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How big is Too big in World building?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Avadyyrm, Jul 16, 2019.

  1. Avadyyrm

    Avadyyrm Dreamer

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    In my story my world is pretty large. It has a huge distance from the top to the bottom. I'm doing it because I want slot of area for people and creatures. Many of the places are uninhabitable, and act like barriers to prevent such and such place from being reached by most of the outside world, and so they have to be large barriers to prevent most people from thinking of trying in my story. However, I am thinking of adding a whole other continent, where another of the main characters would be at, however this creates two potential problems. 1 the second continent need not be as big, but imagine the first continent as Africa size. I would want the second continent to be about half that, but maybe close to the same size. So there would be more need to add new places, people's, cultures, etc, and may create to much. The second problem would be that the main character(s) (haven't decided if it's more than one) there, would not meet the others for a long time, because the world is so large. I would need to creat their part in that place of the world interesting enough that the reader doesn't think that I just have a big place with a main character there for no other reason than just because
     
  2. Avadyyrm

    Avadyyrm Dreamer

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    *and I feel like this might be to much for the reader, but I like the idea of a large world that is chock full of cool things/people/creatures
     
  3. Aldarion

    Aldarion Minstrel

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    That depends wholly on 1) what your story is about and 2) how you write it. GRRM's world is, well, the entire world, yet it is not too big for his purposes (though readers waiting for the next book may disagree with that assessment).
     
  4. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    First, I think you are working uphill, and I'm not sure that's a good idea. Having two sets of characters, one on each large continent, and keeping them apart for a long time is going to stress the story you are trying to tell. It's not impossible, but it presents some problems. Introducing a single continent, or even a single subset of lands on a continent, is hard enough when you want to "build" those areas in a way that will make them come alive for a reader; but adding a whole other continent? Consider not only the "world building" you'll need to do for yourself, but the building you'll need to do within the written story for the reader.

    That said, keeping a reader interested in a story with two sets of non-meeting characters is not impossible. I'd suggest thinking about how you can tie the two strands together in a way that will be meaningful to the reader. The characters themselves coming together isn't going to happen for some time, so you'll need to add elements to both areas and both story strands that will overlap.

    For instance, if I were telling a story about a main character in South Africa and an Inuit character in Alaska, who won't meet for a long time, I'd probably have them facing similar things or things that a larger world-sized threat poses. Let's say Earth is being invaded by extraterrestrials. My MC in South Africa and my MC in Alaska will both be encountering those invaders. As a reader, I would feel that their stories are intertwined in some way—even if they never met. Even more clever, I might show two different aspects of the invasion. Maybe the MC in South Africa discovers that the aliens have a special interest in finding and securing diamonds—for some reason—and the MC in Alaska discovers that the aliens are herding moose, corralling polar bears, and trapping sea lions and whales in one of Alaska's harbors—for some reason. This would allow me to add elements of mystery, as each MC solves pieces of the puzzle, and it would keep both story strands feeling relevant to the single overall story I am telling.

    Edit: Incidentally, in a story like that, I wouldn't necessarily need to know everything about the other nations or areas on the continents of those two characters. I might need to know some things just to give the world a sense of depth and reality. For instance, my MC in South Africa might need to encounter someone from Tanzania who was forced to work in a gold mine by the aliens, so knowing something about the culture of Tanzania, its gold production, etc., might come in handy. But I wouldn't need to know everything about Tanzania, only the most relevant things. (Unless my MC was going to travel there at some point.) So you can focus your world building on the areas most important, for each continent, without going into depth about other areas.
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2019
  5. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Nothing! It's never too big!!

    So I keep telling myself with my whole planet "earth" world with it's millions of years of history that I struggle with daily....
     
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  6. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I have a large continent with multiple nations, but I've been focusing individual stories on one nation at a time. I like having knowledge of the other nations already; I can reference things there even as I'm writing a story set here.

    The fact that I've spent a couple years developing these nations, one at a time, for different stories helps, heh. Over time, I'm accumulating more and more data on that world.
     
  7. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

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    Having the world (continents) created with established places, cultures and creatures makes sense. However, the detail for such creations is largely dependent on the story being told. Much of what is thought up, created, known about a world (by the author) never actually graces the pages of the novel. Most of it isn't necessary to tell the story. That said, such depth in planning and creation adds to the sense of completeness, and something so much larger, to the readers.

    Generally a good outline with a few basic details (for places/people/cultures) that are not directly or immediately impacted by the story being told is enough so that as the world expands and more stories are told, the author doesn't get caught in inconsistencies or run into plot line troubles. It's a balance. The more time spent on minute details of a world, especially those that are unlikely to impact that storyline, is less time available for the writing of the actual story.
     
  8. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    My setting has five small countries sharing one decent-sized peninsula. I'm planning the series to run five books, and each book would fill in the details for one of the five countries to the map. Before then there's just an outline and a name. One of the five countries is larger and runs off the edge of the map, while another is positioned along the sea and suggested to be more heavily influenced by off-map countries across the sea.

