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How much world building is too much for another Earth?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Swordfry, Jun 25, 2015.

  1. Swordfry

    Swordfry Troubadour

    If you are creating another Earth, whether it be with the exact same elements and creatures, or with newer creatures, plants, landscapes, how much world building is too much? Can you get by with using some of the same things already found here such as: units of measurement, currency, names and titles, curse words, element and mineral names, languages?

    How many think it would be lazy to just create another Earth, with many alien plants, animals, and landscapes, but then use the exact same measurements, names, etc, found here in our own world?

    I think going so far to create such small things from scratch is completely unnecessary. You can easily alienate many readers doing so. Even if you are creating an alien world, what good would it do, aside from just world building, to invent a brand new set of measurements? The reader is already familiar with such things, and would probably not want to think hard on such small things or even look up an index in the back of your book.

    This is the exact reason why I will never invent my own fictional language. Not even a small set of words or phrases. It doesn't matter what alien language your characters speak; the reader wants and needs to read in a language they know. Why can't they just pretend or assume that this alien race is speaking some new language without having the author literally spell out new words for them and maybe even have a whole index for the language in the back of the book? Do not get me wrong, linguist fans or people that just want to invent new languages for the funof it: go for it.


    (Sorry if I started to rant, lol)
    TheCatholicCrow likes this.
  2. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

    I'm fascinated by the concept of creating languages but IMO it is usually very awkward and (like you said) alienating in fiction.

    I'm also not a fan of naming fake measurements. There are other ways around that. For instance, you don't have to use miles (or killometers). Depending on the terrain, (either briskly walking or on horse) a "day's journey" should be somewhere around 20 or 30 miles. I'm not sure if that's common knowledge outside of California but anyone that grew up here and paid attention in the 4th grade or ever visited a mission should know that. [There's 21 missions- over more than 600 miles from the first to the last. They were carefully planned and spread apart to be (weather permitting) accessible within a single day's journey.] It might be the Californian in me but I LOVE using a "day's journey" or "1/2 a day's journey" and as a writer I can mentally keep track of the distances b/n ea city and (I'm guessing) the reader should be able to tell what I mean by that as well.

    If you wanted to, a cup can be equated to a handful, you could call an acre a standard plot etc. If you're vague-ish about measurements I think the reader is likely to fill it it with his/her own cultural assumptions. So (as an American) I would be free to think about the world through my nation's measurement system while a UK reader will read the same passage and automatically link it to the equivalent in the Metric system. I like traditional currencies but if you want to use a simple system based on gold and silver (or bronze) coins it's okay as long as you don't overdo it (you don't need the equivalent of dimes and nickels and pence). I think I generally turn to bartering to avoid this (10 chickens and a goat for an X of blah-blah-blah).

    I would personally say it is not unnecessary to put deep thought into designing and building your world. It only becomes unnecessary if you thrust all of the information onto the reader.

    I think this tendency in many Fantasy books is parallel to the tendency that many Historical Fiction authors have as well (in regards to including all of their research). I wouldn't discourage anyone from doing more research - you might find that in so doing there was a huge plot hole you had previously overlooked (like having an isolated self-sustaining culture based in a barren wasteland where no plants can grow) or (as was recently the case with one of my own WIP, the MC couldn't dispose of a body w in a dumpster or in plastic trash bags b/c they weren't available on the US market until like 5 years later. When I realized this, I had to research early 1950's methods of garbage disposal in urban settings). Anyone who lived through the 50's probably would have noticed everyone else probably wouldn't. But just because I did the research doesn't mean I have to include the explanation in the book. I just had to find a new method. I see HF authors do this all the time and it can really drag a story down when they feel the need to go off with a 10 page instruction manual on how a secondary character spun wool. I already know how to spin but even if I didn't, reading about how to wash, card, load a spindle and spin loses its appeal when I just want to know if the widow really killed her husband (or whatever). If you dump that on me I'll probably skip it. With that said, world building, whether fantasy or HF, must be woven delicately throughout the story AND must be relevant to the reader.

