I couldn't figure it out either.

Going through my mostly completed material again, I was once more reminded of how often I had bee struggling with keeping my work in line with the original vision. Things evolving as you go and new ideas overriding older ones is usually not a problem in itself. But I noticed that usually those cases where the setting is running away from me and developing its own life, it is getting a lot more generic and loses the elements that originally inspired it.
My world is one about tribal societies living in isolated villages at the dawn of civilization. While there are a few city states, these are not the focus of world and in contrast to the atmosphere I want to evoke. They don't usually appear in the stories I create for this world (and haven't written down yet, sorry) either. Yet still, I constantly find myself devoting a lot of my creative work on these places that really are meant as footnotes. Because the great powers, their history, and the current rulers are the things that get the most presentation any time a fictional world is discribed.
Right now I am finding myself cutting several of the city states down to major towns because there are just too many of them. True, in the world of greek legend there are plenty of city states in a very small area. But in the tales of Greek legend, they are all the city states in the world of the tales. The characters usually don't go on trips to Mesopotamia or Egypt. One city state per country might be unrealistic, but to evoke this atmosphere I have in mind, the world is better served with only seven city states in the entire world instead of 40.

It easily happens in other areas as well. The mysteries of the Underworld quickly grow into an entire Lovecraftian pantheon and what is supposed to be a world of witches and shamans quickly becomes populated with rich nobles who form wizard guilds and lots of large temples.

Keeping a clear and strong vision of the primary concept for the world is something I consider quite important. It's something I always tell anyone who is looking for input on their RPG worlds. And I think it's even something useful for discovery writers. Just going with what comes naturally very often seems following the old beaten paths, which by their very nature lead you to something that becomes increasingly more generic and uninspired.
Not everything that is cool and which I love is also going to be an improvement for my world. Quite often I find myself looking t something I've come up with, and even though I think it's great, it also damages the unique identity of the world. And so it has to go. Might still use it some other time for a different purpose, but not here and not now.

Having a sharp vision and sticking with it is something I consider very important in worldbuilding. If your vision changes, examine it and think hard if it is really better than the one you started with. If so, then go ahead with it. But then it also is probably a good idea to look at your existing material and consider what parts of it might have to go, now that the goal has changed.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Raptori on March 12, 2015, 05:03:02 PM
Good post.

I feel the same way, including about the planning/writing part too. If you write down any idea that captures your imagination and work it into the world/story you're currently building/writing then you can easily stray from your intended path. That's something it seems a lot of people think is a strength, but I'm not so sure - if you have an idea that inspires you, wouldn't it be better to stick to it than dilute it?

New ideas that don't clearly add to the story in question are better recorded and stored in a separate file that you can then open up when you're ready for something new. :)
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: JMack on March 12, 2015, 05:17:15 PM
They don't usually appear in the stories I create for this world (and haven't written down yet, sorry) either.
I've been in the situation for years of having stories and ideas floating around, but not writing.
We've discussed whether to worldbuild on-the-fly or in-advance, and folks have their preferences.
But, I think there is a problem if we allow the worldbuilding, enjoyable as it is, to take control over writing down the story.

At my work, part of our mission is help people who run home businesses. We find that too many folks spend their time reading and planning about how run their home businesses and then avoid actually doing the business.

If mastery is achieved through 10,000 hours+ of doing something, then I just  freaking need to write. Especially since my chance to reach 10,000 is probably a lot less than you guys ;)

@Yora (http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/index.php?action=profile;u=35236) I want to read your story about the lizardman and the pirates. You know what to do...  ;D ;)
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on March 19, 2015, 09:10:15 PM
Here is a quick tip from me: When you write down a note for an idea you have, also write down what inspired that idea.

I just found a two months old note that just says "underground lizard men". I know what that means. But I really can't remember why I would ever have thought that would be something I would want to add to my world.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Raptori on March 20, 2015, 03:11:07 AM
Here is a quick tip from me: When you write down a note for an idea you have, also write down what inspired that idea.

I just found a two months old note that just says "underground lizard men". I know what that means. But I really can't remember why I would ever have thought that would be something I would want to add to my world.
Nice! I think the real question is why wouldn't you think that underground lizard men would be something you would want to add to your world! :D

Also: listen to people when they tell you to have some way of taking notes at all times, especially by your bed. A couple of nights ago, I had an idea while falling asleep that made sense of the fundamentals our magic system in a really cohesive way - it was such a good idea that I assumed I'd remember it. Nope. Last night (again while falling asleep), it came back to my mind again. I remember thinking "Ahhh that was it! Such a great idea, I'll remember it this time!" ...apparently not.

Stupid Raptori  :-[
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on March 20, 2015, 09:30:50 AM
The reason I don't drop any interesting idea for a creature into the world is that there are already quite a lot. I want to keep the number of fantastical elements low so that they those that are in have more weight and significance. Worlds getting overcrowded is a problem I am seeing in a number of other settings and something I really want to avoid.
I am currently trying to make someone on another forum understand that the key to making a high quality setting is not to just add together any element you like. They need to fit together as a whole and that whole must still make sense and feel coherent. Or as I explained it in another way, no matter how much I love chocolate, it won't improve my pizza.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Raptori on March 20, 2015, 10:03:47 AM
Hehe I wasn't being serious - I completely agree that it's best not to put anything and everything in it. Great analogy too :)
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on March 20, 2015, 10:24:24 AM
I know, but it was still a good question relevant to the topic.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Raptori on March 20, 2015, 10:37:09 AM
I know, but it was still a good question relevant to the topic.
Cool, worried I hadn't been clear :)
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Henry Dale on March 20, 2015, 10:38:49 AM
But pizza and chocolate sounds like a great idea :(

Since I keep my mobile phone with me at all times I just write on that. It's easy, I can look things up on the internet fast and have my novel with me at all time.

For me, wikipedia is a great source. It's so easy to come across odd things in this world. I want my world to be strange and wondrous but at the same time, when people enter it in google, they say to themselves "oh dang, that's a real thing?!  :o "
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on March 20, 2015, 11:30:55 AM
I was actuall able to backtrack through the material I've been using as inspiration at the time and found the critter that gave me the idea: This guy here. (http://cdn.backyardchickens.com/d/d8/d8ec0e1f_PZO9016-TroglodyteWarp.jpeg)

So my new and improved note is "Lizardmen who got lost in the underworld and mutated into primitive feral brutes more beast than men".
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on March 26, 2015, 10:37:41 PM
I could have sworn we've been talking about this before not too long ago, but I can't find anything in the other recent threads. I think I touched upon it a bit in the monster thread.

But one aspect of worldbuilding I am feeling very uncertain about is maintaining the separation between what is normal and what is extraordinary. I am generally completely behind the statement "when everything is special, nothing is special", and that believable fantasy is grounded in fantasy. If your world is too wondrous and magical, then the creatures and events that are meant to be horrifying and amazing are feeling much less unusual and unexpected. If the characters are supposed to react to something with terror or awe in a believable way to the audience, there needs to be a clear contrast between the normal and the extraordinary.
Some writers take this to the extreme and do pseudo-historical fantasy, set in real places and times of our world and adding only the monster or sorcerer which the story is about. Minimum fantasy for maximum contrast.

But thing is, I like my drastically different worlds that are very different planets compared to Earth. I want forests of giant mushrooms and characters riding on winged, feathered dinosaurs, getting invited to an audience with a serpent queen and wearing armor made from giant spiders. Or in other words, I love Morrowind (http://elderscrolls.wikia.com/wiki/Morrowind).  ;) But also Barsoom and Athas.

But I also want truly horrific monsters and amazing discoveries. I want to eat the cake and have it too. However, to be "grounded in reality", the world does not exactly have to be identical to Earth. What is needed is a strong contrast between the normal and the extraordinary. Making it Earth-like is an easy way to tell the audience what is normal and what the characters in the story would consider normal. But if you can make your fictional element feel familiar and mundane, you still can get the contrast to the truly extraordinary.

