Thursday, June 10, 2010

Type of People

First off I want to send some thanks out to some wonderful people:

Matt Rush made my day today by leaving a cool comment in my last post, basically suggesting that my first novel is written just for people like him. Not only that, but his post about our critique group garnered me a few more readers (and readers are more precious for us wannabe authors than The One Ring!).

Anne (Piedmont Writer) and Maria Zannini both gave me great feedback on one of my short stories. It means really rewriting some of it, but it will be a better story. Thanks to both of you!

Thanks also to the handful of others who read and sometimes comment. Know that I read the blogs of all who appear on the blog roll down below on the right, even if I don't always have something to comment about.

Now on to today's post. I was thinking about all of the thousands of elements that go into world building. I have thought so long and hard about my fantasy world that I would be honestly surprised if I had trouble answering any question about it. I decided to pick just one element to write about today.

Do you know how the different cultures of our world each have a national characteristic of some kind (one that is not always correct, of course, but is to a degree)? For instance, Germans are generally considered to be precise and solid, while Italians are passionate, and Russians like a good drink. Okay, well I gave my main 'tribe' their own characteristic - pragmatism.

I say 'tribe' since these people no longer consider themselves to be a tribe (as opposed to all the barbarian tribes howling outside the borders). I didn't give them the pragmatism randomly, but chose it due to the manner in which they evolved. Rather than evolving naturally, this tribe was the first to meet a group of scientists from earth and decide not to kill them right off. Due to that happy fact, the scientists helped this tribe to advance far more quickly than their neighbors, making them the one 'civilized' group of humans on the planet.

The Greatlanders, as I call them, were eventually driven from their original tribal lands, because they were seen as too much of a threat by the barbarian tribes. They relocated to an easily defensible land beyond a wall of mountains, and after two thousand years it is a well-developed region called the Known Lands.

The pragmatic character of the Greatlanders shows in several ways. First in place names. While many people enjoy giving fancy names to places, the Greatlanders tend to keep it simple. A lake that is frozen year round is named Frozen Lake. A forest in which a great battle took place becomes the Battle Wood. Yes, there can be a boring aspect to this, but it is their character. Fortunately not all names follow this pattern, because the Greatlanders also took on characteristics of the earth scientists, who were mainly Russian (there was an Icelandic geneticist in their group).

Greatlander bards tend not to use fiction much, since making up things is not a big part of their nature. Rather, they write songs or perform skits based upon true events from history. I know, sad isn't it? It reminds me of my grandfather, who would never read fiction.

Probably the biggest aspect of Greatlander pragmatism shows in regards to religion - they have none. Partly this is due to their contact with the much older race of elves, since the elves already were aware of the great energy (magic) that permeates the world and thus never developed the idea of gods. However, part of it is that the Greatlanders simply feel no need to make up stories in order to better understand the unknown. When they look at a moon or a star they don't pretend to have any special understanding of what they are. They are comfortable with simply saying that they don't know and leaving it at that. The scientists never explained such things to the Greatlanders, feeling that some ideas were too big and needed to be left for later.

One of my favorite scenes is when two Greatlander rangers are scouting through the barbarian lands and encounter a small tribe of cannibals. They see the painted shaman and their guide tries to explain about their red moon god, but the Greatlander rangers simply cannot fathom it. They do not have a word or concept for 'god'.

This is just one tiny element of world building, and one must think of just about everything if the story is to feel genuine to readers. Personally, I do my best thinking about the world at night when I am trying to fall asleep. How about you?


  1. I like that you keep things simple, Battle Wood, Frozen Lake. That's the problem I have with reading fantasy/sci-fi, so many times the author is trying too hard to name things.

    And thanks for the shout out. I hope the story is going well.

  2. I'm actually stuck on it for now. I know how I want to rewrite one of the scenes, having Midas fight in the melee rather than the jousting competition. It's the initial scene that is bothering me, since Maria gave me a catch-22 - she wants more about Midas's low self-esteem about being a freshly minted noble, yet she wants the action on the drawbridge much sooner. I can't figure out how to reconcile that yet.

  3. The writer's dilemma -- making scenes fit. My solutions is that I let them ferment a bit, and the answer usually comes when I'm petting the cat.

    Like your world building using the KISS method -- the old keep it simple stupid. You also remember things better. I hate going back 50 pages to find what a "ascovianette" is.

  4. Um, can I first say how awesome it is that you write fantasy? I've been in this blogging world for about two months, I've met tons of wonderful writers of mainstream, dystopian, buckets and buckets of YA, and a bit of fantasy YA, but not many just fantasy writers - especially not high fantasy writers. Which kinda was hard for me, because, um, I am one. :)
    So yeah, yay for fantasy!
    Secondly, I also do lots of thinking when I'm falling asleep. It's a lifesaver, too, because it can take me forever to get to sleep. World building is one of my favorite parts of writing, it's fascinating, imagining all the different possibilities. I definitely like the way you formed a culture logically, not just like, 'This is how it is because... it's just how it is.' I hate that it novels! :)
    Wow, sorry for the essay. :) I'm one of the readers that came over to the blog after the critique group blogpost, and I'm glad I did. Great post!

  5. My brain's too tired to think late at night, but things will hit me throughout the course of the day.
    The world-building applies to science fiction as well. And I tried to keep names simple, too.

