Tuesday, April 5, 2016

World Building

Danielle asked on Facebook:

You have created spectacular worlds and I completely admire how you have blended them into one much larger universe that spans space and time. It doesn't matter which book of yours I pick up to reread (I've lost track of how many times) it always seems effortless. So I was wondering if you had any advice about world building for those who aspire to create their own?
By the time I had finished my 5-comment reply to this frequently-asked-question, I realized the blog might be a better place for it. X-posted.

My first piece of advice is to write (that's usually the first advice I give to any writing-related question). If you check out the 4th "Days of Maeve" post, I talk about the Ebony Series there. In a way, that entire series could be considered a world-building exercise. I've never more than idly considered publishing it, but all the development of those hundreds of thousands of words went into the Den of Shadows, Kiesha'ra and Maeve'ra trilogy.

Second (or honestly, while you're doing the first), research your tail off. Even if you're writing fantasy, it helps to have a basis. Maeve'ra is set at the beginning of the 19th century, but then my characters have access to knowledge and therefore potential technology from places like the Roman, Egyptian and Aztec empires (as evidenced in their plumbing and sanitation, which was barely mentioned in the books because Vance took it for granted and none of the others lived in Midnight, but would have been very impressive for an average human at the time).

The Mancer books take place in an entirely different world, but I use real world knowledge as a base. The country of Kavet, for example, has roughly the climate of the state of Maine, which I take into account whenever I'm considering seasons and farming and available foods. Ocean-travel and related technology is analogous to roughly the late 1800s. That said, iron- which in our world is plentiful and played a huge role in the development of modern technology- is a scarce and highly regulated resource in most of that world, so I have to consider that whenever I'm working. For example, it drastically changes the social position of a farmer if only a wealthy individual can afford an iron plow-blade, and a steel one- well, that's a family treasure.

Do both of those things- research and write- until the information feels natural and it slips out while you're writing without your needing to stop and really think about it. I always end up info-dumping in my first drafts, spreading it out a little in my second drafts/rewrite as I determine what actually NEEDS to be known when, and then cutting and smoothing it out as I go.

It helps if you can do some exploration through the eyes of what the head of my writing group calls a "hobbit" - a character who's new to the world. As I said before, there's no reason Vance would stop and talk about how incredible it is that Midnight has running water and advanced sanitation, but when I wrote though the eyes of someone like Gabriel or Jaguar coming to Midnight for the first time in the 1600s... well, that was quite different.

I personally love book research and world building.  It's why I spent two decades in Nyeusigrube (I first started working in that world in 1995!) and why I've been working on Castrili (the world in which Mancer takes place) since the early 2000s and only publishing now.  It's finally ready.

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