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How Much Lore is Too Much Lore?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Mindfire, Mar 20, 2015.

  1. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

    Pretty much exactly what the title says. How do you know when you've gone too far with worldbuilding? Is there such a thing as too much worldbuilding? Do you personally prefer more lore or less? Looking for opinions on this.
  2. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I'm not sure there's technically such a thing as too much world building. In theory you could probably go about it until the world is done, and I mean completely done, from the entire cosmos and down to the inner workings of atoms. In practice, you wouldn't be able to pull all that off within a lifetime, and probably not even several.

    I think time is more important than level of detail when it comes to deciding how much world building is enough. Once the world building starts to take away from the time you could, or should, have spent working on the story set in the world, it's probably time to start thinking about slowing down.
    Mindfire likes this.
  3. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    I don't believe you can do too much world building. However, I do think you can try to include too many details within the story.

    I've heard it said that we should include 10-15% of our overall world building into the story. That's a generalization, so take the percentage lightly. But, I think the premise is sound. The idea being, deep world building will show through the story because the author will know background details the reader doesn't necessarily get. That enhances mystery and the reader's sense of a larger world lurking in the background.

    I'm not a big world builder. I enjoy aspects of world building, but too much time spent on that aspect tends to steal time from plotting, story planning/structuring, and the actual writing. I do see people continually world building. It's often more fun, and less work at times, than the actual writing.
    ArenRax and Mindfire like this.
  4. skrite

    skrite Scribe

    Great answer ! I have had a similar question. How do i know when my world is ready, and when to get on with the story.
  5. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    Short answer: When you can start writing the story without having to stop and wonder how something in the world works.

    Longer answer: There's bound to be people who have opinions or objections to the above, and I'm sure they'll share them.
    Also, depending on the size and scope of the story you're writing the amount of world building needed will be different.

    A slightly more involved version of the short answer might be. You've done enough world building when you know the workings of your world well enough that anything unknown you encounter can be filled out on the spot.
    What I mean by this is that you end up in a situation where a certain type of monster is required, or a certain magical spell. However, you haven't created such a monster, and you don't have any such spell in the notes. Now, if you know the world well enough, you should be able to grab a random idea and compare it with your knowledge of the world and see if it makes sense. If it makes sense or if it doesn't make sense in the context of the world, then you've done enough world building. If you don't know whether the idea makes sense or not, you may have to work a bit more on the world.
  6. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    No such thing as too much lore. ;)
  7. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

    That's good news for me because it seems like I can't go two hours without more of it bursting out of my head. It's now gotten to the point where my characters are disputing their cultures' historical claims among themselves! D:
  8. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    The problem I see isn't too much lore, but letting lore-writing distract you from story-writing. If you're spending more time working out the trivial minutiae of your setting than you are with writing or even planning your story and characters, I would say you have the old disease.
  9. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

    But that's not my problem at all. It's not distracting me from the story, per se. I'm not doing it just because I want to. It's not my focus, you know? But what happens is that I sit down to write, start getting into it, and then BAM! Lore idea pops into my head and of course I have to write it down because if I don't, it's gone forever. Yes, forever. I've lost things that way before and when I do I kick myself. But then because of the way my brain works, writing that idea down leads to another idea, and another, and another. On and on until finally the Muse decides that she's done having her way with me, assures me she had a great evening, and says we should do it again sometime before leaving for parts unknown. Once I finally recover from this, I look up and- lo and behold!- I have written page upon page of lore that of course needs to be sorted and categorized later, and the work I set out to do- the book- is yet undone. And this doesn't only happen while I'm writing. It happens everywhere. I keep Google Drive and Google Keep apps on my phone just so I can jot it all down wherever I am!
  10. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    In my opinion, there is such a thing as too much lore, but only as it applies to your writing style. Carrying all that information, and still making it compelling, requires a certain kind of skill. So to me, the question is, how much lore are you good enough to handle?
  11. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

    I guess I won't know until I try. Lol.
  12. Elrik Blackhaven

    Elrik Blackhaven Minstrel

    I don't think there can be too much lore to rely on to assist in shaping your stories. However, as it has already been stated, it is possible to include too much lore in the story itself. Once I get the elements figured out for the story I want to write, I then determine what lore I need to establish those elements in my story. For instance, if I plan to include multiple races, I need to figure out how those races view and interact with each other, what the distinguishing racial traits are, general racial behavior, and so forth. Setting is probably the area that it easiest to get bogged down in. I generally have an understanding of how things work on many levels of my world but, I need to limit the information I include in my story to only the levels that are needed. For instance, if my story takes place in a small village and the forest surrounding it, I probably don't need to include anything about kingdom politics or influence. Possibly not even anything concerning nearby larger communities. I do need to understand how the village operates. Who is in charge, how are disputes handled, what behavior is acceptable (is magic seen as evil and forbidden) and so forth.

    Once I have what I need to establish the elements of my story, I will begin to write it. I find that the story itself will often flesh out my world as it progresses, filling in the gaps. In that way, I allow my story to guide me on how much lore is needed.
    Reilith likes this.
  13. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    While I agree that having a lot of lore to work with in your stories is certainly helpful, I think some writers may suffer from "overspicing the soup" if that's a term. Meaning in their stories they think they are spicing it up with all this rich lore and history while they're actually making it hard to digest because there may be so many new words and places to get familiar with. Maybe the best approach I've found is revealing lore through action and dialogue when you can. As long as people aren't telling each other stuff they already know for the benefit of the reader. The Malazan Book of the Fallen series probably has the most lore I've seen in a modern fantasy series, but the way it deals with it is "Here's how it is. Let's move on." Meaning the books kind of drop you into the world without orienting you in any way. I think really good writers can do this. Gene Wolfe seems similar in this capacity.

