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Rookie world builder- questions and thoughts

Discussion in 'World Building' started by DeathtoTrite, Nov 28, 2014.

  1. DeathtoTrite

    DeathtoTrite Troubadour

    Synopsis, so if you don't want to read it all you can still give me some help-

    1) History. How much should I use as inspiration for nations?
    2) Names. Real world, cultural specific names. Some changes/taking words from language. yay/nay?
    3) detail- how much, how to deliver it?

    If you have time, read the long version please. I appreciate the input. :)

    First, sorry if this gets long. Bear with me.

    I'm trying to design a world for a book. I love history, so its easy for me to draw bits and pieces from historical examples. Some are obvious (old, weakening empire, intrigue, eunuchs, splendid capital) while some are much more muddled (how many people are going to see the similarities to Suomi tribes?). Any good rules of thumb out there for how much historical inspiration is too much? At a certain point, I figure, a reader will fill in missing details with well known historic ones.

    I suppose that's good to an extent, since I'm not inclined to write out a detailed synopsis of its culture, and I don't anyone would want to read that. But, I don't want the reader making wrong conclusions. Also, names. I do NOT want to just create generic "Alyria" names. For one, it risks sounding like LotR, DnD, or any other thoroughly cliched fantasy thing. For another, there would be no cultural consistency (unless I decided to make languages as well) so I'm going with naming groups. One area has Turkic and Mongol names (Arslan is an important character) while another uses Roman and Greek names (the empire).

    If you're still with me, thank you. Last question- detail? Now, I'm somewhat odd and will add oodles of detail in my world even if the entire forum comes here to say I shouldn't. Its relaxing and fun to try to work out history, trade, architecture, etc. of the world. My concern though, is for writing. Obviously, a reader doesn't want a history textbook about a made-up world. But they also don't want something vanilla. Again, any rule of thumb for this? Besides well worked in details (eg- woman pulls on veil before leaving house) how much exposition can you take? Is it better when delivered as character thoughts (like ASOIAF), dialogue (two people talk about politics), or lectures from teacher/mentor figure.
    Geldor likes this.
  2. Tom

    Tom Istar

    Hi! I'm a quirky worldbuilder too, and so far no one has minded my tangents. :)

    I think you should worldbuild as much as you want, but when it comes to the actual writing, try to be spare and drop the majority of your info through dialogue and narration, not straight exposition. It's all in the little details, I think. Building your world through small, detailed revelations makes it more layered and nuanced, IMO.

    That being said, I often find myself pausing and wondering something like, "Is it really necessary to differentiate analog-Celtic torq necklaces between the analog-British Isles style and analog-mainland style?" If you find yourself in a situation like that, just take a deep breath and tell yourself it doesn't matter all that much. Or if it does, you can always find a way to slip it in more unobtrusively.

    I prefer to reference worldbuilding in dialogue, then include an example of it in the narrative further along so I have a chance to make it more solid. Say that in dialogue, a character mentions a superstition surrounding the statues on such-and-such a god's temple. Later, if they visit that temple, I can add some more worldbuilding to flesh it out and give it some history.

    I've found that this method keeps people--at least, my very tolerant betas--interested because now they want to know about it, too. If you just dump straight exposition on them they won't have that experience--getting a little taste, and wanting more.
    Zāl Dastān likes this.
  3. B-Raan

    B-Raan New Member

    I am a very lazy worldbuilder, so take this advice with that in mind.

    First of all, I never give away more information than I need to. If my story takes place in a town, then all I really need to give the reader is a sense of what that town is like. They don't need to know about surrounding towns, the country, the continent, or any thing else that is not pertinent to the story. I may know what the world is like outside of that town, but if it is not important to the story, I don't include that information. And generally, I don't construct new countries and cultures unless I need it for the story I am telling.

    Second, I am very aware of continuity. The reader may not need to know a lot about the world, but what they do know should be consistent. I use something called tiddlywiki to keep all my information straight. Everytime I introduce a new element, whether it be a person, place, or thing, I make a wiki entry for it so that I have something to go back to If I need a refresher.

    I would'nt worry about drawing from historical examples in your fiction. Most fantasy out there is lifted right out of Nordic culture and mythology. Some of it is really blatant too. I guess if you are going to use a real world culture as a template, you're at least in good company. A lot of my worldbuilding is inspired by real cultures, and I have never had anyone call me on it. By the way, I dont even know who the Suomi are.

    Names are tough, and I suppose a lot of it depends on what your worlds culture is like. All I can say, is come up with a naming convention that works for you, and then stick with it. A few naming conventions I use are as follows:

    1. Mispelling. Giry, instead of Gary. Ana instead of Anna. Rajur instead of Roger. These show up mostly in my Steampunk fiction, and help give a sense of another world without going overboard.

