Fantasy Faction

Fantasy Faction Writers => Writers' Corner => Topic started by: Yora on September 24, 2017, 12:14:13 PM

Title: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: Yora on September 24, 2017, 12:14:13 PM
I just came across a piece of advice that fantasy worlds should have as much detail as possible. Which I do not agree with.  There is only so much information you can communicate to an audience and I find much more use in focusing on a few details that become highly characteristic for the world and distinguish it from others. Tolkien had his languages and Martin has his coats of arms, which are often praised as great craftsmanship, but I would never consider dealing with those in my world. Which got me wondering what kind of details other peoples are creating to give characte to the worlds of their stories. What stuff do you create that you think will be useful to bring the world alive on the page?

I just created six herbal druugs that are commonly used for various purposes. It's a plant dominated world with a mystically inclined population, so I'm quite facinated by adding some "alchemical warfare".  :D

I also made a short list of standard substances to bind and harm spirits. (The usual, mostly: Iron, salt, jade, obsidian.)
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: The Gem Cutter on September 24, 2017, 03:55:32 PM
It's a subtle element of detail that I hope, as you say, will distinguish my world from others, but I use architecture: bridges, high walls, aqueducts, tunnels, pillars and columns, lintels and arches, etc. Coming from a rural region devoid of real architecture, my MC loves architecture and notices it, and I use it to convey nuances that might or might not be picked up by readers.
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: Yora on September 24, 2017, 04:31:34 PM
I created six architectural styles for ruins from ancient civilizations. Not sure how many ruins I would have to write about before readers could start recognizing patterns, but I think even if I use a style only once it will pay off. Aside from the more mundane stone block constructions there are also spires shaped from cooled lava, towers made from interwoven trees, and ruins made from thick volcanic glass.
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: Justan Henner on September 24, 2017, 04:50:51 PM
It's a subtle element of detail that I hope, as you say, will distinguish my world from others, but I use architecture: bridges, high walls, aqueducts, tunnels, pillars and columns, lintels and arches, etc. Coming from a rural region devoid of real architecture, my MC loves architecture and notices it, and I use it to convey nuances that might or might not be picked up by readers.

Definitely works, also. The statues especially are quite memorable and give a great ancient evil feel vs. regal gods feel.


I'd agree with the picking a few details that are highly characteristic, plus I'd add a sprinkling in of little details that are more commonplace. Certain things should be so ingrained in you as the author, that they feel authentically ingrained in the character.

My favorite worldbuilding details are those that seem everyday to the characters.

In Malazan, for example, it was the turn of phrase and irony in all the swearing.

In ASoIF it's the maesters, their ravens, and their prevalence in society. On that one none of the characters really remark on them as being extraordinary, aside from the general appreciation and love between some of the characters, but it's a neat little hallmark that I always appreciated, especially their whole backstory with the chain links and how the maesters view themselves.

I also seem to really like the "These are the things they have, and these are the things they don't have" sort of remarks, with regard to technology. In Retribution Falls, the twist on the science with Crake and the... demonists? (I forget the name) was one of my highlights in that book. Especially when they:

step into another demonist's lab to pick up supplies.
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: cupiscent on September 25, 2017, 12:03:48 AM
I think you need to focus on the things that are important for your story, both in terms of plot and themes. If your world/theme is all about, say, survival against the elements (like Jemisin's Fifth Season world) then the societies are going to be focused on that, and that's what you need a lot of detail about. If your plot is about complicated magical politics, then obviously magical details and political factions are going to be where you concentrate your efforts.

But you do also need the details around the edges that give a sense of depth and verisimilitude. The frivolous things that make life human.

And certainly, everything that you know doesn't need to be on the page of the story. But if you know it, it brings a depth and a cohesion to your overall writing that helps the reality resonate.

I've recently been doing a course on writing setting, and one of the things the presenter was emphasising was that writing needs to be persuasive. I think that's a great term for it. You need to persuade the reader that the world you're creating is real.
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: Peat on September 25, 2017, 06:11:34 AM

But you do also need the details around the edges that give a sense of depth and verisimilitude. The frivolous things that make life human.