    I guess my feeling towards lore and world-building in general now is to discover it more as I'm writing. I may have ideas for something before I write that I'll jot down. For example, in one novel I decided magic comes from a wizard's teeth. Some are born with it and some aren't. If you want to use magic and you're not born with it, you have to steal a wizard's teeth and break them apart to release the magic. It's a one time deal. So I had a character that sneaked into wizards' towers and pulled their teeth out while they were sleeping. Being that my worlds are more "chaotic" I feel I can do more over the top lore or world-building than maybe people who are doing more serious fantasy. So it depends on your style and what you hope to accomplish as a writer.

    If you want people to read your work and say, "Damn, he has a really rich history and lore in his books" then I say focus on that. Writers only have a couple of things that are their trademarks. So I say if you're good at something, you should do it as much as you can. Just be careful that you're not overdoing it and alienating people who may usually like fantasy stories with extensive lore. You want to make your audience happy. Some people don't like a lot of world-building details slowing the story down, but some do. Focus on the people that like what you're doing.
  14. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

    I don't think it's possible to have too much lore in your head or written in notes. The problem, as others have stated, lies in integrating that lore into the story. The most important thing to remember is that you don't have to try to put everything you've come up with into one story. Just include what's relevant. You can save other things for other stories, appendices, and lore books.
  15. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I do think there's a potential trouble sign here. It sounds like you are more interested in the backstory than you are in the story. So long as that condition holds, you run the risk of *writing* more backstory than story.

    For myself, this usually means I have not invested enough of myself in the characters. They simply aren't as interesting to me as the geography or history or details of some cult. And that, in turn, often means it's because I haven't got enough conflict going on, the stakes for my characters aren't high enough. In short, it's like I started to watch a drama but it was boring so I switched over to the History Channel.

    I'm not saying this is the case for you. I'm just relating my own experience, in case it sparks useful thoughts.
  16. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

    This might be true in some sense. I'm probably less adept than the average writer at the whole "emotional connection to the characters" thing, while I tend to more readily latch onto abstract ideas, plot, and world building details. I tend to think of my characters more as tokens I shuffle around or puzzle pieces that have to click into place to make the plot advance, rather than actual people. If this is the root of my problem I'm not sure how to fix it. I've been trying to capture more of that human element in my writing, but with little success.
  17. Nagash

    Nagash Sage

    Alike those who answered before me, I do not think there is such a thing as too much lore. There is, however, a possibility that you prefer world building over actually writing your story - procrastinating. You have to know when to stop, and how much time to spend on your world. Take it from a world-building addict: you should always flesh out your universe, and put as many details as you want; but you must never let it step on your storytelling work, which is just as important.

    Also, you should not try to include all of your lore in one story - if one book, one series, is not enough, just write another.

    I honestly love world-building. Yet, sometimes, it really does hold me back in my writing. Don't make it your sole priority.
  18. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    Maybe it would help if you picked a character and shared some of the thought that went into it?


    It's not just about how emotional your characters are in the prose. It's also about how exciting your characters are to you. You don't always have to have the deep brooding emotional bonds. But you should have characters that you are as happy to write about as anything else in your story.

    That's going to come through if you find yourself writing more and more thrilling about the lore than about the MC who's point of view the readers are concerned with.


    Creating a character that I think is awesome takes me about a day. I don't mean that I spend eight hours staring at a computer screen until six lines of notes makes sense to me. But if my goal is to make a great character, I start with my placeholder, type in what I think I know, and go back to it several times during that single day.

    In fact, I'm doing it today. I'm rounding out a party of seven characters that are out to destroy these spirit monster things I mentioned in the other thread.

    Two of them are the MCs, who are part of the main story that results in these spirit monsters attacking everywhere. When things are hopeless, they split up to recruit help, in four separate stories, inspired a bit by games like Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, and Baldur's Gate.

    The first is a barbarian who's story shows what these monsters are and all the harm they're doing. The third story is the wizard who is the first to take one of these things down. The fourth story is the co-MC on a rescue mission to free a broken, dark brooding person she knows who's been corrupted by them.

    So today I'm working on the two characters who share the second recruitment story. This is what I had first thing this morning - it's an entirely a placeholder:

    Twin Girls (16 yrs?)
    Think video game / anime characters
    One is Light, Bubbly, Spear-wielding Ninja Faker, Non-Combat skills
    One is transformed into a powerful "mascot" creature who does all the dirty work
    How does their POV build up the (spirit monster) story?

    Now it's:

    Two friends, 14 and 18, both women
    The younger has always been the happy tag-along, easily impressed.
    The older is more reserved, struggles to take an interest in things that should be over her head.
    The older finds a way to explore (spirit monster) magic, maybe by stealing an item
    She is transformed by the magic into a ferocious beast
    The younger friend takes on the guise of a ninja who takes credit for the beast friend's actions
    They continue to steal or conduct research into the magic that transformed her
    Their story explores the (spirit monster) magic and offers dangers beyond the creature itself.

    It's still not ready. In particular, the younger friend isn't awesome yet. I'll tackle it more in a couple of hours.
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2015
  19. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

    An investigation of my notes reveals that my main character's personality has always been difficult for me to define beyond adjectives like "decisive, cunning, aggressive, vengeful, ruthless, impatient, uncompromising". And his motivation is mostly "because I'm supposed to" rather than anything really personal. Maybe if I make the goal more personal somehow...
  20. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    One of the big ways to do that is to make him part of the cause of the big ol' plot. For instance, if monsters are invading the world, then he would be the one who drew the map that let the bad guys open the gate.
    Ireth likes this.

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