    For me, I came to the conclusion that smaller was better. IRL I walk around the city I'm in and the atmosphere, the people, the architecture, even the culture: They change by the block I'm on. The worldbuilding never ends no matter how small or large the region. You can't possibly do enough work to capture the complexity of life. It's just a question of how deep you are equipped to go before you expand the scope.
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2019
  9. I agree with this and would add that the world can be as large as you wish but no matter it's size, don't get too caught in knowing everything up front.

    Here's my tuppence worth. . .

    For the WIP I have going now (novel length) I spent maybe two-plus weeks creating the world at the outset but, in the two years since, I have come back to it again and again as needed during the writing process. The map, villages, geography, flora and fauna, food, rituals, seasons, clothing, landscape etc all evolving and changing to some degree over time as I've gone along. All those beginnings are still there in some way but I'd say that 80% of that world, as it is now, was created AFTER that initial world building period and through the writing process itself for the most part.

    What was important at the beginning remains there to this day: my main characters, a strange iron coin, cultural displacement and it's effects, a world in which leaving, by any means, is a one way ticket, an old watered down folktale and a power struggle that's been simmering for a thousand years. Those were there day one and remain so now, but I knew they were what the story would turn on from the beginning of the world building.

    That two weeks or, say, 60+ hours of world building I did at the beginning was just meant to be a foundation for me to build upon. I could never have come up with what I have now if I had not written my way through to it.

    And, here's a secret — I love, love, LOVE world building and could spend all day long doing it for story after story, map after map, world after world. . . but I discipline myself to reign that in and I give myself occasional "treat days" to work on just those ideas in between sustained periods of writing. I still come up with little things to add to my world nearly every day (writing this inspired a thought or two) and i keep those in a file and add them or flesh them out as I see fits the story.

    So my advice would be to have FUN with it now, sketch out that world, the people/creatures, the places, the environment, especially those that pertain to your main character(s), but give yourself a soft deadline and, when you reach it, then say "OK, this is the starting point."

    Then put your time into the developing the story, writing and deeper character development. Focus on the journey of your main character(s). Their desires, goals, relationships and what gets in the way. If it's a heroes journey, follow them and work the details around them out as you go. If you decide as you write that you need a Tribunal of Seven Clans, sketch them out briefly, then go back and work on the seven individual clans and their cultures when you need an inspiring boost between writing. The world, you will find, will come to life for you through that writing process as well! When you start with a setting and character, you'll be amazed how much you will come up with on the fly to fill it with as that character begins to move around your world.

    However, IF your story is one of character(s) vs nature, with a season of brutal winds that can literally move through a body and drain it of life force or mountains that no one has ever seen the tops of and that are too sheer to climb, then, by all means, work on those big nature ideas that will be the antagonistic force in the story now.

    It sounds like you have a start and lots of ideas. This is where world builders disease can set in very fast though. Pick what feels strongest and most vital to your main character and put your focus there, then get to writing!

    Best of luck!!
     
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  10. Avadyyrm

    Avadyyrm Dreamer

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    Thank you guys for the advice. I will try what you guys have said, and I am going to try and work on creating the mc on the other side of the map having a very intriguing story that intersects with the other MC. I appreciate y'all's comments
     
  11. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Sage

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    Do you need all these different places? Are they a necessity to the story and the character?

    I did something similar years ago and it just became too much work for me. Keeping details on all the different places, making them unique, giving them names, laws, boundaries...which is great if you love world building which I don't. For me a story is about the character and where it takes places matters very little. So in the second draft I put my two teams on one continent, more specifically one area. And I had they constantly keep missing each other. I remember I had this valley to get through - one team went through and the other went over it. They were only separated by a few miles but heading in opposite directions looking for each other. People I asked to read all liked the second draft better.

    Not saying it'll make your story better, just that it's something to think about. You don't have to travel miles to have an adventure and find conflict. All the best.
     
  12. Avadyyrm

    Avadyyrm Dreamer

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    I like how it makes the world more interesting, but I am writing another story in a much smaller world, it's a large island, and I am trying that, becuas it does seem to be almost too much, but I like worldbuilding. Thank you for the advice
     
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  13. Aldarion

    Aldarion Minstrel

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    @Avaddyrm As I have mentioned elsewhere before, I enjoy worldbuilding to the point of obsession... so I am like as not going to spend years on worldbuilding and research before starting actual story. Now, this approach has its pros and cons; in the end, you need to find what works for you and your story requirements, but I hope this will help.