Definite bonus points if these frivolous things also subtly reinforce your theme though.
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: Peat on September 25, 2017, 01:53:11 PM
Anyway, on more consideration

I think knowing as much as you can about the world is really useful even if it never reaches the page. It means never pausing when writing to think "Huh, what would that actually be like" or just writing in some generic thing and never changing it. Although I think there's a case for using [XXXXX] while writing for where you're gonna put in some descriptive stuff, or at least there is based on a bunch of authors I saw jawing on twitter this morning.

I also agree completely with everything cupiscent said. For me the mark of a golden setting is deep on the major thematics/points, wide on human interest.

I have surprisingly few things I can say I created. I have an awful lot of things I can say I stole/adapted.
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: The Gem Cutter on September 25, 2017, 10:36:04 PM
I've heard/read advice describing the little things as "telling details," meaning they do more than one thing at a time, as innocuous as they may be. They might be squirrels darting through the underbrush as your characters walk by, or an unsightly blemish on our hero's brand new saddle. But they can be enlisted to indicate subtle aspects of theme and environment. So I suppose what they meant by the term is that it is a detail that tells us something we didn't know about character, plot, and/or setting, or perhaps, we were told but didn't notice.
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: Elfy on September 25, 2017, 10:44:58 PM
I don't know that I've ever really created deep or detailed worlds, but I am rather proud of the Gleems, three little blobby other dimensional creations that appear in the Realmspace stories, although rather reluctant to say that I created them, they kind of seem to have created themselves to be honest. The idea of the luck faery and the slirts (also in Realmspace) are also totally mine and I haven't seen anything quite like them elsewhere.
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: Yora on September 28, 2017, 06:17:16 AM
Not necessarily created. Also just things added as relevant details that wouldn't be ecpected to be mentioned or described in most settings.
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: Yora on October 08, 2017, 08:47:50 PM
I created a new system of government: Genearchy is the rule by a council of the heads of influential families (the genearchs, an actual ancient Greek word, it turns out) that appoints a chief from their own ranks based on the consensus of who would be the best suited to lead them (that is, whoever can get together the most supporters who believe that their support will benefit their families). While the chiefs nominally rule (and are judge and head priest), they can't really do anything if the majority of genearchs objects to it.

But mostly I just don't want to repeatedly write "patriarchs and matriarchs".  8)
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: abatch on October 08, 2017, 08:52:55 PM
To me, it's a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation. There are those who exult in minutiae and those who find it tedious. I think you have to do what feels right for you and your world and trust that your work will find its audience.
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: J.R. Darewood on October 08, 2017, 09:22:15 PM
I think you need to focus on the things that are important for your story, both in terms of plot and themes. If your world/theme is all about, say, survival against the elements (like Jemisin's Fifth Season world) then the societies are going to be focused on that, and that's what you need a lot of detail about. If your plot is about complicated magical politics, then obviously magical details and political factions are going to be where you concentrate your efforts.

But you do also need the details around the edges that give a sense of depth and verisimilitude. The frivolous things that make life human.

And certainly, everything that you know doesn't need to be on the page of the story. But if you know it, it brings a depth and a cohesion to your overall writing that helps the reality resonate.

I've recently been doing a course on writing setting, and one of the things the presenter was emphasising was that writing needs to be persuasive. I think that's a great term for it. You need to persuade the reader that the world you're creating is real.

@cupiscent -- I really wanna take the writing courses you've been taking!  I love stuff like this that gets away from the stifling "protagonist-conflict-resolution" formula to insights like the one above that make reading more immersive and riveting. :)  Maybe you should do your own: "Best stuff I learned from taking all these courses class"-- I'd sign up!!!
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: Yora on October 08, 2017, 09:30:31 PM
Today I saw a lecture by Sanderson in which he made a pretty good iceberg analogy (which is even better than my own scaffolding analogy). The stuff that actually gets on the page and is shown and explained to the readers is only a fraction of the true complexity of the world. But you have to make the audience trust you that there actually is a full and complex world continuing out of sight beneath the surface. Those 90% of detail may never make an actual appearance in the story, but their existance is supporting the 10% that are visible. Readers won't care when they won't see it and it would get in the way of telling the story, but when they trust that those things exist, it makes the visible parts much more solid and believable.
You can try to fake it and do your whole worldbuilding as Potiemkinian Villages, but the illusion is never as strong and inconsistencies creep through the cracks.
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: JMack on October 08, 2017, 09:59:15 PM
Today I saw a lecture by Sanderson in which he made a pretty good iceberg analogy (which is even better than my own scaffolding analogy). The stuff that actually gets on the page and is shown and explained to the readers is only a fraction of the true complexity of the world. But you have to make the audience trust you that there actually is a full and complex world continuing out of sight beneath the surface. Those 90% of detail may never make an actual appearance in the story, but their existance is supporting the 10% that are visible. Readers won't care when they won't see it and it would get in the way of telling the story, but when they trust that those things exist, it makes the visible parts much more solid and believable.
You can try to fake it and do your whole worldbuilding as Potiemkinian Villages, but the illusion is never as strong and inconsistencies creep through the cracks.

