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How many kingdoms/cultures?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by GeekDavid, Oct 5, 2013.

  1. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

    While my editor is working on the WIP I was going to start setting up the background of the next story idea.

    The WIP is (so far) mostly contained in one kingdom so it was pretty easy to set up, but the next story is likely to involve a lot more traveling through different lands.

    So how many is enough, and how many are too many? I'm including both those friendly to our hero, those neutral, and those hostile to him.
  2. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    Boring answer: as many as are needed for the story.

    Slightly less boring answer: More than one, but not so many that they feel irrelevant or insignificant.
    I guess it depends on how you approach the travelling. If you want to describe the journey in detail it may be enough with one or two more than the starting one. You'll want to give the reader enough of a feel for them to understand their size and how long the hero has to travel to pass through them.
    If you're just saying that they went from one place to another you can list a bunch of names and say your hero passed through them on his way to his destination over so and so many months.

    I guess it depends on what role you want the kingdoms to fill in your story. You could have your hero sneak through one single vast and hostile empire or he/she could travel through several small kingdoms with their own cultures and conflicts.
    GeekDavid likes this.
  3. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

    I was afraid I'd get an answer like that.

    I guess I write down as many as I can come up with, and just use the ones that are needed. The others can probably be recycled for another story. :)
  4. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    You can have a successful story take place in nothing more than a village, or even a singe room for that matter. Or, you could have your story span nations, planets, even universes, with as many differing factions as you like. As long as they're all pertinent to the story, unique within the story, & you're not overtasking the reader's ability to comprehend and remember, you're fine.

    If you're asking how many is too many before it burdens the reader.... Well, that depends. If the parties involved aren't duplicates of one another, if they don't serve the same story function, & if they're interesting, there really isn't any boundary. Just be aware that for each additional element you add, you could potentially dilute the importance of role for the others. That's assuming we're talking about one book and not a large series.
    GeekDavid likes this.
  5. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

    I tend to think in terms of trilogies, cause that seems to be the traditional fantasy length. :)
  6. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

    What you need is enough countries to make your world seem suitably diverse, but not so many that the reader has to start taking notes to keep them all straight. One of the easiest ways to achieve this is to have each race have their own country or make your countries expies of real world countries. For example a norse country, an egypt country, an asian country, a medieval country, etc and so on.

    This is just my opinion, but the way I see it you can have as few as two countries, but in that case I think you'd end up with several countries each grouping up into one of two factions. Same with three countries. With four countries you can move away from the the faction idea, but you'd still need smaller subcultures for flavor. Think of Avatar the Last Airbender, they have the nations for fire, water, earth, and air, but the water nation is split up into the south pole, the north pole, and a group living in a giant swamp each of which has its own culture. I can't think of many with five nations, but anywhere between six to eight strikes me as the sweet spot. It's when you get into the double digits that you'd have to put in extra effort to make them each distinct enough to be easy to remember.
    GeekDavid likes this.
  7. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

    David Eddings' Belgariad has 9 or 10 countries, if memory serves. Not sure if I can come up with that many, but we'll see.
  8. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    Who says they all have to be countries?

    It's a common pattern writers fall into in creating a new world, but think about it: what matters is distinctions of any kind, both to capture the sense of the world's diverse history and to give you plot elements to play against each other.

    But does "A vs B with C tempted to ally with one" have to be three countries? A and B could be different regions within one country, politically united for centuries but culturally different and now turning to civil war. (Which IS happening in the Last Airbender world now, by the way...)

    Almost anything you can do with countries you can do with cities or tribes within a country, as long as the differences aren't so great the overall government isn't repressing them-- or isn't able to. Or you can use layers and combinations of guilds and nobles within cities within nations.

    And frankly, the fewer separate plans you have for distinct cities or other areas within a kingdom, the less reason you need the thing to be anything larger than that.
    GeekDavid likes this.
  9. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

    Well, I do like the idea of one big melting pot country, but I also want to set up the countries they came from, even if I don't use all of them.

    Look at America... we have people of French extraction (like me), Spanish, German, English, Slavic, Russian... the list goes on and on, and that's just from Eurasia.
  10. Edankyn

    Edankyn Minstrel

    If this is for a story that comes after the Librarian I'd say three or four would be good. You have already mentioned two in the Librarian. I feel that if you expounded on the country where the skin paper came from to a similar degree as the primary country and introduced a third in maybe a little less detail you'd have a pretty developed setting. It would still leave room though for a fourth without feeling over complicated.
    GeekDavid likes this.
  11. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

    Actually, it's for a completely different story. :)
  12. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    For this, as with other things, I employ what I term the 'Rule of Three'.

