Now, arguably, world building is a talent in and of itself. JRR Tolkien wrote his entire books based on his worlds, and he's not the only one to have heavy world building. Even the "lite" writers have a certain degree of it. Even Stephenie Meyer has shown that she has at least thought about the world of vampires. So, I ask you, Does it matter? Now, I'm not necessarily asking if it's a good idea to have an immersive setting. That's an artistic thing. What I'm asking is specifically about logical and expansive world building. Does it matter, say, that someone writes a town that could never actually economically last? Does it matter, say, that every town has an inn, even though it makes no logical sense? Is a book still just as good, even if the superficial details are all that's really touched upon in a world, and even then, don't always make sense? Or is it a talent that must be honed, just as character and plot building must be honed? What is the absolute minimum world building one can get away with? When does it go from world building, to sheer obsessiveness / a vanity project?
One advantage to logical, expansive world building is that potential plots can essentially grow out of the world you've built, in ways that you might not have thought of otherwise. Plus you can toss about Cryptic Background References more easily and safely without fearing Fridge Logic quite as much. But perhaps most usefully, sometimes it helps you realize some part of your plot is simply too unbelievable for Willing Suspension of Disbelief to cover it when you find you simply cannot wedge it into a logical, consistent universe.
"A rational enemy is better than a foolish friend." -Arab proverb
I am vexed!
In a word, "yes". World building means more after the fact, however. Instead of constructing a narrative around a world, it's probably best to construct a compelling story and then meld the world to the requirements of that. A brilliant example of this is the Star Wars OT. An awful example of the reverse? The Star Wars PT. I would discourage thinking in terms of, "Does this fit my setting?". Characters, plot and pacing are far more important. Write an original work to be the best story it can be with a vague setting in mind. If you then go on to do more, then be consistent with that setting. There's a lot to be said for using atmosphere rather than literal explanation to inform a setting, though, especially as that prevents you from writing yourself into a corner during future works or later parts of the same work. A current project of mine takes place in a medieval ghost town. To inform the characters, I need a few knightly orders, a kind of war decoration and a vague historical timeframe for the fantasy world template, but that's about it. I shan't be going further than that until it's actually required of me, because my current objective isn't to explore an entire setting, but develop likable, compelling characters and tie them together with plot. As further ideas, stories and backstories unfold, further world building will be required of me. But I'll be doing to support the needs of the existing narrative, not to overtly create a consistent, well-planned setting.
I think it says a lot about me when I create a setting with the intention of making it an anachronistic clusterfuck of odds and ends. I feel like sometimes when one creates a fantasy in the past, it is near impossible to casually world build. You have to go really really hardcore, because otherwise nothing will make sense. Also, Madass Alex, could you please elaborate on the star wars thing? I know that the OT is supah awesome and the PT is the scourge of humanity, but I hope there is more to it than that.
edited 15th Sep '11 11:03:52 AM by MrAHR
I am vexed!
No, you pretty much nailed it. Alright, it's generally accepted that the OT is better than the PT in most aspects, right? Let's use that as our working concept. The OT is better than the PT. There's a lot of reasons why, but they're better summarised elsewhere. What's relevant to this thread is the creative process behind the OT as opposed to the creative process behind the PT. During the OT, the original scripts were written and rewritten numerous times to make sure the films were as good as they could be. Technology was designed and redesigned to fit this. Lines were changed, often on the spur of the moment. Essentially, the OT's entire creative process was about that central Star Wars narrative, and it evolved through its development. The result was the Star Wars setting, but the process wasn't the Star Wars setting, if you catch my drift. The PT wasn't about creating a good story. It was about being Star Wars. It was about conforming to that setting and being linked to that original story. Not that you couldn't have done it well, but it would be better treated as a stand-alone story that links to the OT rather than a cinematic shrine at the feet of those original films. Adherence to the setting of a story that came beforehand shot the PT in the foot. It's almost entirely contextualised by the OT. For instance, the Jedi. In the OT, we learn what the Jedi are with Luke Skywalker. As he comes to terms with his powers and gains new knowledge, we become more informed, catching glimpses of what it was to be a Jedi. Not just through literal power, either, but in terms of the moral and spiritual values associated with the Order. In the PT, we're introduced to Jedi through two men in robes who almost immediately pull out lightsabers and go apeshit on hapless droids. Why? Because the PT thought the setting did the work for it, when it didn't. It's the story that does the work, and that's where the OT excels.
Well, it being prequel aside, wouldn't that be accurate to say about most sequels? Not agreeing or disagreeing, just want to make sure about something.
edited 15th Sep '11 11:26:39 AM by MrAHR
I am vexed!
Most sequels suck. In terms of sequels that don't, though, consider Aliens. It works, again, because it's based on the narrative. It used the holes in the setting of the original film to prop up a new plot rather than hinging on the original film to contextualise it entirely. It's so cleverly done that you don't even need to watch Alien; the character establishment of Ripley is strong enough that, by the time shit hits the fan, you're already familiar with her previous experiences and how they've influenced her.
All righty then. Moving along.