Love the Potemkin village comparison.
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: cupiscent on October 08, 2017, 10:22:31 PM
@cupiscent -- I really wanna take the writing courses you've been taking!  I love stuff like this that gets away from the stifling "protagonist-conflict-resolution" formula to insights like the one above that make reading more immersive and riveting. :)  Maybe you should do your own: "Best stuff I learned from taking all these courses class"-- I'd sign up!!!

Thanks! :D I have been doing a lot of courses this year, whether formally or informally (like watching Sanderson's lectures on youtube... and they are fantastic. If I did my own "the best of all the writing courses I've done", there'd be a lot of stuff from him in there!) They're helping me keep thinking high-level about my writing and not just disappear into the nose-to-grindstone words-on-page plod.

And actually, Bradley, you can take the course that was talking about persuasive setting. It's an offering through Coursera.org (https://www.coursera.org/) from Wesleyan University... in fact, it's this creative-writing specialisation (https://www.coursera.org/specializations/creative-writing). I got onto it because they're doing a special run for NaNoWriMo. If you want to do the full bit, with assignments and feedback and workshopping and actual grades, it costs money, but you can watch/read all the material for free, which is what I'm doing, and I'm finding it full of interesting ways of thinking about writing. It's a general/lit-fiction focus, but unlike a lot of courses like that it doesn't talk down to or discount genre, and I'm finding its approaches are definitely translatable.

...this probably should have been a PM, but perhaps other people might be interested too, so here you go. :)
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: J.R. Darewood on October 11, 2017, 03:53:16 AM
Looks cool!!!
But you only get 7 days of access for free, right?  If I sign up now, can you access the later course materials (Character and Setting have my eye) even tho they haven't started yet, or do I have to wait until the course starts?
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: MammaMamae on October 11, 2017, 10:21:43 PM
I am so on board with Sanderson's iceberg analogy.  What makes a world feel rich isn't just the detail on the page - it is the sense, even if it is just an illusion, that there is so much more that you are not seeing.

For my world, probably the most important worldbuilding detail is religion and folklore. Religion is directly related to the plot, as are in-universe folk stories. 

Other than that, I have some bits of language.  Some prayers and liturgical and cultural terms are peppered throughout in an original language, and a few names of flowers that have symbolic significance.  Most major characters and even some minor ones have names that have meaning in their language, but with one exception I don't openly point it out.  I figure anyone who would find that interesting would be able to figure some of them out.  But mostly that part of the iceberg stays under :).

I lightly describe architecture and tech level - just enough to get a reader to picture to get a sense of the setting as a streamlined 19th Century Continental European analog world.
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: cupiscent on October 11, 2017, 10:24:37 PM
But you only get 7 days of access for free, right?  If I sign up now, can you access the later course materials (Character and Setting have my eye) even tho they haven't started yet, or do I have to wait until the course starts?
...huh. It does say 7 days, doesn't it? But I've been chipping away at the stuff for at least a month now. Maybe there was a special NaNo deal. Or maybe that 7 days of access is for full access, which includes submitting assignments and workshopping with a class, and you can still access the materials (like I'm doing). I honestly don't know, I'm afraid!
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: RobertS on October 12, 2017, 08:33:55 PM
Today I saw a lecture by Sanderson in which he made a pretty good iceberg analogy (which is even better than my own scaffolding analogy). The stuff that actually gets on the page and is shown and explained to the readers is only a fraction of the true complexity of the world. But you have to make the audience trust you that there actually is a full and complex world continuing out of sight beneath the surface. Those 90% of detail may never make an actual appearance in the story, but their existence is supporting the 10% that are visible. Readers won't care when they won't see it and it would get in the way of telling the story, but when they trust that those things exist, it makes the visible parts much more solid and believable.
You can try to fake it and do your whole world-building as Potemkin Villages, but the illusion is never as strong and inconsistencies creep through the cracks.

