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Author Topic: Things you created for your worlds  (Read 3076 times)

Offline Yora

Things you created for your worlds
« 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.)

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Things you created for your worlds
« Reply #1 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.
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Offline Yora

Re: Things you created for your worlds
« Reply #2 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.
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Offline Justan Henner

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Re: Things you created for your worlds
« Reply #3 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:

Spoiler for Hiden:
step into another demonist's lab to pick up supplies.
« Last Edit: September 24, 2017, 05:01:45 PM by Justan Henner »

Offline cupiscent

Re: Things you created for your worlds
« Reply #4 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.

Online Peat

Re: Things you created for your worlds
« Reply #5 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.

Online Peat

Re: Things you created for your worlds
« Reply #6 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.
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Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Things you created for your worlds
« Reply #7 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.
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Offline Elfy

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Re: Things you created for your worlds
« Reply #8 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.
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Offline Yora

Re: Things you created for your worlds
« Reply #9 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.
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Offline Yora

Re: Things you created for your worlds
« Reply #10 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)
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Offline abatch

Re: Things you created for your worlds
« Reply #11 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.

Offline J.R. Darewood

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Re: Things you created for your worlds
« Reply #12 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!!!

Offline Yora

Re: Things you created for your worlds
« Reply #13 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.
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Offline JMack

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Re: Things you created for your worlds
« Reply #14 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.
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