God example would be Moria in The Lord of the Rings. Orcs and trolls are not real, and neither are talking eagles, elves, dwarves, or wizards. Barrow-wights and ring-wraiths are certainly not normal, but they are still familiar. They fit into expectations we have about the world. And then you get to the watcher in the water, which really doesn't. The wights and wraiths are ancient mortal kings that have turned evil. But a huge nameless tentacle thing? That doesn't fit with the image of the world at all. And a while later we of course get the balrog who is a completely different story alltogether. A dark lord in his castle and his undead servants might be very dangerous, but they are still of this world we've gotten used to. The balrog certainly is not. We don't really know what it is. But Gandalf knows. And he terrified by it and really doesn't think anyone else should know. That is some real contrast.

I think an even better example is from Princess Mononoke. The world of that movie is actually pretty magical, with the hero riding on a stag, meeting giant talking animal spirits, and seeing lots of nice little forests spirits. And when we still meet those animal and forest spirits, they are magical moments in which the hero is impressed and the audience in awe. But the hero makes it clear with his reaction that this might be something special, it's also something that is expected and fits into what he considers to be normal. It's just something that most people don't get to see close up. The leader of the people who are fighting the animal spirits is equally unimpressed. They may be minor deities, but if you have good weapons and don't panic, they can be killed and their land taken. The common soldiers panic a lot, but still get the job done with guidance from their fearless leader. The main characters make it clear that spirits may be magical and very powerful, but they are normal. And then you get to the really awesome later parts of the movie where shit gets real! Or to be precise, very unreal! As long as the spirits act according to the rules, the main characters are mostly in control. But once the rules no longer apply, things get just terrifying. It is very clear that everything turns as extraordinary as it gets with barely any trace of normality left.

And on the pretty extreme side of highly fictional worlds, there's the season 1 finale of Avatar. It's a world in which there are no normal animals and absolutely anything that moves that is not a human is entirely made up. And even though it's an American show, the style for all the human cultures is very Asian. And of course there seems to be like 10% of all people having magic powers and all of the protagonist are exceptionally powerful in their magic powers. This is a fantasy world that is very far removed from reality. Yet in the last episode of that season, the natural order of things gets completely shaken up. (Actually in a way very similar to Princess Mononoke.) Fictional animals and spirits are everyday stuff, but this is a whole different story altogether (http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/6b/1b/18/6b1b18a74073484486834865966dd004.jpg).

So yeah, giant mushroom forests and flying dinosaurs are no reason why you can't have a strong contrast between what is normal and what is extraordinary. What techniques do you have as a writer to make your story more grounded and also feel more weird when something is supposed to be unnatural? One thing I want to try later in the story I am working one is to have a strong shift in voice and vocabulary. The way I describe environments, creatures, and people is based on the perception of the character the story is currently following. If he considers something ordinary and barely worth mentioning, I use words that reflect that and drop only short mentions of the things without going into much detail and giving them much thought. Then when the character steps into the cave where the monster has its lair, I want to make a strong shift, using a more esoteric and fanciful vocabulary, describing all sights and sounds in great detail, and using adjectives that indicate emotions. Some eight-legged beast of burden might simply "stink", while the hunchbacked old witch would be surrounded by "a terrible stench resembling rotten meat and much more unspeakable things". As much as I love Lovecraft and Howard, I think they both are not really doing that. With Lovecraft everything is dreary and corrupted right from the start, and Howard has Conan go down into ancient crypts without a second thought.

Another thing I noticed myself doing is that all my fictional animals are mammals or reptiles, while all the unnatural creatures are giant insects and worms. Like the one I linked.  ;D
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: JMack on March 26, 2015, 11:25:13 PM
I think the most common elements of all this are: contrast to a norm (even if the norm isn't our norm) and most importantly believable human reaction.  The Balrog is terrifying because Gandlaf is terrified.

Your idea about simple vs. complex, emotion packed language makes sense. But I really believe it all starts with believable characters doing believable things, having believable reactions.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on March 27, 2015, 06:54:21 AM
Believable reactions depends a lot on how the world works.

But how the world works isn't really affected by fictional plants and animals that are still just normal plants or animals. Reactions to and interactions with them would be the same as in a nonfantasy world. That's a good argument to completely indulge yourself with all the fictional wildlife and plants you want. Or even landscapes. There are enough really unusual places on Earth without anything supernatural going on.

Things would be a bit different with clearly magical creatures. Though I think with them consistency would go a long way. If most magic creatures are not frightening, but the big monster of a story is, then the monster probably should behave very different from the other creatures. If the readers wonder what the big deal is and why this is now supposedly different, it's an inconsistency and negates the appearance of an unnatural threat.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Henry Dale on March 27, 2015, 11:26:22 AM
Believable reactions depends a lot on how the world works.

But how the world works isn't really affected by fictional plants and animals that are still just normal plants or animals. Reactions to and interactions with them would be the same as in a nonfantasy world. That's a good argument to completely indulge yourself with all the fictional wildlife and plants you want. Or even landscapes. There are enough really unusual places on Earth without anything supernatural going on.

Things would be a bit different with clearly magical creatures. Though I think with them consistency would go a long way. If most magic creatures are not frightening, but the big monster of a story is, then the monster probably should behave very different from the other creatures. If the readers wonder what the big deal is and why this is now supposedly different, it's an inconsistency and negates the appearance of an unnatural threat.

This makes me feel less weird for having a detailed section on hydra mating and different kinds of moss. Thank you.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on March 27, 2015, 11:34:43 AM
It's not usually something you'd need, but when the question comes up it's a lot better than to shrug and say "it's magic". That very much weakens the ground on which the fictional reality is supposed to be grounded.

Unless of course it's something the characters in the story can't grasp either. Then it makes for good contrast.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on April 01, 2015, 10:52:22 PM
I am not recommending this to anyone who does worldbuilding as preparation world for a novel. But if worldbuilding is your thing and you are planning to use the long after and beyond the book you are working on, I think this setup here (http://barbaripedia.spriggans-den.com/index.php?title=Main_Page) is really neat.

The result is too pretty not to show it around.   :D
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: JMack on April 01, 2015, 11:06:05 PM
I am not recommending this to anyone who does worldbuilding as preparation world for a novel. But if worldbuilding is your thing and you are planning to use the long after and beyond the book you are working on, I think this setup here (http://barbaripedia.spriggans-den.com/index.php?title=Main_Page) is really neat.

The result is too pretty not to show it around.   :D
Very cool looking! Will have to peruse when possible.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Nyki Blatchley on April 02, 2015, 04:51:11 PM
I like the distinction between rare but normal and totally unexpected. I've never seen a spaceship (except on TV) but if I came face to face with the space-shuttle, I'd be impressed and fascinated, but it wouldn't change my concept of the world. If I came face to face with a spaceship with ET coming out of it, that would.

I suppose my most common world-level is something like a pre-Enlightenment version of ours. Ordinary people assume that magic, gods and the supernatural do exist somewhere "out there", but they don't expect to experience it themselves.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on April 02, 2015, 09:21:08 PM
One thing that always fascinates me that there are some places in the world like in India and Africa, where people actually live with the knowledge that outside their villages there are actually huge creatures that can easily kill you and occasionally even come to villages at night to eat people. By pretty much every definition, tigers, lions, and nile crocodiles are monsters, except for the fact that they are real.
Tigers can see and hear you when you are practically blind during night, are almost completely silent and can be three to five times your weight with huge teeth and claws. And crocodiles hunt by swimming in muddy water to suddenly jump out, grab you with their giant jaws, and drag you down below the water within a second. In some parts of Europe and North America we do have bears who would be very dangerous to get attacked by, but generally can be safely avoided and don't go hunting for people. But the idea that there are actual places on Earth where millions of people are genuinly worried that they get back home before nightfall or they might be eaten is very hard to imagine.

There is nothing unusual or supernatural about them. They are just ordinary animals, and I've seen all of them in zoos many times. But encountering them in the wild would be a completely different thing. They would still be horrifying monsters.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Doctor_Chill on April 02, 2015, 10:20:04 PM
I am not recommending this to anyone who does worldbuilding as preparation world for a novel. But if worldbuilding is your thing and you are planning to use the long after and beyond the book you are working on, I think this setup here (http://barbaripedia.spriggans-den.com/index.php?title=Main_Page) is really neat.