I agree entirely, yet I am not sure every writer can do this and I have read several authors who wrote good books without managing the level of detail that I think makes things come to life. Without the right sort of dementia, real world building has to be faked with Potemkin Villages. Honestly some authors grasp of the real world makes reality seem forced and badly thought through.

Wait, that explains everything. (Tentacle wraps around me and drags me from keyboard. I try to type one mor
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: Lanko on October 12, 2017, 08:40:22 PM
Another point to consider with the iceberg approach is that Sanderson is a heavy outliner and that's what makes his twists and revelations not only consistent but also makes them look both surprising and obvious (in a good way).

Not saying it's impossible to do it by pantsing, but probably much harder and probably requiring more careful revision and fact-checking.

 
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: Sgtwolf01 on October 31, 2017, 10:58:33 PM
What stuff do you create that you think will be useful to bring the world alive on the page?

Well Aura's are the name sake for my universe of Aura World, and so it's a pretty important detail to work on, that and the potion making, Aura Workd us perhaps the most fantastical of my settings. The history of the Southern Empire in The Continent is pretty important for the setting as well, since everything is the way it is because it had something to do with The South. So most on my work on The Continent (that doesn't involve scavenging) is usually about fleshing out The South and the effects it had on the world via everything exploding. It makes sense in context.
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: J.R. Darewood on December 05, 2017, 04:30:14 AM
I think you need to focus on the things that are important for your story, both in terms of plot and themes. If your world/theme is all about, say, survival against the elements (like Jemisin's Fifth Season world) then the societies are going to be focused on that, and that's what you need a lot of detail about. If your plot is about complicated magical politics, then obviously magical details and political factions are going to be where you concentrate your efforts.

But you do also need the details around the edges that give a sense of depth and verisimilitude. The frivolous things that make life human.

And certainly, everything that you know doesn't need to be on the page of the story. But if you know it, it brings a depth and a cohesion to your overall writing that helps the reality resonate.

I've recently been doing a course on writing setting, and one of the things the presenter was emphasising was that writing needs to be persuasive. I think that's a great term for it. You need to persuade the reader that the world you're creating is real.

FYI-- @cupiscent  i just started the coursera course!!!!
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: Ray McCarthy on December 05, 2017, 08:16:19 PM
Tolkien's languages are an extra, they aren't needed to read the Hobbit, Simarilion or LOTR. They were personal interests.
Detail in SF & F is same as in any other novel. As much as needed.

For the two main series I did work out some rules in advance and stuck to them. I have a private install of the free software that Wikipedia uses, both on a computer here and a copy on secured hosting on the internet (for collaboration). Also text files of characters, events, timelines, places, magics, technologies, gems etc that are pasted into wikis or open in a tabbed text editor separate to wordprocessor.

I've actually created very little original stuff. The Celtic Otherworld series uses a lot of 1000+ year old myth as sources for characters and magic. The SF has a lot of real spy tech and science.

I keep deleting appendixes and explanations from drafts :)
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: Yora on December 07, 2017, 05:55:52 AM
I keep deleting appendixes and explanations from drafts :)
Which I think is the right thing to do. What you really want with the worldbuilding that appears on the page is consistency. The audience has to have the impression that everything fits together as a whole, even when they only see small pieces here and there. You don't need to explain how everything fits together to tell the story, you just want to avoid that it feels like random bits thrown together without a system.
Someone called it the iceberg approach. The audience sees the little bit that peeks out at the top abbove the water, but has to feel certain that there is vastly more below the surface. It's possible to fake it, but it's easiest if you actually have thought it through. You just don't need to show it later. It would actually be distracting.
Title: Re: Things you created for your worlds
Post by: Ray McCarthy on December 07, 2017, 11:14:05 AM
You don't need to explain how everything fits together to tell the story, you just want to avoid that it feels like random bits thrown together without a system.
Someone called it the iceberg approach. The audience sees the little bit that peeks out at the top abbove the water, but has to feel certain that there is vastly more below the surface.
Absolutely, it's how the original Starwars got wrecked by Lucas, and also often ST, especially ST-TNG, simply ended up being stupid.

Don't explain things not invented yet and don't explain magic seem like good ideas. The story, characters' personalities and dialog is the the thing, not the technology or magic?