    2. Native Descriptive Names. Go look at some Native American names, and try to ape them. Some of them are really good, and gives you a way to name characters without making up new words. We are all familiar with names like Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, and Crazy Horse. There are a few famous examples of this out there already.

    Also, there is a great site I use sometimes, The Rinkworks Fantasy Name Generator, which allows you to make your own templates.

    As far as how to relay the information about the world to your readers, you really just have to practice. Sometimes you can get away with describing a place in detail (especially at the beginning of a book, or chapter), especially if you describe it the way the character is experiencing it. Sometimes dialogue is sufficient to help give the reader a sense of the setting too. Really it just comes down to having the skill and experience to know when to use what.

    Hope I helped a bit.
  4. Hainted

    Hainted Sage

    To a certain extent you can give lessons on your world in story. I have notes on how the days of the week were named, and the stories behind the months, calculated how far from the sun my world is, size of it's moon etc.... Most of this will never be in a story, but it helps me add weight to the world in my head.

    An easier method would be using some things in description or character thoughts, and only fleshing out what needs more explanation. People will fill in gaps or extrapolate from small informational clues. For example:

    Vellanus walked through the Brickhaven district like any normal man that crisp Talidaeg morning. He had no set destination as he followed the bustle of the markets feeling the press of men women and other around him. The thump of his staff against the worn cobblestone of Goblintown, as those across the river called it, lost amid the din of a hundred hawkers, buyers and braying beasts as the city prepared for the coming of spring. Libitine had buried them in snow and ice for weeks, but finally Sehryl had come up on the calendar bringing warmth, and new growth, and most importantly new love.

    Just off the top of my head, but there's a lot of info in there.
  5. DeathtoTrite

    DeathtoTrite Troubadour

    Great advice from everyone. Thanks!:)
  6. spectre

    spectre Sage

    Don't hold back, some of the really great successful fantasy stories have relied on relaying backstory information to draw in readers. A lot of fantasy readers do enjoy reading history, and architecture, and dress, and language, and geography. That's why LoTR has seen the publishing of unfinished Tolkien works that were originally just lore bits. You really can't overemphasize your world, I mean you can, but you know to stay on with your story and whatever bits come up as filler conversation that might inspire a particular train of thought in your character, or which might be the highlight of their ambitions and character, use it.

    In Wheel of Time I've loved the little snippets in the chapters from the Dragon Prophecies, and the little dead sayings that the heroes of old have said as they came back into the present.

    As fantasy, you aren't necessarily going to rely on rich historical lore to build your story, but an explanation of from whence things came keeps readers intrigued.

    Language building is a great idea, I think it's better to build your own culture that might have some traits of real world culture than it is to take directly from history. Taking from history to me is another genre of historical fiction and in some fantasy genre circle, readers don't like too much of the mystifying east orient flavor being melded into the story where other readers live for that. So long as your story has a clean perspective, I would say it's hard to overdue your world unless it's just a jumble of mixed up tidbits that don't have a sense of consequence and roots, but then in alternate dimensions that might be exactly what you need.

    Defy time and rewrite history.
    Zāl Dastān likes this.
  7. AllegedObserver

    AllegedObserver Dreamer

    First of all, let me say that there can no shortage of detail in a fantasy setting. There are so many things to think of. And, in my opinion its important to work much of that out. But only go into as much detail during this "research".

    Tom Nimenai says: "...hen it comes to the actual writing, try to be spare and drop the majority of your info through dialogue and narration, not straight exposition." And he's right. All that hard work is going to come out in the dialogue. The things people say, how they say it, popular catch phrases, cultural references and so on.

    Place names are also very important (and there's a thread already discussing that). Short of pointing you over there, I use a number of ways to name cities, towns, villages. Compile a list of words common in english place names (hill, town, ville, mount, river, creek, red, green, three... etc etc) and then head over to google translate and use that to translate those words into Czech or German or French or Arabic or whatever. Place names are simply "the place where the three rivers converge" and over the fullness of time become Three Rivers or Trois-Rivières or Drei-Flüsse etc etc.

    Anyways everyone seems to have some great ideas and have pointed you in right direction I think.

    @B-Rann: Soumi is what the Finnish people call their country Finland. Finland is not a strictly Nordic culture. There is a strong Nordic element there, but also there is a lot of Lapp and Eurasian culture there as well. Its a very curious and interesting blend.

    Zāl Dastān likes this.
  8. Zāl Dastān

    Zāl Dastān Dreamer

    One of the great lessons one can take from the Souls Series (Demons' Souls, Dark Souls, & Dark Souls II) is that the more substance to that your world that you imply exists without stating it outright, the better. What better way is there to do this than to create said substance?