So I'm about to lose a good bit of my free time perusing this. It's awesome and makes me want to start up one of my own, if only to get my ideas down and concrete. Thanks!

One thing that always fascinates me that there are some places in the world like in India and Africa, where people actually live with the knowledge that outside their villages there are actually huge creatures that can easily kill you and occasionally even come to villages at night to eat people. By pretty much every definition, tigers, lions, and nile crocodiles are monsters, except for the fact that they are real.
Tigers can see and hear you when you are practically blind during night, are almost completely silent and can be three to five times your weight with huge teeth and claws. And crocodiles hunt by swimming in muddy water to suddenly jump out, grab you with their giant jaws, and drag you down below the water within a second. In some parts of Europe and North America we do have bears who would be very dangerous to get attacked by, but generally can be safely avoided and don't go hunting for people. But the idea that there are actual places on Earth where millions of people are genuinly worried that they get back home before nightfall or they might be eaten is very hard to imagine.

There is nothing unusual or supernatural about them. They are just ordinary animals, and I've seen all of them in zoos many times. But encountering them in the wild would be a completely different thing. They would still be horrifying monsters.

As for this, well, funny you should mention it. I'm the first to admit I can overuse the adage "the real monsters are men," which is exactly why I wanted to try a short story flipping this trope and making sure I don't step over a "feral" line when molding my darkest of characters. However, one of the hardest world-building ideas for me to tackle is truly fearing monsters in a post-industrial style narrative. (Think Gilded Age America or Victorian London for the specific area I'm on right now.)

Yes, the 1800s is exactly when a good bit of Western Civ adopted the fear and tall tales of "Here Be Dragons," namely from their exotic colonies such as Africa, India, and Australia. But those fears fluctuated and grew outside the norm of everyday life. As you said, a Brit steps out without fear of being mauled by a bear. The possibility is still there, but it's not ingrained into our psyche over experience because of our advances in technology. Living in Texas, I've almost been mauled by a wild boar, mountain lion, or neighbor's dog, so while I may have some experience to draw from, as you said: I don't fear those horrible, larger-than-life animals when I step out into the pasture or woods because they're isolated events, and yet I want to make this fear feel "real" and palpable when a characters steps outside the Walls, even if the majority of the book dealt with the humanoid monsters inside. Food for thought and any suggestions?
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: JMack on April 03, 2015, 12:10:13 AM
As for this, well, funny you should mention it. I'm the first to admit I can overuse the adage "the real monsters are men," which is exactly why I wanted to try a short story flipping this trope and making sure I don't step over a "feral" line when molding my darkest of characters. However, one of the hardest world-building ideas for me to tackle is truly fearing monsters in a post-industrial style narrative. (Think Gilded Age America or Victorian London for the specific area I'm on right now.)

Yes, the 1800s is exactly when a good bit of Western Civ adopted the fear and tall tales of "Here Be Dragons," namely from their exotic colonies such as Africa, India, and Australia. But those fears fluctuated and grew outside the norm of everyday life. As you said, a Brit steps out without fear of being mauled by a bear. The possibility is still there, but it's not ingrained into our psyche over experience because of our advances in technology. Living in Texas, I've almost been mauled by a wild boar, mountain lion, or neighbor's dog, so while I may have some experience to draw from, as you said: I don't fear those horrible, larger-than-life animals when I step out into the pasture or woods because they're isolated events, and yet I want to make this fear feel "real" and palpable when a characters steps outside the Walls, even if the majority of the book dealt with the humanoid monsters inside. Food for thought and any suggestions?

So one thing occurred to me as I read this. There could be an interesting opportunity if a charcater feels hunted beyond the walls, and then feels that same sense of being hunted inside them. Beasts outside, men beasts inside. Parallel, comparison and contrast.

Or, turn it around the other way. After experiencing human monsters, the character is barely fazed by the outside ones.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: ScarletBea on April 03, 2015, 08:05:36 AM
So one thing occurred to me as I read this. There could be an interesting opportunity if a character feels hunted beyond the walls, and then feels that same sense of being hunted inside them. Beasts outside, men beasts inside. Parallel, comparison and contrast.

Or, turn it around the other way. After experiencing human monsters, the character is barely fazed by the outside ones.

(Just thinking out loud here)
But wouldn't it be a different kind of feeling? Almost like a physical fear for the beasts and a mental/psychological fear for the men? Oh wait, I suppose it would be the same if the men-hunters are killers...
But even if they're both out to kill you, I have this feeling the type of fear would be different - can animals be cunning in hunting? Tease you and deceive you before they attach?

I keep thinking about Shaymalan's "The village", which I watched again recently.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Raptori on April 03, 2015, 10:42:09 AM
So one thing occurred to me as I read this. There could be an interesting opportunity if a character feels hunted beyond the walls, and then feels that same sense of being hunted inside them. Beasts outside, men beasts inside. Parallel, comparison and contrast.

Or, turn it around the other way. After experiencing human monsters, the character is barely fazed by the outside ones.

(Just thinking out loud here)
But wouldn't it be a different kind of feeling? Almost like a physical fear for the beasts and a mental/psychological fear for the men? Oh wait, I suppose it would be the same if the men-hunters are killers...
But even if they're both out to kill you, I have this feeling the type of fear would be different - can animals be cunning in hunting? Tease you and deceive you before they attach?

I keep thinking about Shaymalan's "The village", which I watched again recently.

I'm pretty sure that a huge predator stalking you but staying almost completely invisible and silent would be terrifying in a psychological way, even if you never see it clearly.  :P If the human hunters are not killers, the only difference for me would be that the fear of humans would have less of an edge, because they'd be less dangerous. Humans aren't really any more intelligent than other species, so of course other animals can be cunning and trick you while hunting you...  :)
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: ScarletBea on April 03, 2015, 10:51:37 AM
hehe now you can see my experience of animals i.e. zero. or David Attenborough documentaries growing up - I thought animals just stood there and went after you. Not really hiding properly because they're so much bigger and faster anyway.

Except spiders, cockroaches and lizards. They hide in your house and scare the living hell out of you when they're found! :-[

Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Raptori on April 03, 2015, 10:56:47 AM
hehe now you can see my experience of animals i.e. zero. or David Attenborough documentaries growing up - I thought animals just stood there and went after you. Not really hiding properly because they're so much bigger and faster anyway.

Except spiders, cockroaches and lizards. They hide in your house and scare the living hell out of you when they're found! :-[
Haha I love David Attenborough documentaries, we have pretty much all of them on DVD!  ;D

They can actually be almost impossible to see until the moment they spring - they're far far more stealthy than humans because they're actually physically adapted for stealth. We're awkward, slow, and weak in comparison.  :P

Most of the big cats are perfect examples, their coats are camouflaged so they're nearly impossible to see when they're in their natural habitat. They prowl along, crouching close to the ground to make themself smaller, stopping whenever they sense you're looking in their direction until they're close enough that you cannot escape, and only then will they pounce. A lot of the time, if you spot them and stare at them before they're within range they'll just stand up and stop hunting you - for now!  :D
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on April 03, 2015, 11:45:47 AM
I am not recommending this to anyone who does worldbuilding as preparation world for a novel. But if worldbuilding is your thing and you are planning to use the long after and beyond the book you are working on, I think this setup here (http://barbaripedia.spriggans-den.com/index.php?title=Main_Page) is really neat.

