Wednesday, February 13, 2013

World building

My best friend Angie will be the first to tell you that I am more than mildly obsessed with world building. I'm a details person, I want to know it all, the more details you give me about something the more fun I have with it. Especially with a work of fiction the more details an author gives me about the world the more vivid and real it becomes in my head. That's one of the pitfalls of my own writing...I get stuck in planning mode because I want to explore every little detail. I have a feeling when I do actually churn out a work I'm going to have Tolkienesque levels of details and appendices...Maybe that's one of the reasons I chaff with Tolkien, he was the king of world building. I am in absolute awe of the world he created and so so jealous of the layers of detail he created. That's probably also why I love fan-fiction and roleplaying. When I love a fictional world, I like to spend time with it, to build upon the details the author created, the half dozen or so spreadsheets I have filled with every possible detail imaginable about one of my Harry Potter roleplays proves that. 
Good gal JKR always willing to give
the fans more details

I like to know the laws of the world the characters live in, and I don't just mean the governmental laws, I want to know the physical laws of the world, literally how does their world work compared to earth. That is something I especially love about both The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series and the Star Wars expanded universe; they both provided lots of that type of information; the Star Wars EU has produced several reference books filled with that kind of information, and they are all on my book shelves. I want to know about the different religions and cultures in the characters world, the foods, the animals, the geography. Give me everything.

Back in the early 00s when I was still really, really into pixel art I was on staff at a forum called The Last Gate and all of the other people on staff were also writers, one of the owners' Steph gave me a spreadsheet she had created called the world creation check list. To this day it is still on my hard drive and to this day I believe it is a valuable tool for world building. I should really get back in touch with her and see if she'd be willing to let me post it here on Novel Concepts.  Anyway, the check list? It has over 200 individual questions designed to make you plan out all the details in the following categories: History; biases, prejudices, & crusades; life span & quality of life; medical care; religion; sexual equality & homosexuality; birth control, sex, & marriage; recreation, art, & culture; commerce & money; education & technology; military; government, law, & law enforcement; agriculture, hunting & gathering; animals; terrain. I can thing of another few categories I would add: physical laws, and metaphysical laws (including magic). I'm reminded of this movie I've seen the trailer for (dying to see the movie, haven't been able to lay hands on it, first time I saw the trailer I was mesmerised then never heard ANYTHING about it for like a year so I was convinced I had dreamed the entire movie, until I came upon the trailer again a few weeks ago), Upside Down clearly there are very important physical laws at play in this movie, and that's the kind of thing I want in a book too, explain that kind of thing, as fully as possible.

My love/hate relationship
with J.R.R continues:
he is my world building icon
There are some authors out there, like Tolkien, who are just world building gods (I know you see what I did there!) and then there are others who make you question how their books got published because their worlds' are so flat and gapingly incomplete. That second type of author? Yeah I hate them, that sort of thing ruins my whole experience when I'm reading a book.

For instance, Christopher Paolini? Yeah A LOT of people out there like to claim that he just ripped off The Lord of the Rings when he wrote the Inheritance Cycle, I'm more inclined to say he was just heavily influenced by Tolkien, and really what modern epic fantasy authors aren't? There are only so many epic fantasy tropes out there and with the level of detail in Middle Earth it's really not surprising that Tolkien used the vast majority of them, so yes any fantasy world worth it's salt is going to have a lot in common with Middle Earth, tropes are tropes for that reason. A Dwarf is a Dwarf and an Elf is an Elf; when someone follows the traditions of world building race creation they're labelled as copying. Well when they don't we just end up with something really bad, the best example of that is Twlight, Stephanie Meyer tried (and EPICALLY FAILED) to world build a world of vampires and shapeshifters but I think we can ALL agree that her vampires were not even recognisable as vampires because she threw all respect for tradition out the window. That's something I have a problem with.

Example of:
how not to build a complete world
Another thing I have a problem with, and that was already mentioned above, gaps and holes in the laws of the world. I'm going to revert back to Meyer here because her series is just full of examples of what not to do in writing. When you can't even keep the laws of your world straight yourself, here's a protip, you fail at world building, go back to the start, do not go to the publisher, and publishers? Please stop giving people money for such things. Alice the vampmeyer has a power that allows her to see the future, Meyer outlines all the situations in which it doesn't work, and then throughout the rest of the series fails in actually having it function the way she's laid it out. That's just one example. Another example of bad world building due to gaps is the world in James Patterson's Witch & Wizard series. He never actually manages to build a complete world at any point in this series. The reader is continually left with unanswered questions and I know I personally spent a lot of time sitting there asking myself, and the book, "Wait, wtf? How did that happen!? How did they get there? Since when can they do that?" and so on and so forth.

So my point in all of this? My point is that the authors who take the time and make the effort to create a rich and vibrant world that deserve the glory and the praise; these are the authors that really care about their readers and their characters. I appreciate them and everything they do, wholeheartedly.

And now here is a list of my top 10 favourite fictional well constructed worlds:

Reason #4 the I love the name Arthur.
Reasons 1-3 are:
Arthur Weasley
 Arthur Dent
& King Arthur
  1. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling - She took the world we know and built a whole secondary world into it, and she did it well! I LOVE the Pottermore initiative.
  2. The Keys to the Kingdom by Garth Nix
  3. The Star Wars universe and expanded universe (so many booooks, so many details *drool*)
  4. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (except the last book which was written post-Adams death by Eoin Colfer)
  5. The Seven Realms by Cinda Williams Chima
  6. Frontier Magic by Patricia C. Wrede
  7. Women of the Otherworld by Kelley Armstrong (bonus points for being Canadian :D)
  8. Libyrinth by Pearl North
  9. 1984 by George Orwell
  10. The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien - you know just in case I haven't already been clear; I know I've said I can't read the books because of the amount of detail, but that seriously does not stop me from being in love with the level of detail, which does seem rather paradoxical... 

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