  6. Bethany,

    Us fantasy writers are out there! You just gotta keep digging. :)

    As for worldbuilding, I don't have any real plan. Some of it will be clear to me before I write, but I like having a lot of white space on the maps, so to speak. I feel that way I can build what I need as I go along, and the world supports the story... rather than the story trying to support the world. I've known too many writers who get stuck writing and say "I can't get out of this fix because the world doesn't work this way! It's in my worldbuilding notes!"

    I don't really want to stick myself in a corner like that. For me, the world can be as fluid as the story - everything is fluid and shiftable. Whatever best serves the creation of a great story is what I want.

  7. Yep, I'm one of those who came from Matthew Rush's page. :)

    Most of the time, for me, the worlds begin with what the people believe about God/gods. Are they mono- or polytheistic? Do they believe that the gods take interest in them or can be communed with? Or are they just "up there somewhere"? Are they real things (wood, water, fire) or the creators of those things?

    That's how it always begins for me at least. Once I know what/who they worship, I can predict how their government will be designed, how they'll treat each other, how they'll view other countries that may not believe as they do. Anyway - that's how I start. :)

  8. Ref: Midas

    Well, let's see...

    The drawbridge scene is the perfect backdrop for his self-esteem issues to show up. You already painted his compassion.

    My suggestion is to spend a couple of paragraphs leading to the drawbridge which also happens to be the inciting moment.

    Midas will be dodging townspeople, instead of pushing them out of the way. He's 'asking' his squire for directions (or something) instead of ordering him. The squire might even give him some lip and Midas doesn't correct him.

    You can also give Midas a couple of lines of introspection, wondering about his betrothed and how the hell he got into this situation. All these little things will highlight his doubt and self-consciousness, and they can be done with very sentences.

    You can build a lot of characterization in the five minutes it takes to make the drawbridge.

    And then when he meets Brindor, it's put up or shut up and he fails his last 'test' as a nobleman.

    When I plot, that's my usual build up for conflict leading to the black moment. The protagonist must have several 'fails' before he succeeds.

  9. ...that should be 'very few sentences'.

  10. Thanks everyone! Bethany, yes it is nice to stumble across the few adult fantasy writers out there!

    Bryan, I can imagine that could happen to some people. I never encountered that, but I think my world feels so real to me after twenty years of thinking about it that stories just flow naturally within that framework.

    Maria, I'm sure I'll figure it out eventually. I just have a few constrictions, such as the fact that Sol has to be there due to a conversation he has with Midas in my novel. It also makes sense, since Sol's personality makes him far more likely to speak about the necessary talking points than the squire Fridrik, who is simpleminded and hardly speaks.

  11. *sneaks a peek*

    Heey, it appears you've got yourself a new reader. Ever since I started frequenting writer-y sites, I keep seeing you. First on Authonomy, and then on Nathan's blog and forums. I figured I might as well check your blog.

    And it so happens I completely agree with your latest post. Details in worldbuilding are incredibly important, because they are how you show your readers what this world is like, and how a cultural belief influences daily life. Details bring a fantasy world to life.

    I do a lot of my worldbuilding in the morning rather than late at night. I set my alarm a hour earlier than necessary, and the half-asleep state that follows is when I'm the most inspired. I'm weird like that.

    And last but not least: keeping names simple is a great idea. I like to think that Simple + Unique = Memorable.



  12. Hey, welcome Claudie! It's wonderful to see new people show up, even if you are a morning person;)

  13. Yay for traffic coming to Ted's blog. He (you) is (are) one of my best blogging/writing buddies out there so it's nice to see you get some love.

    As to world building it is very cool to see the details of how much thought you've put into it. This kind of thing is pretty important for high fantasy, but you don't often see the thought process laid out like this.

    Looking SO forward to reading more of The Shard.

  14. Hey, Ted. If I start thinking about my world/book/writing at bedtime, I inevitably come up with something that needs to be written down. I DO have pen and paper on my nightstand (and a stack of books, tissue boxes and probably a few toys from my daughter) but the whole turning the light off and back on to write down ONE MORE THING gets irritating, so I try to read a little bit from one of those stacked books and go to sleep. It doesn't always work. LOL

    BTW, I expect to be able to read your short story after the 22nd. I look forward to it!

  15. Thanks Victoria. It may be a bit longer, since I leave for vacation on the 17th and don't return (to my computer) until the 30th.

    I think of many things at night and just hope that I don't forget them by morning. It doesn't always work!

  16. I think keeping is simple is the best thing you could do - although, I have great respect for anyone who can world-build. It's not in me and probably why I stick to contemporary settings.

  17. You are right, I tend to forget those oversimplification of how people see cultures. The pragmatism sounds a bit like the Vulcans, except they shun emotion, which is different, I guess.

    Good luck on your world building! It's so hard, isn't it? But fun, too.

  18. This is fascinating! Your Greatlanders sound an awful lot like Dutch (who give cities name like third hill), but never mind. Still, I love the logic you've infused to how and why they are like they are and believe what they do. I think the consistency will serve you well.

  19. Too bad I haven't gotten to know the Dutch yet, Tart. Some of my characters stay at the Hillshade Inn, whose sign is of two connected hills, because if you look over the roof of the inn that is what you will see behind it.

  20. I agree with Piedmont. Thanks or the simplicity! My biggest turnoff with fantasy is exotic names I can't pronounce...or remember. I'll sit there wondering was that a person or a town? And of course Xesdac is likely to get shortened in my mind to "X" or "Dac".