So I'm about to lose a good bit of my free time perusing this. It's awesome and makes me want to start up one of my own, if only to get my ideas down and concrete. Thanks!
If you just want the functionality, dokuwiki is a thousand times easier to set up than mediawiki, which really is build all around online databases. It just doesn't look anywhere near as pretty and needs a plugin to use categories, but it does have a version that runs entirely offline or even on a usb stick.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Elfy on April 04, 2015, 12:45:41 AM


Yes, the 1800s is exactly when a good bit of Western Civ adopted the fear and tall tales of "Here Be Dragons," namely from their exotic colonies such as Africa, India, and Australia. But those fears fluctuated and grew outside the norm of everyday life. As you said, a Brit steps out without fear of being mauled by a bear. The possibility is still there, but it's not ingrained into our psyche over experience because of our advances in technology. Living in Texas, I've almost been mauled by a wild boar, mountain lion, or neighbor's dog, so while I may have some experience to draw from, as you said: I don't fear those horrible, larger-than-life animals when I step out into the pasture or woods because they're isolated events, and yet I want to make this fear feel "real" and palpable when a characters steps outside the Walls, even if the majority of the book dealt with the humanoid monsters inside. Food for thought and any suggestions?
It's a little like the fallacy that writers not from Australia seem to have that it's the most dangerous place in the world because we do have plenty of venomous snakes and spiders as well as crocodiles and sharks, but the general experience isn't that. The crocodile aside there are no apex predators in the place and the salties (the freshwater crocs aren't all that big or dangerous, they're kind of timid and will avoid human contact if at all possible) are confined to the centre and the north, they also range from Australia right up to India (the two biggest known examples, 30 and 32 feet respectively, were caught and killed in the Bay of Bengal). Most of the place is cities and suburbs just like everywhere else. If you want to find trouble you have to go looking for it.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: RussetDivinity on April 04, 2015, 05:36:57 AM
hehe now you can see my experience of animals i.e. zero. or David Attenborough documentaries growing up - I thought animals just stood there and went after you. Not really hiding properly because they're so much bigger and faster anyway.

Except spiders, cockroaches and lizards. They hide in your house and scare the living hell out of you when they're found! :-[
Haha I love David Attenborough documentaries, we have pretty much all of them on DVD!  ;D

They can actually be almost impossible to see until the moment they spring - they're far far more stealthy than humans because they're actually physically adapted for stealth. We're awkward, slow, and weak in comparison.  :P

Most of the big cats are perfect examples, their coats are camouflaged so they're nearly impossible to see when they're in their natural habitat. They prowl along, crouching close to the ground to make themself smaller, stopping whenever they sense you're looking in their direction until they're close enough that you cannot escape, and only then will they pounce. A lot of the time, if you spot them and stare at them before they're within range they'll just stand up and stop hunting you - for now!  :D

Having grown up near the Rocky Mountains (near enough that I could see them every day when I went to school, though we'd have to plan out a whole day for a hiking trip because of driving there and back), I can say that Raptori is absolutely right. Mountain lions are terrifying because they can be a few feet away from you and you won't even know; I've even seen pictures people have taken on daytrips in the mountains where the foreground is their wife and kid and in the background, if you look very carefully, you can see a mountain lion lurking, watching...

On the topic of the world-building scenario presented earlier, both of these (fear of animals -- I'll stick with big cats for now, since they're the most familiar to me -- and fear of men) could be presented as a combination of psychological and physical fear. Obviously, both could kill, but the trick is finding out what can kill you. Outside the Walls, people might be looking at every shadow, suspecting there's a mountain lion (or whatever happens to live there) but unable to tell if there really is one. Inside the Walls, you can see the men (for the most part) but you might not always be able to tell who you can trust.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Doctor_Chill on April 04, 2015, 05:51:12 AM
Quote
Or, turn it around the other way. After experiencing human monsters, the character is barely fazed by the outside ones.

This is a theme I have planned later down the line.  :P

I think the biggest problem I have now is not so much understanding what I want to create tone wise, but understanding how I want to create this tone, which can only come from writing the few scenarios or so to get a grasp on the "fear."

But yes, I think the distinction that they can both be physical or psychological fears is a problem because you need contrast. The contrast I think I'm looking for is about what @RussetDivinity (http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/index.php?action=profile;u=39931) mentioned, in that while humans are unpredictable (you can't trust them), you know that a monster out in the wilds is going to hunt you for food. I think I'm having trouble bringing forward that primal fear that, as I said, can only be wrestled by writing.

I would like to thank @Yora (http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/index.php?action=profile;u=35236) for pointing out The Last Wish to me. Or, in better words, pushing me to finally read it, from his glowing praise of the novel. While the collection largely with "don't judge a book by its cover, abnormal monsters most of all," I'd like to explore the idea of "monsters are what we make them." The distinction between humans and monsters in these short stories is really helping me a lot in developing ideas and understanding the blurred lines between the two.

More useless rambling so I apologize. :)
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on April 04, 2015, 03:24:25 PM
Yesterday I was once more thinking if I should try to read Gödel, Escher, Bach. (And concluded, no, that seems to exhausting.) And that got me thinking that for ages there have been big collections of educational texts, ranging from philosophical to theological and the entire range between them. And that had me wondering if it might be worth to have such major texts exist in the background material for a fantasy setting. You would not need to have any actual text for them or create any information on who wrote them in what place in what situation and how big they are and what their internal organization is. But simply a name for each body of teaching and a general outline for one philosophical argument or point of view it presents for the readers.
Within the story, you can then simply have characters mention those texts and perhaps recite some lines which you can just make up at the moment. Stuff like "Confuzius says..." or the Ferengi Rules of Aquisition.

Of course you can always make things up as you go and invent new philosophers and text on the fly, but I think spending an hour or two on considering what the four or five most important and well known educational texts are and what they deal with and which values they promote could possibly be quite valuable when creating a larger work in which questions of values and ideals come up on a somewhat regular basis. For a simple Heroes Journey plot I don't see much use for it, but for something like one of those multi-character, multiple connected plotline epics or serials, I think it might really add some interesting depth and texture to the whole thing.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Raptori on April 04, 2015, 03:39:18 PM
Yesterday I was once more thinking if I should try to read Gödel, Escher, Bach. (And concluded, no, that seems to exhausting.) And that got me thinking that for ages there have been big collections of educational texts, ranging from philosophical to theological and the entire range between them. And that had me wondering if it might be worth to have such major texts exist in the background material for a fantasy setting. You would not need to have any actual text for them or create any information on who wrote them in what place in what situation and how big they are and what their internal organization is. But simply a name for each body of teaching and a general outline for one philosophical argument or point of view it presents for the readers.
Within the story, you can then simply have characters mention those texts and perhaps recite some lines which you can just make up at the moment. Stuff like "Confuzius says..." or the Ferengi Rules of Aquisition.

Of course you can always make things up as you go and invent new philosophers and text on the fly, but I think spending an hour or two on considering what the four or five most important and well known educational texts are and what they deal with and which values they promote could possibly be quite valuable when creating a larger work in which questions of values and ideals come up on a somewhat regular basis. For a simple Heroes Journey plot I don't see much use for it, but for something like one of those multi-character, multiple connected plotline epics or serials, I think it might really add some interesting depth and texture to the whole thing.
Definitely agree, it adds a nice bit of detail to the history in a way that is still relevant to the stories that you tell because those philosophies can and will influence the characters' way of thinking. :)
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Nyki Blatchley on April 04, 2015, 05:09:07 PM
Yesterday I was once more thinking if I should try to read Gödel, Escher, Bach. (And concluded, no, that seems to exhausting.) And that got me thinking that for ages there have been big collections of educational texts, ranging from philosophical to theological and the entire range between them. And that had me wondering if it might be worth to have such major texts exist in the background material for a fantasy setting. You would not need to have any actual text for them or create any information on who wrote them in what place in what situation and how big they are and what their internal organization is. But simply a name for each body of teaching and a general outline for one philosophical argument or point of view it presents for the readers.
Within the story, you can then simply have characters mention those texts and perhaps recite some lines which you can just make up at the moment. Stuff like "Confuzius says..." or the Ferengi Rules of Aquisition.

