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When do you stop

Discussion in 'World Building' started by AnomanderRake, Feb 10, 2014.

  1. AnomanderRake

    AnomanderRake Dreamer

    I am a beginner writer and want to build a fantasy world I could write stories from. I atleast want an outline for building plots.

    Now, from my list, it seems I have to create a map, gods, characters, geography, animals, plants, races, economy&trade, calendar etc.. It just boggles my mind.

    So, I want to ask, when do you guys stop? When do you say, enough is enough and start writing? It seems to me that if I do all the above mentioned things, it will take a while. And since I am just a beginning writer, I do not want to stop my writing.

    Suggestions/ help please.
  2. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    As a beginning writer, I would recommend you don't spend too much time on that. I'd say research and think about things until you're relatively comfortable and familiar with your world. I would also recommend that you keep the scope of things small if this is your first attempt at things. It will help keep you from feeling overwhelmed.

    From my personal experience, my first kick at the can was a 270k epic fantasy. I bit off more than I could chew. I just didn't know how to handle something so big.

    Remember, you don't have to create the whole world all at once. You can create it a piece at a time, just enough for you to tell a story. You can always add to it later, and as you're writing, you can always go back and changed things up in your world design.

    IMHO, it's better for someone that's just starting off to just write. Because it's in the stumbles along the way that you're going to learn your best lessons. Not trying to scare you, but no matter how hard you try, you're going to make mistakes, small and big... very big. But that's part of the process.

    If you want hard numbers, I'd recommend no more than 2-4 weeks of research before you start writing. Some people do more. Others do less. Every one is different, and as you develop as a writer, you'll learn what works for you.

    As a starting point you don't really need that much. For the world you only need to know three things.

    1 religion(s)
    2 group divisions
    3 moral compass - what is considered right and wrong in that world

    For developing a plot, all you need is as follows.

    1 an interesting character or characters
    2 something or somethings the character wants
    3 an obstacle that stands between that character and what they want
    4 a clear path that if under taken will lead the character to what they want

    These are the foundations for world building and plot. There are more things to consider, but these things in my opinion are enough to get you writing. Everything else you can figure out along the way.
    Ireth, Svrtnsse, PaulineMRoss and 3 others like this.
  3. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

    I don't have much to add to PenPilot's excellent and very comprehensive post except for perhaps one comment. The whole point of fantasy is that it's different from the real world, in some way (or in many ways). So start by thinking of what makes your world different. It might be the magic system, it might be an unusual weather feature, it might be that gods walk around amongst ordinary people, it might be an odd social structure. Whatever it is, look for the germ of your story idea amongst those differences. How would the magic system/weather/whatever affect the people living with it? Then place a character in an odd situation within some aspect of those differences. At that point, you can start thinking about goals and obstacles.

    As an example, George R R Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series starts with the unusual seasonal distribution (very long winters and summers), plus the muting of magic since the dragons disappeared. My own current work starts with wondering what marriage would be like if it comprised more than just two people, in a post-magic-apocalypse world. I'm sure you can think of your own examples.

    But a certain amount of world-building has to come first, to spark the ideas. After that - write, write, write! And good luck.
    Jabrosky and Penpilot like this.
  4. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    Excellent points, Penpilot for getting just enough foundation and Pauline for picking a special interest.

    The good news is, you might be well ahead of many of us (including me) at starting out, because:

    Stories, plural, you say. If you're thinking of shorter stories that let you get practice, you'll have a much easier time. Most fantasy writers want to do an epic sooner or later, but too many of us try it sooner-- I started with a 60K, a 40K, and then a 250K mess that still makes me cringe to think of.

    But as an early learning experience, short stories are vastly better. You can get a concept and finish a draft in a day, and get a taste of accomplishment (and later, a product to start shopping around) that you might not have for years with a big novel. More, with each tale you get a microcosm of writing, a really close look at what a character and a concept are, and how easy it is (when you stay on that scale) to trim or change things to maximize that specific thing-- it can take a lifetime to get that much control over a novel. One of the best tips I ever heard was, you learn most of what you do from writing when you've finished, so the faster and more often you finish, the more your knowledge can leapfrog ahead.

