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Actually imagining places

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Privid, Feb 24, 2012.

  1. Privid

    Privid Acolyte

    The other day I realized I'm awful at actually imagining the places when writing (or reading about). No matter how many words I use, it seems to be one thing to say this is an imaginary city and another to give it true dimension. When world building, I have problems creating brand new places, unless directly ripping off of popular media. Because the question comes: is this literally possible? How would such an object, city be crafted? How are castles generally built? Where were towers built, where markets, how did the houses in a city line up?

    Bearing all that in mind sounds awfully complex. You'd need to write out a detailed map if you want a consistent image to use in your stories. In such cases, I'd love to be an artist so I could visually portray places. It just seems too challenging and complex to do through sheer writing. What do you think?
  2. Kaellpae

    Kaellpae Inkling

    I actually have trouble with this as well. If I can get a good solid picture in my mind I try to write it like my character would see it.
    Maybe my character is going through a city, then he'll take in the sites as he's passing them. If he has a traveling mate with him then keep up some dialogue to keep it from an info dump.

    I wish I could draw as well. It'd certainly make describing something easier once I have it on paper as a sketch. I can barely do stick figures.
  3. Konstanz

    Konstanz Minstrel

    I know it's hard and I've had similar problems myself. But what you have to remember is that the reader doesn't need a 100% accurate description of a city. Because even if they read it, they'll forget parts and their own imagination will fill them in. And imagination is a writer's best friend. What you have to do is create an atmosphere for your city. Instead of painstakingly describing the streets, just say they are crooked, bustling with activity and that the houses are packed together so tight one ember could burn down the entire city. The reader will immediately think of a typical medieval cities with houses that connect across the street and with beggars and commoners running around on errands. Does the reader really need to know that the second house on the left has a statue next to it? No, unless that statue has a deeper meaning in the story. Just say there are many statues scattered around depicting great heroes like *insert example* and *second example* and many, many more. The reader will fill in the rest.

    Best advice I can give, it's not much but there you go.
  4. one way round this is to go to a site like deviantart, and do a search for castle or whatever.

    You will get loads of pictures of castles ect, some good some awful. But chances are you will find one that makes you think 'That's whatIi want city x to look like'. if you are just using that pic as a visual prompt for your writing then there would be no copyright problems with this (so longs as you don't try to publish the image).

    To give you an idea, here are the results of a search I just did for castle: Browsing deviantART
    Fnord likes this.
  5. Graham Irwin

    Graham Irwin Sage

    It's true, worldbuilding is not easy. It takes understanding an awful lot about the real world before an imaginary one can be created. Knowledge of geography, physics, astrology, meteorology, biology. Then add on sociology, psychology, etc.

    There's a good reason most fantasy books take so long to write, and that's why we're all here at Mythic Scribes. All that info about cities and construction can be found. Start a book, or a folder on your computer, of notes. Learn, learn, learn.

    I mean, if we're playing God in inventing worlds, we need a fully stocked intelligence to use as the paints on our imagination's canvas.
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2012
  6. Digital_Fey

    Digital_Fey Troubadour

    As Konstanz said, the main thing is atmosphere, not detail. Get a feel for the kind of environment your characters are moving through - the smells and sights and sounds and all the other cliches - but keep it brief. Think of it as a doing a rough sketch rather than an architecturally correct blueprint of every single building. If you find you need to zoom in on something, trawl the library/net for as much information you need to understand the thing you're writing about - and then distill that information by about 50% for the sake of the reader's sanity :p

    Masterfully put. The more information one collects from different sources over time, the easier it becomes to visualize, explain and describe.
    Alva likes this.
  7. Ghost

    Ghost Inkling

    I'm another person who agrees with Konstanz's post. This thread might be of interest. I don't think it's important to know where everything is, street by street. It's more important to have an idea of the atmosphere and explore different senses.

    I don't know if this would be helpful, but maybe you could check out some travel guides from the library or check travel websites. See if there are any with lots of pictures and descriptions to help you imagine different places.
  8. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

    I prefer to give the reader enough description to activate his imagination. Maybe the reader won't ever know that Bouldergut looks like this:

    ...but he doesn't have to. The reader just needs a strong visual of characters, scenery, action, etc.--even if it's not the same as mine.

    (Actually, I would hope the reader pictures his hammer being much more impressive than the one I sketched!)
  9. I actually have kinda the opposite problem: I'm great at imagining places, terrible at describing them.
  10. Fnord

    Fnord Troubadour


    This is a big way of doing it for me. I used to spend all day browsing fantasy art, saving the pictures to my hard drive, and then going back and looking at them when I had a brain-block and needed a little juice-flowing. Art is pretty inspiring stuff because we get an instant visual kick to the brain. My first question to myself always is: "what story is this painting trying to tell?"

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