Of course you can always make things up as you go and invent new philosophers and text on the fly, but I think spending an hour or two on considering what the four or five most important and well known educational texts are and what they deal with and which values they promote could possibly be quite valuable when creating a larger work in which questions of values and ideals come up on a somewhat regular basis. For a simple Heroes Journey plot I don't see much use for it, but for something like one of those multi-character, multiple connected plotline epics or serials, I think it might really add some interesting depth and texture to the whole thing.
In one abandoned novel I wrote many years ago, I began each section with a quote from the philosophical master one of the characters follows. I do intend to revisit the character eventually, so I might revive that idea.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: JMack on April 04, 2015, 05:57:10 PM
I think I've mentioned before the theory that Western culture is strongly influenced by wheat agriculture, which can be done by a family; and that Eastern culture is strongly influenced by rice agriculture, which takes a village. The theory says that wheat leads to individualism and rice leads to collectivism. (Not sure where potatoes, corn, yams, olives, etc. come into this, but it's an interesting idea anyway.) If there is some logic to this, then in world-building, we would want to connect philosophy to the basic economic structure of the culture, either as it is now or as it has been inherited.

So, Confuzius = structure and obedience = rice; Ferengi Rules of Acquisition = er... hmmm.
 
;D
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on April 04, 2015, 06:41:31 PM
I believe I somewhere read recently that potatoes are the crops for anarchists, because it takes lots of people a lot of work to destroy a potato field, while wheat fields can pretty easily burned down to subjugate the population. Potato farmers can simply flee into the forest and wait until the army has passed on and they won't be missing the next harvest.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: JMack on April 04, 2015, 06:50:07 PM
I believe I somewhere read recently that potatoes are the crops for anarchists, because it takes lots of people a lot of work to destroy a potato field, while wheat fields can pretty easily burned down to subjugate the population. Potato farmers can simply flee into the forest and wait until the army has passed on and they won't be missing the next harvest.
ROFL
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: JMack on April 04, 2015, 06:52:44 PM
Speaking of anarchists and revolution...

We should all bone up a bit on peasant revolts, etc.
I think folks often have the sense that serfs took it all lying down.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on April 04, 2015, 07:13:59 PM
Oh yes. When you look at 3000 years of Chinese history, the biggest common theme that has the most impact on things is peasant revolts. The most recent of which would be the Communist Party of China.
Occasionally the empire would fracture into multiple regions fighting each other for dominance, but a great deal of all war in Chinese history was peasant revolts.

Another great thing about potatoes is that it grows in areas where almost nothing else grows. Which is wonderful for people trying to avoid being part of an empire as they can move into areas into which the wheat and rice empires won't follow them.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on April 13, 2015, 11:43:17 AM
I think I am about to do what I always tell people not to do: Using a different word for elves.

I am normally a strong proponent of calling the things as they are. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then call it a duck. Because it is a duck.

However, the main reason I am really considering to make up a new name is that no people and places in the world have names in English. Animals, plants, and tools do, but not people or places. Nobody in the world speaks English and even though I write in English, I don't translate names. And even though the elven language is based on Germanic languages, in which the word for elf is "elf", it just doesn't seem to fit to call them that. The elves have a word for themselves, and since I am doing it with all the other people, I think I should do it with the elves too.

Thoughts?
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: JMack on April 13, 2015, 11:52:11 AM
Is there a related German word that you could use and which would both sound right and be separate from elf at the same time? And if there's nothing that sounds unique enough, you could just twist it some.  I took 5 years of Grrman but don't speak more than the numbers, alphabet and a now muddled version of the definite and indefinite articles tables, since no help with suggestions. But something along te lines of using kobold instead of goblin.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on April 13, 2015, 12:14:13 PM
Creating a new name for them is the easy part. The word for the lizardmen is made up of chopped pieces for the Malay words "lizard" and "man".
I've been doing pretty good (http://barbaripedia.spriggans-den.com/index.php?title=Special%3AAllPages&from=&to=&namespace=0&hideredirects=1), with only ten items on my list still needing a name. I hope I get those finished today.

It's just that I usually really dislike when people try to pass of some old generic thing as something new and original. Or even worse, do what those pricks from Talislanta do and make "No elves!" your brand slogan while still having 10 races of humanoids who are trying to out-elf Tolkiens elves.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Lady Ty on April 13, 2015, 12:20:42 PM
The name Forgotten Realms used for the dark elves like Drizzt Do'urden was drow. It was used as both singular and plural as far as I can remember and also as the race name - The Drow.  I always thought that was strongly evocative of what it represented. I have no idea where it originated or if R A Salvatore just made it up, but if your elves are evilly inclined it may appeal to you.

Edit  our posts crossed, didn't realise you were making up names rather than looking for alternatives. Still love the name of Drizzt Do'urden and the use of drow, it was so unelf-like at the time when they were all meant to be tall, elegant and beautiful. :D
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Henry Dale on April 13, 2015, 12:28:12 PM
Or you can use another germanic language (old dutch) and use the word Alverman, which goes back to mean elf-man in the germanic relation between elves and dwarves.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on April 13, 2015, 12:35:31 PM
The name Forgotten Realms used for the dark elves like Drizzt Do'urden was drow. It was used as both singular and plural as far as I can remember and also as the race name - The Drow.  I always thought that was strongly evocative of what it represented. I have no idea where it originated or if R A Salvatore just made it up, but if your elves are evilly inclined it may appeal to you.

Edit  our posts crossed, didn't realise you were making up names rather than looking for alternatives. Still love the name of Drizzt Do'urden and the use of drow, it was so unelf-like at the time when they were all meant to be tall, elegant and beautiful. :D
Drow goes back to an older Dungeons & Dragons world. Not sure where the name came from, though.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Elfy on April 14, 2015, 12:45:40 AM
The name Forgotten Realms used for the dark elves like Drizzt Do'urden was drow. It was used as both singular and plural as far as I can remember and also as the race name - The Drow.  I always thought that was strongly evocative of what it represented. I have no idea where it originated or if R A Salvatore just made it up, but if your elves are evilly inclined it may appeal to you.

Edit  our posts crossed, didn't realise you were making up names rather than looking for alternatives. Still love the name of Drizzt Do'urden and the use of drow, it was so unelf-like at the time when they were all meant to be tall, elegant and beautiful. :D
Drow goes back to an older Dungeons & Dragons world. Not sure where the name came from, though.
Drow, also spelled as Trow, is from Shetlandic and Orkney folklore. D&D appropriated it for their own purposes. The name loosely translates as troll, but it seemed to apply to a variety of dark sprites. There's also the svartalfar from Norse mythology, they are dark elves.  They appear in Thor (both comics and the 2nd film), the Dresden Files and Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid series. Elizabeth Boyer also used them in her 80's fantasy series based on Norse mythology. Tolkien took a lot of what he did from Norse mythology and that's why he used the anglicised elf, as opposed to the nordic alf or alfar.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Skip on April 14, 2015, 01:59:26 AM
@Yora (http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/index.php?action=profile;u=35236), at least give Goedel, Escher, Bach a try. It's an extraordinary work unlike anything I've ever read. I spent weeks trying to work the MU puzzle!
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on April 14, 2015, 09:43:16 AM
It's one of those real rare magical tomes, that expand your mind beyond time and space.  ;D
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on May 31, 2015, 05:17:00 PM
I found a big flaw in my world that just doesn't fit with the overall themes and atmosphere and needs to go. I am dumping the silk road that brings exotic goods from distant lands in the West and instead nobody knows what lies on the other side of the giant forests, or if they go on forever until they reach the sea. But that raises the question what things people are actually trading between communities? Bronze is a valuable material that is made only in a few places and the neighbors of the bronze makers could trade for it with food they have grown. But what about everyone else? What can they give to others to get their bronze? If you trade surplus food to get bronze, you certainly won't give the bronze to someone else and get food again.
What did people trade with that everyone wanted but could not be made in every village?
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Francis Knight on May 31, 2015, 05:22:22 PM
Salt? There was a huge trade in salt, and salt roads, and wars over it and taxes and....yeah, people traded salt a lot.

Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on May 31, 2015, 05:56:39 PM
What for, exactly? I know when you sweat and drink a lot, you can get a salt deficiency in your blood which can harm cells. So that desert people need additional salt to not die an unpleasant death seems obvious. But I don't think that would be much of a problem in temperate climes or areas where people can eat a lot of fruits (which are mostly water with plenty of minerals). Why would they need to trade for salt in larger quantities than as a spice?
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: ScarletBea on May 31, 2015, 05:57:50 PM
In a world without refrigeration, salt is used to preserve food, especially meat and fish.
So yes, it was key.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: JMack on May 31, 2015, 06:07:45 PM
see Salt: A World History by Kurlansky on Amazon (or wherever). A book I've often said I'd like to read, but haven't.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on May 31, 2015, 06:28:49 PM
Oh yeah, that sounds indeed like super useful stuff people would buy in large quantities. Turns out salt can be found in the Himalayas, not just in coastal plains. So the people from the plains who used to bring spices and now are going to live the hills could instead bring salt which they mine at their homes. How convenient for me.

Somone on another forum gave me this wonderful list of what things people would trade for and most of which could be produced even by simple villagers if they live in the right place: gold, silver, amber, other gems, furs, honey, olive oil, wine, pottery, glass, feathers, books or their materials, wax, salt, leather, manufactured goods, clay, flint, ochre, dyes, rare animals, drugs (pipeweed), preserved foods (fermented fish sauce, dried meat), good horses. That's so much stuff that it's probably mostly irrelevant how any given village trades for stuff. Pretty much everyone would have a few things other people want to buy.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: ClintACK on May 31, 2015, 06:37:19 PM
I believe I somewhere read recently that potatoes are the crops for anarchists, because it takes lots of people a lot of work to destroy a potato field, while wheat fields can pretty easily burned down to subjugate the population. Potato farmers can simply flee into the forest and wait until the army has passed on and they won't be missing the next harvest.

I heard this was why the Irish liked them so much, back before the famine.  They could "harvest" them one meal at a time, and leave the rest safely in the ground rather than in an easily pillaged barn or silo.

I *think* I got this from Botany of Desire, which is a really good read. 
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on May 31, 2015, 07:05:00 PM
Oh, that's also neat. I didn't know you could do that.  :D
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: donalddallan on July 02, 2015, 03:58:53 PM
Yora,

That was a great post. I've often wondered how everyone else would deal with world creation.

I found while writing my first novel, Duilleog, that in order for me to truly immerse my characters in the world and be certain that I didn't introduce "breaking the fourth wall" type events that I required a complete world in the background.

I did this piecemeal.  I would be writing and discover that I simply couldn't have the character pay for something with a coin that would change in future writings. I needed to create a currency and a weight and measures for coin.

Later I realised that I even needed a full calendar, holidays, words for days, months, years, etc. Using words like Monday or August would be cheating and base the world in this one and place it sometime after the Romans. So I had to borrow from something more archaic if this was to remain a new world. So I borrowed from celtic lore (a little bit).

I drew maps. Then realised I had to know how long it would take to walk a mile. Ride a horse for a mile at a canter, and a walk, and a gallop. And how long could a horse gallop before thundering in? Goodness, the world gets so complicated. But I couldn't have my characters suddenly traverse miles of terrain in a flash and then take weeks to cross a river.  I was always measuring this when I read Tolkien and other journey tails (Shannara, etc.).

All this to say that I think it is vitally important that you have consistency in your world. For that to happen I believe you need to qualify and quantify all the little aspects. Just to keep it straight. Because if you suddenly break your own world rules the reader will notice. The sense of wonder will pop like a soap bubble. And your reader will toss your book aside and that is criminal.

Can't let that happen. Ever. So build a world and immerse yourself in it.

Disclaimer: Folks, I'm a noob but I believe this to be honest and truthful opinion. Cheers.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on September 22, 2015, 05:09:06 PM
After a considerable break I am back to working on my writing stuff again. And I've now stepped back entirely from an encyclopedic approach and think of it much more in context of storytelling. I used to do worldbuilding for roleplaying games for over 10 years and it made some sense there. And perhaps for epic fantasy where the fate of the world will be decided by politics. But for heroic pulp adventures the relevance of worldbuilding seems to be focused mostly on small scale stuff that adds local color.

So I've been thinking for a while about what events in history had a big impact on the common people and still affect them in the present. A big coup in the palace might only be two nights where people stays at home with their doors locked until things got back to normal. Big politics, but insignificant to normal people.
Most recently, just a few years back, a group of warrior monks who have been working as very highly paid mercenaries for decades, have started to go from demanding hefty tribute from the people near their fortresses to outright raiding other towns when work is low. They completely burned down a whole city and don't seem to be very much bothered by it. Which has people greatly worried that this might become a regular thing and much worse than ordinary bandits or pirates.
Close to a century ago there had been a great plague that affected several of the central countries. Many villages were abandoned and fell into ruin, and many elves still remember those years. Every decade or so there's some new small outbreak somewhere and every rumor of plague or just signs of suspicious deaths quickly get people in a panic.
More further back, there was a great volcanic eruption in a range of mountain near many major port cities, which is well known for being full of holes that lead into the Underworld. Not only did the ash lead to two cold and dry years after the eruption, many of the people who got sick from hunger and poisonous dust turned inti ghouls. And in the mountains lots of demons came up from the Underworld, some of them still roaming around after all those centuries. Since then, everyone knows that the mountains are haunted and the dangers of the many volcanic vents that steam and bubble from the ground. And any minor earthquake gets seen as an omen that another major disaster is soon to come.

Have you thought of any big events that are in the public conscious of your worlds and that affect peoples superstitions and common expressions?
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: JMack on September 23, 2015, 12:41:15 AM
I have a character called The Night Queen. She was an empress 500ish years before, whose career had parallels to Napoleon. It's believed she survived and wanders the lands taking bad children away. Parents fthreaten their children with "Behave or the Night Queen will get you." There is a children's jump rope chant that goes:

"My brother sold your brother to the Night Queen
My brother sold your brother to the Night Queen
Brother, Sister, Mother, Mister
My brother sold your brother to the Night Queen."

Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: ArhiX on September 23, 2015, 03:42:36 AM
Hi there! I reallly apriciate your posts about worldbuilding in many of the threads. Helpfull and very insightfull. It really helped me a lot, when I was just another lurker and not registrated here - at the forums.

And here, after 6 (because I'm very bad with writing anything longer than my own name) or more hours of fighting with this language i actually managed to write what I wanted. So here it comes. I'm here with a W.I.P world which is worked on by me and my friend, who was an actual creator of it, but we develop it together now.

So everything started 2000 years ago. Actually not. It was 3 years ago when I saw one of my friends, with which I was never talking to, holding a self-made map. He seemed to be truly shocked when I have asked him about it and told him I'm interested in such things. He actually took me for a boring, games or drug addict - but it was 'just' a severe depression I was undergoing at the time. I guess everyone can be mistaken. Yes? I was trying to write some short stories before, but because all of them were taking place here - on Earth - they always seemed too boring for me. And so my friend asked if I am interested in helping him to further develop the world, which he wanted to use as a base for his RPG.

At the time, his world was really early in development. He had some origin myth, some backstory and general idea of what is happening "now". Two sides of seemingly never-ending relious conflict, undermined by lengthy war. Religious and financial problems of both sides and sooner-or-later third-party confrontation. Religious zealots popping out of nowhere, vicious organisation trying to change world's order and gods who are more and more angry. An empire that starts to shake. Those were my friend's basic ideas. At least they were basic when I joined.
Then I managed to add some of my work, that was creating even more backstory, myths, and influences. Secrets lurking in depths of history. A plague. Creatures. Magic system. Lots of characters to streanghten up the conflict.
It started to develop so well, he decided to give it a try in some RPG sessions. It was a failure. But a sweet one, as it gave us even more world ideas to play with. This was also the time when I realised I would like to actually write down the story of this world, and started to actually learn how to do storytelling and worldbuilding. And so only a year passed from the time when I actually started to work more over the world, as my friend decide to move to a different project. During the time I was alone with my ideas, I managed to re-done magic system
to one that is inspired by actual scientific theories, add a monstrous race (I tried to justify their ability to fly and move on two legs for about 6 months) which I want to become "iconic" for this world. I've even drew planet's orbit and divided year into months. I was sane enough not to name them. Yet. One can say that worldbuilding like that is a big waste of time (it propably is) but every of this things were important for this world.
And so - here I am now. Sitting on few kilos of paper with scraps of world info, poems, art and ever deepening psychosis over this fictional world. I even considered a character or even an event that will break a 4th wall. Still considering it a good idea (but I know it is not).