Instead of constructing a narrative around a world, it's probably best to construct a compelling story and then meld the world to the requirements of that.While, ideally, this seems like the best way to go about things, this also seems rather problematic. Many times, at least in my own experiences, I find that while this does work half the time, the other half is an absolute mess. Mostly because you get a lot of tiny details that make sense, but when you put them all together, it can become confusing and muddled. And many times, it can be incredibly over simplified, because all that matters is the "story" part. It almost seems more fruitful to have a general idea of what you want to do, and world build then, and just be ready for retcons and edits while you write the story to said world.
I am vexed!
Personally, I think simplicity is good. This is a creative process I favour. As you pointed out, some work is given to the setting before the bulk of the task is undertaken, but otherwise the setting is the last thing to be given particular attention — if it even requires it at that point.
- Plot seed
- Basic characters
- Basic setting
- Development of plot
- Development of characters
- Development of setting
edited 15th Sep '11 11:51:41 AM by MadassAlex
More or less, I agree with Alex. A superficial world that doesn't make sense if you think about it isn't too bad. While it bothers me a little afterwards, it doesn't affect my initial enjoyment of the story unless it's glaringly obvious. But good world building is always something I appreciate. And yes, definitely start low with it. A detailed world can serevely limit your plot options if you're not willing to rewrite it every ten seconds.
edited 15th Sep '11 1:32:08 PM by Dealan
I changed accounts.
Yes. You want to write about countries that would never work in the real world and aren't using magic/"scientific" handwaves to justify it? Fine. But at least do your non-moronic audience a favor and show exactly what should happen to it, and don't try to pass off an overly idealistic (or, perhaps, overly cynical) setting as "realistic." If you have your non-economically stable town, that's fine, but treat us to that town collapsing as it should, and don't make everyone who is willing and able to call your bullshit have to waste their breath.
Not everyone wants to do a deconstruction of everything they see. Furthermore, what does it matter if a created town has nothing stable to it, so long as the economy is never the focus?
Author in waiting
I think it depends. If a character is just passing through an area, a little handwaving is okay. But If your character spends more then a chapter in a location, then logical world building as to apply.
I am a nobody. Nobody is perfect. Therefore, I am perfect.
Of course, the problem then is that you have to world build the place as a whole, if you're in an adventure setting like that. And that makes it so it's rather hard to not build even the minor towns.
I changed accounts.
Well, this also depends on medium. It makes more sense for a town to have a nonsense economy in a video game than in a written work. I think that writing a nonsense world where this isn't the point, and simply showing it to be business-as-usual, is just lazy writing. Can it be done? Sure. Will it go over well? Not without a fantastic story and characters. And it will still probably be incessantly annoying. It would be better to simply not try and do the nonsense world in the first place, rather than doing it and then saying "oh, it works because I say so." Anthropic Principle only goes so far.
What does the medium matter? Novels and videogames can be equally unrealistic or realistic.
An unrealistic economy is expected at most video games. Rpgs and strategies coming to mind. The bar is higher for literature.
I changed accounts.
Because in video games (or any game, really, but they have the highest occurrence rate of this kind of thing) gameplay is generally more important than anything else, and a realistic economy is both difficult to simulate and not conducive to entertaining gameplay for non-mathematicians/economists. It's like saying you have an amazing story with great characters that only comes in the language of the culture the story is about, because it's more realistic. Yes, it is, and yes, I applaud you for it, but there's a certain meta-level at which realism, as cool as it is, makes the item impossible to enjoy.
Strange Kiwi fella
I find world building - even if it's largely based on the here-and-now with a few differences - very critical to my work. I tend to come up with an idea for a character and the sort of story I want (but not the full-blown plot), refine the character, think of the sort of world they live in and start working on that - which frequently helps refine the character which in turn refines the world, then I work on how the story would progress given the world and the characters involved. If I want to put in a particular plot element that won't fit the world, I look for ways I can tweak the world without breaking it. If I can't find any, I look at ways of having something better than that plot element.
Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
I changed accounts.
Wolf's post rather mirrors what I do — world, characters, and plot all feed each other. In the worst case, worldbuilding is just another way to Not Write. We writers are so goddamn good at procrastination and Not Writing, and we find so many different ways to justify Not Writing. Worldbuilding easily becomes one of them.
A brighter future for a darker age.
Yeah. That's something I noticed as well. Mostly in the sense that there are very few people who seem to have extensive worlds published, even though there are a lot of people who seem to engage in such an activity. You see it with people who just create characters as well.
I changed accounts.
I personally could sit for hours and just worldbuild. Then again, I do it because it's interesting to see exactly how unrealistic I am just working from memory without researching, when I get around to finally researching...
I find World Building phenomenally important, because like it or not, the setting in which your work takes place ends up defining so much about it.
un monde libéré de la guerre est un monde exempt de frontières
I can't do that. I get overwhelmed. My line of thought is "you know what this world needs? ARABS WITH RUSSIAN ACCENTS! WITH JEDI BRAIDS! AND TATTOOS! AND SPIDER HORSES!"
edited 15th Sep '11 4:23:40 PM by MrAHR