    It's also best for world-building. Instead of wanting to know a whole world first, you can set a framework and then do one story, and research what that tale needs-- and when you're done you've learned a lot about how much world a given tale needs, and probably what kind of tales and side of the world you want to explore next. A few stories later, you'll have a much firmer sense of what you want, and the world will have grown with you.
    Penpilot likes this.
  5. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I'd like to echo what wordwalker said because, well, I was going to write that too. Specifically, I'd like to push for writing short stories. Writing a story doesn't mean you stop world-building, it's just a different way of building the world. Short stories are excellent for this. Even something along the lines of "A Day in the Life of Joe Average" will give you opportunity to explore and add depth to your world.
  6. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    They say it takes a million words to get good. I believe in this a lot (barring those few people who are awesome writers from the very beginning). The problem is, world-building doesn't really count toward that goal, because it's structured more like technical writing (un-technical though it may be), and therefore, the less time you spend on it, the better in my opinion.

    Now... you should probably be realistic. If you are setting off to create a world, with the purpose of writing short stories or even long stories in it, that's great. If you have a trilogy planned for said world and plan to follow up with a sequel trilogy, it's probably ambitious to assume those works will be publishable. I'm not saying never. Just... not for a while. But, they're great to test stuff out on!

    I wrote an epic fantasy novel in 2001. I didn't do much world-building. I established my magic would be about suspending the laws of physics, say, levitation is using the mage's mental energy to defy gravity, etc. but it would not be something wholly unscientific. I also drew a map and threw some city and country names out there (I've since thrown up, reading those names, so I'm on the hunt for new names now :) ). Basically, I started with a character. And not even a good one, looking back.

    I guess my point is, most of the people who have been in your shoes, will probably say to write. WRITE a lot! Who cares if details are inconsistent and your mage changed disciplines halfway through. Who cares if your hero is good with any sort of weapon he picks up and you later learn how much training that takes and he's only twenty-four? It doesn't matter. Let it be weakly written and the world be inconsistent.

    WHY, you ask? Because that's the journey. Let me tell you a little about the journey. I started writing in 2001 and had this novel I mentioned above. Over the next six years, I wrote six more. Then, in 2010, I decided book seven was really good and deserved to be published. So I did the unthinkable (now), and cut out every shred of sex and violence, to make for a "publishable" (I thought), palatable story. Then, I spent a year putting it back together, after realizing I was an idiot.

    I kept writing and book eight turned into eight and nine. Book ten was begging to be written, so I put down nine at chapter twelve or thirteen and just skipped on to book ten. Then I did Nano 2011 and began my WIP that I'm about to final edit and submit. I have twelve full novels under my belt and I'm feeling like I might really be able to do this thing. PLUS, I can go back with all my new skills, and rewrite that stack of unpublishable crap on my bookshelf.

    The other side? There was a lady in a blog my friend sent me. She wrote a novel she really believed in. So, she quit her job and hired a nanny for her kid so she could stay home and write full-time. Many edits and revisions later, she got it published. In all, she spent twelve years working solely on that one novel. World-building for it, researching for it, writing it and many many edits while her writing skills improved.

    My very long point? Odds are your first couple books won't be worth more than a chuckle and a rewrite (if you love them enough) in a few years. If you hate them or have progressed so far you can't even be bothered to rewrite, that's GREAT! But for now, just write. Write a bunch of characters and test them out in your world. Write some interesting settings, unusual places and see what your characters do there. Write a colorful cross-section of your world, a historical event or a day in the life of a god.

    Just write.

    If, in the end of writing those short stories, you have a clearer picture of your world, AWESOME!. If your skills are better than my own and those short stories have enough merit, save them and publish them as an anthology after your book comes out. But every 10k words of practice you get in, gets you closer to that million word goal

    This is my plan before I rewrite. I realized my first five books need a lot of character work. My characters are inconsistent and sometimes overreact or do something out of character. When I wrote those, though, I just didn't know how to develop a great character. Now, looking back, I feel like laughing at myself. In fact, I do. Kinda a lot.