    Personally, I'm satisfied just knowing there's another language, you can even give it a pretty name but I don't want to be forced to learn it in order to understand what's going on.

    I find it intriguing to see the parts of world building other writers choose to focus on. For me, developing the culture (commerce, gender expectations, family dynamic, political structures and institutions etc) and religion (rituals, doctrine, rites, taboos, etc) are priority #1. I don't name languages or regional dialects though (as the writer) I do keep it in mind and give each region & social class a different set of phrases / linguistic customs (higher classes insist on using fewer contractions). I wouldn't ever point it out to the reader but there are trivial customs in there for my own amusement and because I feel that makes the culture more authentic since realistically not everybody in the same society will speak in the same manner. So - rather than using different languages (which I loathe as a reader) I prefer to use different dialects (though, like I said, it is very very subtle).

    I think the complexity of your story might play a role as well. I enjoy very complicated novels with simple world building (if there's already a ton going on in the story there's no way you can expect your reader to keep everything else straight too) but if your story is very simple (by that I mean it could be adapted into either a Japanese or Indie film) then a little extra world building might be more appropriate.

    If an author feels the need to give me an index they've probably got too much going on. With the exception of maps, a book should be able to stand on its own without a guide.

    I like Low Fantasy so I'm there with you (sort of).
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2015
    Feo Takahari likes this.
  3. valiant12

    valiant12 Sage

    I completely agree with you.
    The only made up words I plan to use in my world are names for the months and weekdays, 1 type of alcohol and 1 chess like game.
    Swordfry likes this.
  4. Russ

    Russ Istar

    Finding the right balance can be very hard. You need to honestly assess your own skills and limitations, and think about your potential audience and the goals/feel/theme of your work.

    Without knowing a little bit about what you are trying to achieve with your writing, and how your tale will be focused, it is hard to offer much advice.
    Swordfry likes this.
  5. AlexanderMiracoure

    AlexanderMiracoure Acolyte

    I've never felt like there is too much when it comes to worldbuilding, and I have even gone so far as creating four languages and developing not only gods and goddesses, but the ways in which magic works and units of measurement, curses, etc.
    However, it is not the amount of stuff that you've created, it is how you apply it Worldbuilding itself is to help you, the writer, understand that organism that you've created more, it is a tool used to get yourself involved within your world AND to help along the reader as well (though not as importantly). Without worldbuilding the writer would never know where they are withing their world, etc. IT IS JUST WHAT YOU CHOOSE TO SHOW TO YOUR READERS THAT HAS THE POSSIBILITY TO BE TOO MUCH. ^^ The reader does not want to be flooded with religions and languages and even races and continents, instead they want to soak in everything slowly, as if they were experiencing a new culture here on Earth. Therefore, create all you want (I spent six years worldbuilding before I began writing), and then once you start writing introduce things slowly, don't flood the book with different languages and such, words here and there work even better.
    Swordfry likes this.
  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Long-timers here are probably getting tired of me bringing up Altearth, which is my world. I didn't invent it so much as twist it. It's Earth right up until the late Roman Empire when, instead of barbarians, it's monsters that come roaring in, bringing magic in their wake. By the 700s or so, Altearth has all the major fantasy elements of medieval and early modern legends.

    You might think this means I don't have to make up measurements and the like. I admit I rather thought that myself, but two complications arose, both of which have turned out to be interesting. By which I mean, difficult.

    One is, I carry the Empire into the Middle Ages. So all the old Roman measurements are still available to me and I have to choose what to use and what not to use. One I chose to use quite early is the Roman dating system. All dates are given ab urbe condita, which means I take the Earth year and add 753 to it. It's the Julian calendar, thank goodness, so I don't have to wrestle with that. OTOH, I choose not to carry forward the nundinae because I figured a nine day week was a needless complication and would be too intrusive. The calendar of the old Republic, btw, is much fun. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_calendar

    Anyway, that's the guideline I use. If the oddity adds some color *and* is not too intrusive, then I'll use it. It's sort of like names--I want them to be interesting and exotic yet not cause the reader to stumble over them.

