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How "realistic" should a World be?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Shasjas, Jan 26, 2012.

  1. Shasjas

    Shasjas Scribe

    I'm a bit stuck here.
    Many tips and guides I read about world building encourage a very realistic world for fantasy, so its almost like earth in medieval times (or whatever time period it's based off) but with slightly different land formations, different creatures, and the addition of magic.

    Now I agree with that to some extent, however I feel like I'm missing opportunity to make a completely crazy and fantastical world, with strange shaped mountains, floating islands and all that sort of thing.

    So I just want to hear some opinions on just how far to push into the more fantastic side of world creation.
  2. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    Set whatever boundaries you want for your world, and then be as realistic as you can within those boundaries. Flying mountains? Awesome. So what do you do about agriculture? Figure that out, and the world becomes more rich.
  3. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    I think those sites you've been reading have been getting muddled with their terminology. There's a big difference between "realistic" and "believable". Stick with "believable" - anything is believable is it's presented with flair. It's about suspension of disbelief with fantasy. Provided you make your world consistent, provided it follows the rules you create for it, and provided you treat it as though it were real when you are writing about it - with all the little details that make fictions sound so appealing - you'll have something believable, even if it isn't realistic.

    As for the details - see Devor's post. Work out what you want, and then consider the implications of the situation. Say you've got a landscape with few trees - say they've all been cut down so the land can be farmed - quite apart from the whole erosion thing, lack of trees pushes wood prices up. People can't build with wood if there is none to harvest. Houses are built of stone or mud brick. Anything written is done on stone tablets, scratched onto pottery or into malleable clay, not paper. Only the super-rich can afford tree-lined driveways. You think about how the situation you want affects the society and economy, and you build it into the world, or build the world around it. That's how you make it believable. Forget being "realistic" and just do what you want - within the scope of believability.
    Firefly likes this.
  4. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

    There isn't an exact line one can cross, becoming too 'unrealistic' for a reader to accept. As long as the story is engaging and the reader is coaxed into suspending disbelief, pretty much anything goes.

    Steven Brust's works have floating castles and weapons that devour souls. Stephen R. Donaldson had a leper enter his 'world' bearing a white gold ring that, becuse it was white gold, contained wild magic. C.S. Lewis had talking badgers and foxes. Stephanie Meyer had vampires that sparkle in the sunlight.

    Do what's right for the story. Maybe it'll work. Maybe not. But you won't know until you try.
  5. Codey Amprim

    Codey Amprim Staff Article Team

    Chilari couldn't have said it better. There's a difference between realistic and believable, and how you interpret what is presented. Honestly, I think a lot of world building comes down to tastes - what you like vs. what you dislike - and that will bias your opinion towards whatever is in question.

    Personally, I don't like near-omnipotent beings aside from Gods that are everywhere, especially when the hero or heroine can defeat them all with little consequence. I think that's my best attempt at defining what I think of believability* (don't think that's a word) as.

    Basically, your world can be as crazy and unique as you want! You just need to be consistent and follow your own rules of the world. I try to steer away from the totally fantastic creatures and land formations, because taking the time to explain them robs the story and I have a fear of info dumping.
  6. I say go for it, the people who try to make up all these rules about how realistic a fantasy world should be, simply don't seem to understand that fantasy means just that!. Its about taking people on a journey of imagination and showing them fantastical new worlds they never thought possible.

    Personally I find fantasy novels that try to be too historically accurate incredibly boring to read. I love worlds that are outlandish and different, and don't care how unrealistic they are, so long as the story telling immerses me in those worlds. Look at some of Moorcock's novels. his worlds are sometimes so outlandish they are garish - yet that makes him entertaining to read.

    My own world has floating mountains, airships, underwater cities, giant cacti like pods that are dried out to make houses, nomads that live in small houses mounted on top of huge beasts, winged human tribes that live wild in the plains, and any other weird idea I care to come up with. The chapter I was working on last night has a floating island in the middle of a huge canyon, which is seen while traveling on the back of a giant beast with a house on its back.

    Having said that I am also in the planning stages of a novel that is set in Victorian London - but with elves and dwarves ect, in this case some degree of realism would be needed, though it won't be London as we know it today!
  7. Shasjas

    Shasjas Scribe

    Ah, that makes much more sense to me.
    So its more about believability than being almost historically accurate and realistic, so taking a cool imaginative idea and making sure that the consequences of that idea interact with the world in a realistic way, rather than them being quite realistic in the first place.
  8. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

    Shasjas, have you ever read The Neverending Story by Michael Ende??