    Tom Nimenai gave a perfect example; by having the characters discuss some little bit of lore, the reader is intrigued and led to assume that there is a depth of additional info surrounding said little bit. This naturally inspires curiosity in the reader. Then, when the lore is manifested in the narrative (in this case with the statues in the temple) they are rewarded for their curiosity. This is far preferable to just revealing this lore in a narrative dump. Worst case scenario you can just release an Atlas of your world once the series is a bestseller! :D

    Also, as a history buff, I wouldn't necessarily say having historical influence is a bad thing. My only advice is that it either needs to be overwhelming or integrated so well as to be almost unnoticeable; it also should be both necessary and consistent.

    Take Dragon Age; Ferelden resembles Saxon England so it uses English. Orlais is powerful, haughty, and fashion-obsessed so the Orlesians speak French. Tevinter is a crumbling & militarist ancient empire with a penchant for slavery so they have Latin names and Roman Influences. The Qunari are supposed to feel alien, so they speak a constructed language. Orlais, Tevinter, and Ferelden manage to nevertheless feel distinct from the French, Romans, and English despite sharing their language. With good enough immersion, one will see a character in Dragon Age named something like 'Gaston LaRoche' and think "Oh, he must be Orlesian!" not "Oh, he has a French name!" Martin does a similarly good job with A Song of Ice and Fire, where one can start to guess not only at which country a character hails from but in some cases which region or family within a country they're from thanks to his use of language.

    This is where consistency is key. If Orlais was still sort-of-French, but had a ton of names drawn arbitrarily from different countries, this effect is lost. Dark Souls tends to fail hard here; so long as a word is appropriately western (and presumably exotic enough for the Japanese audience) it's in as long as it's cool.

    Hope this was helpful!
  9. evanator66

    evanator66 Minstrel

    You should probably figure out how to make these things work for you, because everyone writes differently. That being said, I try to avoid real world history as it is often a "charged" topic and can anger people (unless I am trying to be controversial). I usually use the names of people who I used to know, but that I am no longer acquainted with. I write as much detail as possible, but only put a small amount into each story. Put all that extra detail into a book for yourself, as it can help you to create plots better (you could also publish it later.)
  10. SugoiMe

    SugoiMe Closed Account

    History - I try to shy away from using real world history in my writing, but it tends to creep into places, except when I talked about the origins of the fantasy word I built. The begining hints heavily toward Biblical creation, but there's a twist to it because it deals with a world separate from Earth. I tend to incorporate a few odd tidbits of different real world cultures into the ones that I'm writing about, but try to keep it discreet.

    Names - I made all of my names up with the exception of two: the word shalom from the Hebrew roughy meaning "peace" and the name Yosef which is the Hebrew of Joseph (maybe not the right spelling? I don't know). The reason I chose those two names is because when I first conceptualized this world, I was living with a Jewish family in France, and I simply like the way the words sounded. The made-up names of my characters of one culture almost all have meaning that have roots in my conlang. Oftentimes, the names a reflective of the character's personality traits or identity.

    Detail - I like to use a lot of detail. However, just because I'm fascinated with every aspect of my world, doesn't mean my reader is. I found that out quickly when my first chapter was critiqued. So, I'd recommend using as much detail is needed to get the meaning across. That's pretty much what everyone so far on this thread has suggested.
  11. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    I'm not a world-builder, so I'll try to be sympathetic to this situation. I have built a world, I guess. I have maps (of the world, countries, and some cities), names for money for my various kingdoms, I have a magic chart with my spheres drawn up. I also have a few spider graphs to show character or political affiliations. I even have a dozen family trees. However, that being said, I built just enough world to write ten books. There are massive amounts of "history" that I hint at or give a clue to, but I never worked out what happened or who won the ancient war, or whatever.

    The thing I realize now, after fourteen years since that first book was written, was that most of the doodles, history, etc. was not important. The details I most need now are other things, logistics things that I never thought about before. So, my tip will be a different flavor than the others. I will advise you to do as much world-building as you want to, but consider those most important details, and make sure you don't just do the "fun stuff", like drawing maps. That map will be a relatively unimportant tool in the scheme of a series, even. It will be helpful for judging scale and travel time, it'll help you keep place names and spacial awareness and all that stuff, but when you're sitting on book eleven and can't explain why your werewolves reproduce at a slow rate (for the good ones) while the nasty-bad lycanthropes on the western side of the world just keep getting more numerous, it begins to become apparent where you could have devoted more time. But that's experience and I didn't have it and if anyone has any suggestions for the werewolf conundrum, let me know ;)