    The other complication is much bigger and more interesting. Difficult. It was quite a long time before I realized this painfully obvious fact: every intelligent nation I include--dwarves, elves, orcs, trolls--is going to have their own civilization. Which means their own units of measurement, naming systems, origin legends, etc. So I haven't gotten away from that sort of world-building at all. I'll tell you this, it has made me *far* more selective in which peoples I decide will be intelligent and which will simply be monsters.

    As for what I've done for those nations, I have a handy guideline: I do as little as possible.

    I do this not only out of laziness (a universal characteristic of writers) but also out of caution and a desire for flexibility. Every decision I make about dwarves or whatever becomes a constant that all subsequent stories have to live with. By keeping all of that as vague as I can, I can let the individual stories pull out just those attributes or funny words or old sayings or whatever that the story itself needs. Then I can decide if I want to make that a constant for the world, or if I want to let that particular factoid be peculiar to that tribe, or be a custom that passed out of practice, or otherwise gets marginalized.

    To put all this more succinctly: there is a dialectic between worldbuilding and storytelling. I get to sit in the middle and enjoy the show.
    Swordfry likes this.
  7. Bropocalypse

    Bropocalypse Dreamer

    Words are heavy.
    No matter how much of your world you choose to invent, you should establish just enough to get the reader going. If you start off by describing(for example) one or two fantastic creatures, that will be enough for the reader to understand that what they're seeing isn't the same as what we're familiar with.
    You can also sneak worldbuilding into the regular establishment of locations. You're going to describe anyway, you may as well include it.

    But whatever you do, don't OVERdo. Salt can make any food taste better, but too much is often worse than not enough.
  8. osimur_wil

    osimur_wil Scribe

    It really depends on how much detail you're willing to go in to. Some people are okay with just copypasting the basic properties of Earth and apply their own landmasses on to it. Other people go the scientific route and go through the trouble of using astrophysics and formulas to construct their own terrestrial worlds.
    It really all depends on how far you're willing to go to make your world your own.
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    The question of how much is too much comes up often around here, in many different contexts. Here's my attempt to answer the generic question.

    1. Is it too much for *you*? Specifically, when you write your novel, does it feel *to you* that it drags in places where you are doing worldbuilding infodumps (or whatever the issue in question is)? If so, that's too much. Keep editing until it feels right to you. Don't pay any attention to formulae or guidelines. Write the book.

    2. Now give the completed work to beta readers. Do they say there's too much worldbuilding? Are they unanimous or nearly so? If so, that's too much. See #1.

    3. Now give the edited work to a critique group. See #2.

    4. Now give the work to an editor. If this is your first novel, take a deep breath and cough up the money. You need the advice. Does the editor say there is too much worldbuilding? See #1

    5. Publish. Do not look back.

    I know people love to ask this "too much" question and I know it will go on getting asked, but I really think the above will comprise my answer to all such, so I'll officially sign off on such threads.
  10. L M Rush

    L M Rush Scribe

    Intriguing, especially the part about measurements. I admit I originally wanted to change miles/yards etc, along with changing what the people in my world called 'years'. In the end, it just seemed pointlessly confusing. I was reading my own work and going 'Ah, well I've said she is 16 seasons old, but what happens later if i refer to the changing of a season? Or if my readers automatically assume 'okay so she is 4 years old?''' thinking I meant seasons as in Winter/Spring/Summer/Autumn. I agree within reason of not needlessly complicating things, but it's nice to invent some names/terms which are unique to your story. Doesn't hurt to find somebody being called a 'Kyain'. Author explains that its a term for the chief of chiefs, a King of sorts. Unique to my story, that specific name - on the other hand imagine how many stories have 'chief of chiefs' or even 'Kings'.

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