    Pros

    • Immersion. The more details you have - in your head - easier it is for you to get immersed in your own world. This in turn makes it easier for the reader.
    • Consistency. You are more likely to write a consistent story if you already know the context and limits of your setting, thus allowing you to avoid jumping off the rails (or even jumping the shark).
    • Development. If you develop your world properly, and in enough detail, you may find out that your plot is basically writing itself.
    Cons
    • Time. As mentioned, time spent worldbuilding is time not spent writing the actual story.
    • Effort. Lot of worldbuilding is good for a large book or a series of books, but a novel or novella of less than a hundred pages? Hell no, that will end up being just a wasted effort.
    • Details. It can be rather difficult to resist the urge to include every single detail of your worldbuilding in your story. On the flip side, having a worldbuilding manual may actually help resist that urge, as you already know you have that fancy thing written down, so no need to write it down again just for the sake of writing it down.
    What you need to do is place some limits. Figure out how various factors will end up interacting with each other, and then develop them as needed. Shobbyshanks Empire of the Eastern Shore need not be developed very much if it is located thousand miles from where plot is happening - in fact, not developing it will help with immersion, as any information your characters will have on it is going to be stories and hearsay, and thus unreliable and inconsistent both. On the other hand, you cannot expect imperial administrator to not know the country he is helping to run, so any place where your plot is actually happening will need to be rather developed. Of course, the level of detail again depends on the type and scale of story you are writing. But since different cultures in fantasy are often extensions of or variations on real-world cultures, for a country that does not directly appear in your novel something like "counterpart to Tang China" will generally be enough.

    In the end, what you need to focus on is what is driving the plot. Is it character relationship? Focus on building characters and ignore the rest beyond the basics. Is it politics? Then you really need to build up that political landscape - countries, important individuals, factions, political system, processes, conflicts... but no need to spend much time on cuisine or magic system. And if you are writing military fantasy, then you need to develop military systems, organization, strategy, tactics, logistics, equipment etc.; but no need to develop mythology or monsters in great detail, unless they are playing significant role. Of course, if it includes all of the elements listed, you are in a bit of trouble.
     
  14. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Not to pick on you, but these sorts of questions are absolutely the bane of fantasy, in my opinion. Even of storytelling in general. Just the idea that you should only be including what is "needed" for the world, what is "necessary" for a particular character or plot is one I personally find repulsive.
     
  15. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Sage

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    That's fine if you feel that way, I feel the opposite. I tend to feel Fantasy gets bogged down with too much travelling and the idea it only feels epic if everything is huge and over the top. Each to their own I guess. Some may require a quest.
     
  16. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Yes, it is fine. My point is that the vast majority of writing advice I have seen leans in the direction of "only include what is necessary!" To the point where some writers might begin thinking that is the only valid way to tell a story, the only way to please an audience. But not all readers like that kind of story telling. I personally HATE it and desperately avoid books written in ways that follow the common advice. There are plenty of readers like me.

    So if, as a writer, you find more joy in exploring worlds with your stories than focusing in on one tiny spot, I want you to know that's ok. That's great! You write the kind of story you want to tell and then try to get it in front of the kinds of readers that will love it.
     
  17. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Sage

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    Yeah, I get your point, I don't agree but I see where you're coming from. There's nothing more to say really.
     
  18. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    The thing about necessity is that it differs from one person to the next. Moreover, different readers will react differently to the unnecessary--this one might be severely critical while another might merely slide past the "unnecessary" bits. And beyond the moreover, the very same reader is going to have a different opinion on this depending on where they are in life, where they are at the moment, how much similar stuff they've read recently, the expectations they bring (particularly in the case of a series), and so on.

    IOW, what is necessary to a story is completely and utterly unpredictable and unknowable. The only place where this advice matters is if you are trying the traditional publishing route, in which case what's necessary is going to be decided by the troika of agent, publisher, and editor. Those folks are not exactly fallible and are certainly not always reliable indicators of what the reader wants.

    For the self-published, maybe one still wants to hear from beta readers, maybe from a developmental editor. But trying to define and clarify the issue in the abstract is an exercise that rarely bears fruit.
     
  19. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    On the advice of keeping to only what is necessary:

    I've mentioned this analogy before, but I hate cake. I really do. It's puff bread with sugar on top. It's bleh, it's not worth the calories. Yeah, some cakes might hit a good mix of flavors I like, and yeah, some are really are well done, but those aren't really that common. My wife on other hand loves cake. She talks about texture and consistency and guesses about the ingredients. She's a cake snob, though, so it's got to be a good one.

    Our actual taste in cake is just about the same or close to it. Where I grew up we bought cake at Walmart and Costco. She grew up getting cake from the pricey bakery in her neighborhood. What else would you expect from that?

    I think advice like "keeping only what is necessary" is a lot like that. Some people readily agree with it, but then will quickly go on to talk about how a lot of description might be necessary for "tone" or "mood." At the same time, people who hate that advice might still look for places to cut, but call it "working on the flow" or such. It's not a good measure of their actual editing choices, so at the outset, it's not worth fighting about a phrase this vague.

    I would prefer advice that's more specific to a focus on throughlines, pacing, description or flow, personally.

    As for how much worldbuilding is too much:

    When you have what you need based on your style and story, but are using it as an excuse not to write.

    Worldbuild. Worldbuild a ton if you want to. I sure do. But set goals. Give yourself a direction. Figure out what you're setting out to worldbuild, the parameters of what you need for your story and why. And when you get there, start writing.

    There's a point where some worldbuilding gets to be more of a side hobby than is relevant for the book. That's fine. But it's better on your process if you can recognize where that line is for you. I mean, we do actually want to write the book, right?
     
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