    With my own stories, I go for totally unrealistic worlds that could be described as dream-like or perhaps like something taken from surrealist paintings... I simply love the idea of Fantasy as something truly fantastic, and in my opinion, what really matters is to take my readers and immerse them in my stories and my worlds- Whether they think that it's believable or not, really lacks of importance for me.
  9. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    You've talked a lot about your writing, Sheilawisz, and I hope you don't feel left out when I and others give answers like the one above. The world you talk about writing in requires a higher suspension of disbelief, and I think that's best achieved through a voice and tone that's, well, fun - almost comedic - and tough to maintain throughout. It's my impression that even a lot of "fun" writers have a mostly believable world to fall back on for when the fun dips or stops or doesn't deliver. But I always just assume, unless told otherwise, that people are engaged in dramatic writing, and the comments above are pretty much the standard answer for a drama.
  10. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

    @Devor: No problem- I have always known, since my first days here in Mythic Scribes, that what I write is almost a different genre and not at all the style of Fantasy that most of you are writing!! That's alright, we can have many different points of view and our differences can help all of us with our writing and storytelling talents =)
  11. Reaver

    Reaver Kwisatz Haderach Moderator

    My writing falls into the same spectrum as Sheila and the guitarman's. The world in which my fantasy stories take place is inhabited by all sorts of unconventional cultures, races, creatures, etc. I even have a race of beings who travel at the speed of thought. I personally enjoy all types of fantasy, whether they're "grounded" in reality or not is of no importance. When I pick up a fantasy or sci-fi book, I want an escape from this world..even though it's only for a short while.
  12. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

    In The Neverending Story, the world of Fantastica extends endlessly in all directions and its features follow no natural order: Mountains can be just there without a geological cause, and when travelling, you can leave a searing hot desert to suddenly find yourself in a landscape of snow and ice everywhere =)

    The underground of Fantastica is composed by memories that were lost in the real world (you can actually go mining for lost memories, which can be extracted in the form of crystals showing images) and they have things like a huge sea of fog where special ships travel propulsed by the power of imagination...

    At one point of the story, the entire endless world was reduced to a tiny particle of sand... and from that particle, a new endless Fantastica was created- It is possible that something comes into existance suddenly but then it has existed since centuries ago, and humans who visit Fantastica start to slowly lose all their memories until they are lost forever if they cannot travel back to the real world.

    Magic is completely unreal and fantastic, without explanations of any kind!!

    @Graham and Reaver: Your worlds sound interesting =)
  13. Sheila, reading your posts from my position of lurkdom is really urging me to read the Neverending Story. :p

    On topic-
    I don't think even believability matters too much, depending on the style you're writing with. If you can get the narration to point and laugh at the ridiculousness with the reader, then the stupid, unbelievable things can switch from being incredibly irritating to being, actually, quite funny.
  14. Shasjas

    Shasjas Scribe

    sure, if you're trying to do a fantasy comedy, but I don't think that works for a more "serious" story.
  15. True, that's partly why I said it depended on the style. But even serious stories can do with a bit of comedy every now and then, in my opinion. And the narrator could simply find the whole thing incredibly irritating as would the reader, rather than pointing and laughing at it. So long as the reader doesn't get left feeling as if something ridiculous has happened, but no one has noticed it, with even the narrator seemingly oblivious.
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2012
  16. You don't have to write comedy to have fantastical worlds, in fact I find it a bit condescending to be told that the only way I can make my magical worlds work is to make them funny!

    This idea that fantasy worlds have to be ultra realistic is actually a very modern one. Its as if fantasy writers have become embarrassed that they are writing about worlds that don't exist. As a more mature reader/writer I grew up with fantastical worlds, and happily suspended belief to immerse myself in the stories.

    If I wanted hard realism I'd read historical fiction, not Fantasy! And therein lies he problem for me, the more fantasy drifts towards a historical fiction point of view, the more you lose the magic of amazing fantasy worlds. I'm not saying there isn't a big market for realistic fantasy, but there is also still a big market for more magical fantasy that doesn't have to resort to humour to be enjoyable.
    Sheilawisz likes this.
  17. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

    @Graham: I agree totally with you!! Thanks for that post- I am also sure that there is market for stories like mine, not everything has to be "believable and realistic" in Fantasy =)

    @Insanity: I really recommend The Neverending Story- So, what other posts from me have you found interesting??
  18. gerald.parson

    gerald.parson Troubadour

    I myself prefer a realistic culture setting combined with a believable character based wrapped in fantasy. I think history (our history) has provided us with enough clay to sculpt damn near anything. Some elements match well with others, some don't. This is just me of course.
  19. and which part of our history do elves, dwarves, goblins and orcs come from? they are derived from our mythology sure, but not from real history

    create a high fantasy with any of the above and at least 50% of your world will not be based on human culture or history

    Edit: I'm not saying that human culture isn't a treasure trove of inspiration, but you still need to use your imagination to be a fantasy artist/writer otherwise your just a historical writer. Fantasy by definition is about made up things.
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2012
  20. Jess A

    Jess A Archmage

    I was once told by a co-worker that 'research for fantasy books is a stupid idea because fantasy isn't real'. I was speechless! Yes, fantasy is ... well, fantasy. But our job as writers is to create a world that is 'realistic' enough to make the reader believe that the floating mountains and talking animals could exist!

    The reason why I do research is because I want to know how long it would take a horse to travel a day and how much it should or shouldn't carry to make good time. I want to know a bit about historical economies so that I can make up my own, viable economy. I need to know the limits and boundaries of my world. If I want my horses to be able to carry more and travel longer than a normal horse, I'll make up a species that is similar to a horse but is stronger and has more stamina.

    Fantasy is and always will be about 'what if'. What if dragons existed? What if people could shape-shift? Write it convincingly, and the reader will simply sink into your world with pleasure and with ease.

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