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Author Topic: Experiences with worldbuilding  (Read 23597 times)

Offline Yora

Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
« Reply #75 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.
« Last Edit: March 12, 2015, 03:59:44 PM by Yora »
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Offline Raptori

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Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
« Reply #76 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. :)
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Offline JMack

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Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
« Reply #77 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 I want to read your story about the lizardman and the pirates. You know what to do...  ;D ;)
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Offline Yora

Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
« Reply #78 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.

Offline Raptori

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Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
« Reply #79 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  :-[
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Offline Yora

Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
« Reply #80 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.
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Offline Raptori

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Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
« Reply #81 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 :)
I wish the world was flat like the old days, then I could travel just by folding a map.

Offline Yora

Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
« Reply #82 on: March 20, 2015, 10:24:24 AM »
I know, but it was still a good question relevant to the topic.
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Offline Raptori

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Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
« Reply #83 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 :)
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Offline Henry Dale

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Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
« Reply #84 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 "

Offline Yora

Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
« Reply #85 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.

So my new and improved note is "Lizardmen who got lost in the underworld and mutated into primitive feral brutes more beast than men".
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Offline Yora

Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
« Reply #86 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;) 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.

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

Offline JMack

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Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
« Reply #87 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.
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Offline Yora

Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
« Reply #88 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.
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Offline Henry Dale

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Re: Experiences with worldbuilding
« Reply #89 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.