So for now, The East Continent is dark and gritty - just as I like. You could divide it's history into five parts that are corresponding to "eras" of the world.
"Fabled" - times where only gods were existing, and when life was created.
"Mythical" - when planet was inhabitet by vicious and horrific creatures. Or so it is believed.
"Ancient" - that covers up origins and fall of first truely human civilisation.
"Pre - war" - when new empire was born, and when it started to divide, and when current war started.
"War ages" - times from the beginning of faith-wars to the 'present day' when the story actually begins. World building is rather extensive. The empire is consisted out of 24 provinces. Every of them has at least 2 big cities and a ruler. And The Empire is only about 1/4 of a size of continent so there's much more. And by more, I mean more to burn, kill and slaughter. Have I mentioned purging the unclean and heretics? Also there is no convenient method of fast healing in this world. Poor main characters, really.

Story was always the most important as world acts like one of them. There were some exceptions - yes, but it was because we knew how the world was like at the beginning and how it is going to look like, and sometimes the story had to change in order to fit it. Becauses the story begins in the middle of it, the creation myth must be served... differently. I also think it is generally a bad idea to drop something like this without a reason in a very beginning. It's like going to ice-cream-shop, and having to eat a soup before they are going to sell you an ice-cream...

About non-human (or maybe not-humanoid) protagonists. It bothered me too... Usually if we are going to meet something that is not human-like - it's going to be a dragon, as even demons are usually just a men in funny outfits. That's why some of my biggest characters are 100% unhuman, and can only be considered about 50% dragons. And that's why I have spent half a year creating them to be a realistic race. They were the only thing that my friend considered "good" from the very beginning and actually really liked them. And by any mean - they are not small talking creatures. I hope my drawing skills will improve enough to share a drawing soon.

About big events in public conscious - East Continent has one really big (and many smaller ones), when half of the continent was turned into ashes and cinder by gods, when the dark plague started to overcome people's minds, and 1st Empire was destroyed. This is why people are now fighting religious wars: to never let that happen again, as a great desert and mountains literally ripped apart are a reminder, that it's generaly not the best idea to riot against gods. The other one is the fall of 2nd Empire, when it was shattered in two by slaves' uprising. Now every single war is almost directly related to it.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on December 15, 2015, 11:07:40 AM
I saw this (http://www.malindalo.com/2012/10/five-foundations-of-world-building/) interesting article on worldbuilding. And the first three items are an approach to starting the process that I had not really thought about before.

I often see people starting with the creation story, the gods, and a list of all the major kingdoms, but starting with the Rules first sounds like it really makes a lot of sense. And how Power in the world works is something I've never really seen discussed in reagard to worldbuilding.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Lanko on December 15, 2015, 02:40:04 PM
I'm making everything as I go with the story, and it's working well so far. Of course, I'm gonna have to wrap up some things later, specially when revising.
But I managed to create some unusual things on the go that I wouldn't have thought of if I had planned beforehand in cold blood.

Curiously, I got 4 of the 5 aspects of that link. I created a specific ritual for burials (that will influence a big plot twist later), a ritual for coming of age for warriors and hunters and a religious ritual. It all came on the spot, and better, through a character, so I could also show the ritual and develop a character when they input their thoughts on it.
Also, I like to play with things like "is/was this magic or not?" like Bernard Cornwell does so well.

Power came naturally as well, probably helped that one of the characters is the chieftain of the tribe and the other is her daughter, and also can show how it affects their relationship. Also, what she learns observing her mother will be important later.
The other character is a boy coming of age and becoming a warrior. The story is more because of his father's pressure and explore that side, but indirectly, it shows how much influence and power the military have on this society. I didn't think of that until writing this here!

The place. Hm, I made a place where a forest is totally frozen, trees made of ice and everything, but nobody goes there. But from what I read on the article, it seems more how much vocabulary the author have and the simile/metaphors he/she is able to create. It seemed more related to the quality of the prose.
I had a few good moments describing places like that, but mostly it's tedious and not original, but you really can stare at your screen for hours at this kind of thing, so I just "will push the story, will rework later".

Food. Food is a source on conflict in the region, because it's short. Every tribe wants the control of a lake (or valley, if I change it later) in the center of the region, because they believe it's "magically blessed", because food there grows much faster. Others say it's just more fertile. So I can play again with "is it magic or not".
But whoever holds it gains more power, as their tribe grows and less people die of famine in the winter. More people = more warriors as well. So food also has an aspect of power, as it helps further develop it. Hmm, now that I think about it, there could be a religious one as well.
Of course, in other nations this changes completely.

And the missing topic. Magic. I'm still not sure if I will use it. I want to, but despite writing tons, still haven't figured it out anything.
I don't want people who can use it simply because they were born with the "ability". But I also don't want everyone to be able to learn it. Quite a bit of a challenge there.
I thought of using runes, magic gems that could be attached to objects and even to yourself, etc, but so far nothing.

Interesting, writing all this here made me see things I hadn't so far, like the interconnection between food/power/rituals. Could explore it better later.

Maybe I can solve my problem with magic with magical food  ::)
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on December 15, 2015, 03:10:44 PM
Also, I like to play with things like "is/was this magic or not?" like Bernard Cornwell does so well.
Oh yes, that's so important. Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't trying to get you. And just because monsters and magic are real doesn't mean that you can always believe what people thought they have seen.
Just a while back a videogame was announced about a Celtic warrior woman who has severe scizophrenia and believes her halucinations are spirits talking to her. Why would you describe your work that way?! So much potential and all of it thrown away in the very first announcements of the project.
A great thing about spirits and magic is that they are very powerful when it comes to deception and illusions. That's what makes magic different from science. Fantasy is about what's taking place in the mind and the heart, not about what is meterial present.

And the missing topic. Magic. I'm still not sure if I will use it. I want to, but despite writing tons, still haven't figured it out anything.
I don't want people who can use it simply because they were born with the "ability". But I also don't want everyone be able to learn it. Quite a bit of a challenge there.
What I did is to make magic just like any other complicated skill, like juggling or math. Everyone has anything that is needed to do it, but very few have what it takes to be really good at it. Everyone can calculate, but not everyone can grasp logarithms or integrals. I could learn to understand it, but it would take maybe years to really get used to it while others grasp it in just one hour. I have few problems with the basics of quantum mechanics and relativity and am comfortable with thinking in multidimensional spaces and warped time, but nobody ever was able to make me understand what a logarithm is. With limited lifetime and education being expensive, magic training is simply reserved for people who show to have a talent for it. The teachers won't waste their time with students who learn ten times slower than all the others. If you have a lot of time and money, you can get anyone to learn at least some basic magic, but even then most of them will never be great at it.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Lanko on December 15, 2015, 08:51:43 PM
I still think that would end up resulting in an enormous amount of mages and magic would end up too common. Despite the difficulties that would cause only a few to truly master magic, there would be a ton of medium and mediocre mages.

Of course, that all depends on the kind of story, setting. I like that in whole Middle-Earth that are only two wizards (or at least the others don't appear), despite having many magical items and beings.
Even in Chronicles of Arthur, there are at most 5 people in the whole Britain islands that can "use" magic.

I loved the approach Dragon Age:Origins took with the Grey Wardens. You can get 5 people to join and all of them may die in the Joining ritual. Although that's a bit too much on luck for my taste.
But I really enjoyed the risk of death to be able to obtain something that the common inhabitants don't have.
The Circle of Magi was also another good approach, with the Harrowing ritual when you either succeed in facing a demon in the Fade or is sentenced to Tranquility. The possession is also good, with too much use , or careless use, of magic.

I also like to use the X-Men for a good base. Not the "unique born power", but the fact that people fear them.
I have a hard time believing people that can conjure blizzards and fireballs would simply walk around. Or worse, people who could influence the minds of others. Wouldn't the people be afraid of something like that? Wouldn't the king, advisors and other important powerful people seek to do something about that?
It's strange when I read/play books and games that have lands flooding with necromancers and demon worshipers at the same time the kingdom has an stationary army with dozens of thousands.