    Anyways, back to world-building. Writing is writing practice. I'd suggest writing about two dozen short stories set in your world. Write a one-off character who never will come into the story. Or if you love her in the end, bring her in for a cameo! Just write. As you write a scene where she has to flee from a city at night and she blows up the bell tower in her midnight escape, you'll have that brilliant piece of uniqueness as you open your main project with a character meeting a friend in front of the old bell tower that blew up six months ago (or whatever). The most convincing stories wouldn't explain why it's broken, they would mention that it is (through scene setting, not literally), and let it be. That's one of the hardest things for new writers to do...let their details be background and LITERALLY in the background. I once had a problem, where all my characters "looked' the same. "Talked" the same. Meh, I got it a lot from one crit partner in particular. I got to the point where I was tired of hearing it, so I made a conscious effort to make my characters different. In any way possible. It's funny, the small details you begin to notice when you search for any way to make someone unique, memorable, individual. I think the same goes for setting. Like in my example, if your book opens with a panoramic description of a city, with its tall parapets and jasmine floating on warm air currents, it's less interesting than if it opens in the shadow of a tower, stained black from soot, and the top half is missing the whole east face. For me as a reader, those tiny details (which do not need any sort of explanation for the reader to enjoy) make the story. Not just make the story better, but they literally MAKE the story.

    I say build and draw as much as you want, but make sure what you are building has a certain uniqueness that readers can sink their teeth into. Most of the time (I'd call it 80-90%) of the time I read a novel written by a world-builder, it opens with a panoramic description and it follows a pretty universally uninteresting format--fourteen paragraphs of description that takes itself too seriously and tries to convince us of beauty we literally cannot visualize (because there exists no story context yet), followed by a brief scene of a mentor and student, a king and his noble/ general, or a parent and their child, explaining the history the other needs to KNOW. As long as you can leave the world-built stuff in the shadows, call it infrastructure, or whatever, you can totally succeed in creating a rich and authentic world that you can use for many years to support successful stories. Readers love authentic worlds and though my world is pretty dull and not at all unique and special, I think by my choice of details I write, I present it in its best possible light.

    Best wishes and I hope you enjoy the process. It isn't a quick one, but the adventure is worth it.
    Zāl Dastān and Snowpoint like this.
  12. Laurence

    Laurence Inkling

    I hear a lot of people saying they're tired of the parent/mentor thing and I get it. I am, however, interested in showing my protagonist's childhood, so parents are pretty much a necessity to my story. My protagonist's father does actually die by the time my protagonist is a teenager, mostly because I don't want to follow too many main characters. Would this piss you off or is has mother son duo not been used too much?

    There may be a friend from the protagonist's childhood joining the party.
  13. Ky2015

    Ky2015 Acolyte

    I think the most effective world-building stories never actually tell us all the details in the story. Rather, there is a story to tell, and you tell it... then, maybe you list out the histories/descriptions/maps/etc. in appendices or other History Books. That way, people have the option to delve into it as much or as little as you want.

    It's like "show, not tell" but on a HUGE scale.
  14. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    A few things.

    I think a lot of people start off by thinking something like, "I"m going to stop to tell readers about my world, and then we'll get on with the story . . . ." That kind of info-dumping can work sometimes if you have a good audience surrogate or a super-compelling world. But most of the time it can get old pretty fast.

    I think it was Ghost who coined the phrase a few years ago - but I like to suggest that people info-litter, scattering little details about the world throughout the text and in a variety of ways. People will pick up on subtle clues without even recognizing it. And even if not, I remember Conan O'brien, interviewing Ian who played Gandalf, and he said, "Your character says stuff about Gondor, and I have no idea what you're talking about, but it's like, 'yeah, let's go there!' and I'm pumped." And I think that's true for a lot of people. That is, immersion is more important than a reader's understanding of the details. Stopping too long to explain things, depending on the situation of course, can run the risk of breaking immersion and just being boring.

    I think there's also another element that makes a big difference here. How good of a writer are you? GRRM, for instance, has tons of "boring" world building stuff. But the strength of his prose and the power of his story carries you through it and helps the world building to payoff as the story goes on. I think every writer has their own threshold for this stuff. The better you are, the more of this stuff people will stick with, maybe even crave. The weaker your writing is, the more you just need to get to the point and move on.

    That said:

    History. Names. Detail. To really answer these questions, I need to the core concept behind your world. What is it about your setting that makes it worthwhile? There's a vast difference between, say, Middle Earth and Hogwarts. You need to figure out what's key about your setting and work around it.

    I will say one thing about history: Don't think of it as history. Think of it as plot that's already happened. I think that'll get you further at figuring out what is or is not relevant to your story.

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