    I hope you have fun with world-building, but for now, I'd start with a few things you like, characters, places, historical events, anything that inspires you to write. Also, joining in the challenges is fun because it can give you ideas for things to put into your novel. My first Reaver Challenge entry was a scene I really wanted to put into my novel, but I wanted to try it out. It was really successful and so I ironed out the kinks an editing and now it's my introduction to a character in my WiP, a man they have to cut down off the gallows because they couldn't break him out of jail.

    I'm sure as you write, more details will come to you, and that's a very organic way to let your world grow. Better than over-planning and having your world or characters fighting your creativity as you write it.

    Best wishes!
    Penpilot and AnomanderRake like this.
  7. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    I would second the advice that beginning writers should start with short stories, except I haven't found that generating short story ideas is necessarily easier than generating novel concepts. The trick is to find an idea that doesn't need much elaboration or doesn't have a lot going on in it. I've had more than one experience in which I wrote a short story only for reviewers to complain that it was too short and would have worked better as a novel-length work. Mind you, a short story can be very easy to write if you find the right idea, but it's the fishing process which is the real monster.
  8. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    I did my initial world building - way, way more than I should have - decades ago, as the setting for some AD&D campaigns that never got off the ground. Erikson, whom you appear to admire, judging from your User Name, did much the same (at almost the same time). Shortly afterwards, I began attempting to write stories set in these worlds (I had something like six or eight of them at one time.) If memory serves, I finished rough drafts of maybe one or two.

    For a long while, I didn't do much writing to speak of. When I started again, I just grabbed what fit from my old world building concepts, and in the process, those six or eight worlds shrank to two. I also learned something else - no matter how much world building you do, you end up missing stuff - could be anything from national flags to regional dishes.

    My recommendation, such as it is:

    First, planets are *big*. Lots and lots of real estate, and with very few exceptions - and most of those involving epics with half a dozen plus volumes - most fantasy stories cover only a small portion of a given world. Erikson's 'Malazan' is one of those few exceptions - but there are entire continents and large swaths of Malazan itself that are still but barely touched. Keep that in mind.

    Second, decide what sort of overarching concept or theme your aiming for: perpetual low tech/high magic warfare? decadent steampunk with a hint of magic? An ancient empire on the brink of collapse? One world has room for all these and more. So...make up a rough global map and set aside regions for the differing types of themes you want to try writing about. No need for great detail. Might allow for a bit of interaction between the areas. Maybe the ancient empire sends the odd envoy to the steampunk realm, or the steampunk area does a bit of trading with the factions caught up in the endless war.

    Third, write some short stories. Pick some characters, or create some, and have them undertake relatively minor adventures in this or that area. Sign up for some Challenges on this site.
  9. Pythagoras

    Pythagoras Troubadour

    I'll be honest, I have no hopes to publish. I write for hobby, and world-building is a major part of what I enjoy. Or perhaps I should specify: History-building. The important aspects of the world construct themselves when you write its history, at least in my experience. And that in and of itself is a story, albeit a possibly dry one. But it's what I do. All of the pieces come together to create a complete cycle in which the only constant 'character' is the world itself, and that world is ultimately nothing more than an abstract representation of my own mind. But I digress.

    You hope to publish, and you probably want something a little more interesting than what I have to offer. But the point stands on its own: write the (hi)STORY, and the world will build itself.
  10. Pythagoras

    Pythagoras Troubadour

    Oh, another idea: maybe don't create the entire planet. Perhaps the extent of your world need only be what the characters know, and though they will traverse seemingly endless miles in their quests, no one has seen the entire planet. For all they know, the world is flat and surrounded by a single ocean.
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Why stop? It's not like any of us did a bunch of research, then built a world, then wrote stories. Instead, and here I have to speak only for myself, it's more a matter of this:
    get an idea
    make some notes
    look up some stuff
    more notes
    write a bit
    throw that out and write another bit
    discover I have to research something to be sure of what I wrote
    more notes
    write some more

    Repeat in ever-changing patterns.

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