    Three major protagonists...and maybe three major villians.

    Three major settings, be they rooms, buildings, towns, or nations.

    Favorate example here is the first 'Star Wars' flick: the major settings were Tatooine, the Death Star, and the Millennium Falcon.

    Major protagonists from the first star wars: Luke, Leia, and Solo.

    More than three, and you are either looking at a really long story, or you run a high risk of creating confusion in the mind of the reader.

    About the only real exception are 'travel' type tales, where characters cover a lot of ground. But even there, your not likely to find more than two or three really developed settings.
    GeekDavid likes this.
  13. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

    For my own highly personal opinion I would say that you only need to flesh out as many as your story demands, but you should probably write some sumeries for other nearby cultures or explicitly say that the major cultures are without other contacts with intelligence cultures. Having your world exist in a kind of bubble without interaction with the outside is something that really irks me, but I know that many other people will strongly disagree with me, and I know that there are some people who have successfully pulled off the "bubble" thing, like Tad Williams.
    GeekDavid likes this.
  14. Motley

    Motley Minstrel

    I think it mostly depends on the map. What makes sense? How long do your characters travel to get from one place to the next? If it's a day, you're probably talking about outlying villages with very similar culture. If it's 3 months at sea, well... then obviously a totally new thing.

    Just don't let it get confusing.
  15. Sanctified

    Sanctified Minstrel

    Is this for a short story, a novel or a series?

    If it's the latter, it's probably a good idea to have "extras." In the Wheel of Time, for instance, RJ has more than a few locations that do not come into play until several books into the series. There are also a handful of locations that, IIRC, were not explored as of the seventh or eighth book, which is when I stopped reading. I'm not sure if he intended to include those places in later work or if they might have served as placeholders for future books or short stories, and of course he passed away before he completed his series.

    In a sprawling fantasy world, it can't hurt to have new places to explore as long as they don't represent big, gaping holes in the man storyline.
    GeekDavid likes this.
  16. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    We moderns think in terms of nation-states, but that's a comparatively recent development. In the Middle Ages there was an astonishing variety of political entities, many of them overlapping. There were bishoprics that held jurisdiction over secular estates. There were counts and margraves and dukes each with various collections of privileges and obligations, and the enforcement of these could vary wildly from one generation to the next. There were cities and other entities that completely short-circuited the power hierarchy and were responsible only to the king or emperor. There were even peasants who were free.

    And that's just medieval Europe. Go back to ancient Rome or Greece, Carthage or Macedonia, and there were still other permutations. In short, you can have just about anything you wish and in whatever numbers you wish. Late medieval Germany had over 200 political units!
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  17. Dragev

    Dragev Scribe

    I agree with skip.knox above. You can also consider city-states, like Sparta, Novgorod, medieval/renaissance Italy, which get around the problems that "huge countries at war with each other" can represent in writing, while still staying believable.
  18. TrustMeImRudy

    TrustMeImRudy Troubadour

    The series was finished by Brandon Sanderson based on his notes, and was an amazing ending [except Mat was written very poorly in Sanderson's first book, the twelfth in the series I believe, but he got better in the others]. On relevance, he ended up giving every single nation he created a look at in his series unless I'm forgetting somebody. Even the Sharans, which was awesome.

    And David, I think if its not starting off as a travel series you can really build the other cultures as you go. A rough summary, a smattering of traits the people share, customs seen in those who have immigrated from home to the base nation, and just flesh out the countries when you actually enter them into the story. They tend to build themselves, for me anyways.
  19. renegadepoet

    renegadepoet New Member

    and also with series and stories that build, you can develop and work out the worlds making them almost like separate characters in some ways as the story and characters and plots evolve so can the world they occur in
  20. claramcalister

    claramcalister Scribe

    My rule of thumb, personally, has always been "as many as my character will realistically encounter while traveling + 5 for good measure".

    So basically, if my character is traveling to different Kingdoms, I need to make at least one culture for each kingdom she travels to. But, realistically speaking, no Kingdom is a cultural monolith; even within the US there are at least 6 different, distinct, categorizable variations of American Culture and linguistic dialect. So I always make at least 5 extra cultures to throw in for variety (they don't have to be terribly fleshed out, but they do need to be cohesive and distinct from one another) so that my world doesn't seem culturally one dimensional.

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