I actually struggle to believe that old people, like Gandalf/Dumbledore keeps getting more magical power as they get older, while their bodies, energy and strength weakens more and more. Where do their magic get energy to summon a lightning bolt inside a cavern?
But I guess it can be also some kind of symbolism, with old age representing wisdom of the world, the nature of people and such, of things that the young cannot yet comprehend.

I also like the approach of the Grey Wardens, when at the end of their lives, they get tainted by their power and starts decaying more and more, to the point of a lot of pain, suffering and even madness.
I think that's how these old wizards should end as well, unless he manages to do something extraordinary. Weak, suffering from after effects, mana/magic/whatever resource used consuming them slowly as they age and get weaker.

So I guess my approach to use magic would have some life or death situation. Someone who passes it gains a lot of prestige, recognition, etc, even a lot of respect for service to the kingdom or their region, considering that kingdoms could do a "magical arms race". Even then, you can still die during training, fail, etc.
But also everyone knows it has it's drawback, as you are stronger while young/maturing, but magic ends up  backlashing painfully at old age.
So that could turn off a lot of people, even very ambitious ones, who wouldn't like the risk of dieing, much less suffering to death later.

Another approach would be magical items. This means probably anyone could use them, unless something specifically, like some kind of "code" or "digital impression".
I was thinking of using runes, but now that I think about it, magical items could be constructed using a diverse array of materials, something like engineering an electronic device.

That means pretty much anyone could learn how to forge them, but the materials could be so rare, or the "magical plans" complex, requiring expensive equipment as well, that only kings/rich or holy orders would be able to afford, and in very small quantities for limited people.
And nothing like the "ultimate sword of world doom" that kills thousands in a blast or a swing.
I guess that's how LoTR did with Frodo's armor, the glowing sword, and some other items.

Hm, it was really nice actually discussing and writing this down. It was on my head, but a lot of other points appeared while writing it.
And writing it down actually gave me some other ideas as well  :)


 
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on December 15, 2015, 09:09:12 PM
In my world the ability to use magic is greatly affected by the ability to see into the spiritworld. One comes automatically with the other. And being able to perceive multiple worlds at once that work in very different ways does significantly change how a person thinks. At best they become slightly excentric while they still have the discipline to behave and talk like normal people, but at worst they are completely mad by everyone else's standards. Over time and with experience they become less and less human.
A village shaman may be highly respected out of traditions, but most people wouldn't even want to become like them, regardless of what power they might gain.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on December 18, 2015, 01:23:47 PM
I found this wonderful website (http://synapsida.blogspot.com) about lesser known mammals and their evolution.

So much material for when you want to create your own made up animals.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on February 25, 2016, 01:56:16 PM
Since I am perpetually struggling to come up with good tales to tell about the world I am working on, I am constantly trying to refine it to make it a more fertile ground for adventures.
I just discarded my latest map again (for the umpteenth time), and while trying to arrange things in a new way, I made the discovery that with each revision I almost never add any new elements to the world. What I am doing each time is cutting more and more elements away that I am realizing are redundant. My list of monsters dropped from about 120 to under 50 and my 20 different cultures are now down to 10 after a lot of merging and discarding. And instead of two dimensions of weird horror creatures there is now only one.

And I have to say each time I am more happy with the world than I had been before. When I give advice to people asking for beginner's tips on starting with worldbuilding, my first point is always to have a clear theme and focus and the second point is to decide which cool ideas are really useful to realize that focus.
Have you also made the experience that your settings shrink over time as you refine them rather than grow?
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: night_wrtr on February 25, 2016, 02:19:19 PM
Yeah, Yora. I've noticed that goes with all the things I have written down and created, like various races and beasts, history and mystical things that are all part of that iceburg below the water's surface. The good thing after revising again and again, that I have combined a lot of things I liked from those others parts of the world and included them in with the things that will actually show in the book. It has made my cultures and setting more solid that way.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on February 25, 2016, 02:44:53 PM
After all, that's the literal meaning of refining. Successively removing all impurities until you're left with only the pure substance you're after.  :D
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on April 01, 2016, 09:42:49 PM
I was just replying to a comment on yesterdays article on worldbuilding by Sam Sykes, which had me having a bit of a revelation:

Tolkien did not spend decades worldbuilding in preparation for two novels.

What he did was writing drafts for stories that he never quite finished putting into a form that was suitable for publication. Pretty much all the "worldbuilding" for Middle-Earth is past events and ancient heroes. Events and heroes who were at the center of his previous unreleased stories. When you read the Silmarilion, there is actually very little worldbuilding in the form of cultures, economy, or politics to be found. It's all plot, with one segment of creation myth.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: ArhiX on April 01, 2016, 10:44:06 PM
I was just replying to a comment on yesterdays article on worldbuilding by Sam Sykes, which had me having a bit of a revelation:

Tolkien did not spend decades worldbuilding in preparation for two novels.

What he did was writing drafts for stories that he never quite finished putting into a form that was suitable for publication. Pretty much all the "worldbuilding" for Middle-Earth is past events and ancient heroes. Events and heroes who were at the center of his previous unreleased stories. When you read the Silmarilion, there is actually very little worldbuilding in the form of cultures, economy, or politics to be found. It's all plot, with one segment of creation myth.

@Yora (http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/index.php?action=profile;u=35236)

I just had this moment of enlightment now... Like really...

This is like... one of the most insightful things I have heard actually. I feel, like my last 5 years of hard work was a very bad joke. It's like... For nothing. Wasted time.  :-X How could I be so blind - that the best parts of my world are character-driven. Not researched or theory-crafted. Events and Heroes.

I would kiss you if I could.

And... that's basically how the worldbuilding should be done. Especially, when someone wants to write.
I mean - building religions, trade routes etc. might be fun. But why do it in a 1st place? Just for the sake of worldbuilding? What do we know from our history? Events and heroes. Everything else is just a background actually...
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Yora on April 02, 2016, 11:03:08 AM
Unless it's done entirely for its own sake, worldbuilding is a tool. The kind of worldbuilding you need depends primarily on the kind of stories you want to set in it. For my own setting, my worldbuilding improved greatly once I realized that I don't need historic events and characters at all. My stories require knowing a lot about the way of life of the various peoples and the ecology of the forests, because they deal with common people interacting with their environment. Superstitions, tabus, and the practices of spirit worship and sacrifices aren't decorative elements but the primary subject matter.
In stories about emperors plotting in their war rooms such details could easily be completely ignored. But what use do I have for background information about dynasties and past wars?
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: ArhiX on April 02, 2016, 02:24:06 PM
Yes - it really depends on the world and the stories you want to set inside it. My stories were always - big events happen/mighty heroes die. Making the world, and then putting it inside is a long way. One can just create the stories first, and let the world grow on them.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: Nora on March 18, 2018, 04:13:25 PM
Unearhting my own old post!

This is a bit related to a personal experience, as I've made stays myself (what a trip!), and worn them, in order for them to fit under the regency dress I was sewing (I know!!). However, with all my intent and learning about sewing 19th century style underwear, I was not aware of how pockets worked for example!
This video is really good, it details how working women dressed, from waking up to being ready to go out. Simple, and still managed to teach me something :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUmO7rBMdoU


I mean, it's one thing to know the name of the garments and their general outlook, but another to notice for example that there isn't a single button in her entire outfit!
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: JMack on March 26, 2018, 12:07:07 AM
Awesome video, @Nora.
Title: Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
Post by: J.R. Darewood on April 05, 2018, 03:53:26 AM
Unearhting my own old post!

This is a bit related to a personal experience, as I've made stays myself (what a trip!), and worn them, in order for them to fit under the regency dress I was sewing (I know!!). However, with all my intent and learning about sewing 19th century style underwear, I was not aware of how pockets worked for example!
This video is really good, it details how working women dressed, from waking up to being ready to go out. Simple, and still managed to teach me something :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUmO7rBMdoU


I mean, it's one thing to know the name of the garments and their general outlook, but another to notice for example that there isn't a single button in her entire outfit!

Wow those are some serious layers.