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Is World Building Necessary? (2 Viewers)

robertn51

Friends of WF
The question is though, are there any recent examples of people writing fantasy without going into great detail?

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

She puts it right in your face and delightfully conversational.
Let's start with the end of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things....

And after that she admits...
But you need context. Let’s try the ending again, writ continentally.

Here is a land.

It is ordinary, as lands go ...

And after a bit, then
None of these places or people matter, by the way. I simply point them out for context.

But here is a man who will matter a great deal.

You can imagine how he looks, for now. You may also imagine what he’s thinking
...
And then he breaks it.

All in all, when the main narrative begins, all is well and comfortable, with details flowing in as needed.
 

Terry D

Retired Supervisor
The question is though, are there any recent examples of people writing fantasy without going into great detail? What I want to do for my first book is concentrate on story and characters, only adding in detail when I feel it's necessary.
"Recent" is subjective, but here goes: Cormac McCarthy's, The Road is as bare bones as it gets. Stephen King's, Dark Tower septet builds its world over the course of seven novels, never 'dumping' its systems and logic all in one gulp. As has been said, the author needs to have a concrete grasp of the 'rules' by which his world will function, but, in the narrative, only those aspects of the world that are pertinent to the story at the current point need to be revealed. Some fantasy authors get more wrapped up in world building than in story, which is a terrible mistake IMO.
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
Any world-building that I have in my fantasy novel is needed because it somehow ties to an arc of one of the main or secondary characters (and therefore also the plot arcs). Because most of my characters are at least a few hundred years old (and some, much older than that), I was required to think through a lot of historical parts of the world. And then I had to think through various aspects of the culture and class of the present-day fantasy world that my main character was interacting with.

I did some of the broader world planning before writing my first draft but otherwise filled in details as they became applicable to my story. Sometimes that meant I'd have to halt writing to think through the intricacies and chain reactions from each new detail introduced. By the time I finished the first draft, I had many more, detailed notes about various aspects of the world and culture. Keeping it all organized was important to help me keep the rules and realities of the world feeling consistent.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I've been listening a lot to Scott Lynch lately and I'll likely be picking his style apart over the next few years to see what I can add to my own style (if it fits)
I just gave a listen to Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastards series. Wonderful and colourful stuff! It's been touted as one of the best for world-building. It does remind me of your style quite a bit, so likely you could use him as an example of how much detail to add. One thing I noticed with the little bit I heard was how quickly he got into using dialogue to tell the story.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
What does this mean? Forcing yourself to write what you can't do well instead of sticking to what you can do well? (Like if I would write poetry?)
What would we consider 'natural talent'? The very first short story I ever wrote got published in a London magazine called 'Rattler's Tales' and I got £15 for it. Not only was it published but it was the very last story in the magazine, so the one they chose to leave the reader with on closing the pages. You could argue that was because I had some natural talent. You could argue it was luck. Either way, it's what made me realise writing was something I could pursue as a possible career.

In my definition of 'natural talent', there is no set point. I see it as a sliding scale that I have control over. To me, it's simply letting go, writing and seeing what's left on the page. That's natural talent. Like I said though, I see it as a sliding scale and can be improved. So, rather than just writing, I decided I was going to focus on weaknesses, but back then I didn't actually know what those weaknesses were. I knew that the stories I was reading where well beyond my current natural talent but I couldn't put my finger on why. I then spent 5 years doing writing courses in the hope I could find out. The most I ever learned was 'cut adjectives' and that was it. That was the only craft advice I ever got. No explanation why or which adjectives to cut, just 'cut, cut, cut'. After five years, that's all I learned, plus a loathing of the word 'muse' and 'art'. Both words made writing feel intangible, vague and possibly beyond my grasp.

Because I didn't get nuts and bolts advice such as 'use less was's in your work, it leads to a passive voice', which would have then lead to me asking 'what's wrong with a passive voice ... and what does that even mean?', I gave up on writing stories. I didn't entirely give up on writing though. I continued by writing poetry. I wanted to keep the engine ticking over just in case. You never know, perhaps I'd be lucky enough to one day find someone or a course dedicated to the craft that could directly tell me what I needed to improve.

At first I kept writing with my 'natural talent', producing half decent poetry but only within the understanding I already had. Then, at the age of 45 I got the internet. By this time I'd even given up on poetry and was playing video games or downloading movies. One day I decided I'd give writing another go. Courses had dried up and I couldn't find any in my home town. I wondered if there was any sites dedicated to writing, and sure enough, with the power of the internet, I found lots. I joined many but eventually plumped for only one called 'Writersbeat'. It was the busiest and so more likely to offer more help with anything I posted.

The amount of feedback and red ink I got was both a fright and a blessing. On one hand I finally got some direct feedback on craft and on the other hand it made me realise how much I had to learn. My interest in improving outweighed by fear of the red ink, something I adopted myself ...

There were still elements I knew I was weak on though so decided to try my hand at critique, only giving advice on the little I knew. To my surprise, many people appreciated my sometimes in depth analysis of their work, and one girl by the name of 'AceOfSpades' called me 'TheMightyAz'. My name at the time was 'Azmacna', a sword from a novel I was writing at the time. This went on for quite some time but I wanted to improve my critiquing skills and wondered if Youtube had any videos on particular things I wanted to learn. Lo and behold, I discovered it did and began consuming in a frenzy. From broad 'everything you need to know' to 'don't use filter words', I ate it all up, watching hundreds of videos on the exact same subjects to get different perspectives and to makes sure it was well and truly nailed into my head.

Now my natural talent had moved up that slide and when I 'just wrote' some of the mistakes I made stood out to me like a sore thumb. I was learning the craft. I could finally focus in on each problem I had and work on rectifying it. I went in search of problems I didn't know I had, making mental notes of things I'd naturally gotten right and things I had no idea existed, of which there was lots. The only problem was, at the time I had a girlfriend who resented every moment I took in pursuit of writing, and did all she could to break into any quiet moment I had to actually write. Critique was easier because I was examining something already created. Creating itself became impossible. SO ... I gave up and left the internet.

That relationship crashed and burned, my life fell apart, I found myself homeless and blah ... blah ... blah. It wasn't until I was 62, unemployed and deeply into depression that I decided to give writing another go. At this point I'd had a good 15 years without writing a single thing, my vocabulary had shrunk dramatically and I honestly began to fear my memory was failing. I had bricks in my head that needed removal and I reached immediately for a sledgehammer. 'This wall is going down, motherfucka'.

So I joined this forum thinking it was 'Writersbeat' renamed because it had exactly the same format and colour scheme. I didn't know there was specific software some sites use. I'd only played games, downloaded movies, gone to writing forums and watched YT. Thinking this was 'Writersbeat' I thought it would be wonderful if 'AceOfSpades' was still knocking around and so I called myself 'TheMightAz'. But nope, it was a different site, making me uncomfortable calling myself such a name. 'Bugger it' I thought though. Why not! Something I have to live up to can't be a bad thing right? One day I will ...

I was rusty, lacking vocabulary and certainly lacking self confidence, so I set myself a plan. I was going to take a full year to revisit old problems and discover even more new ones, and each I found I would dedicate a story to improving. Rather than taking every problem and applying it as a whole, I was going to concentrate on one thing at a time. Word choice in one, filter words in another, dialogue in another, passive voice ... etc. And slowly but surely I got back to my 'natural ability'. I had a year though and I'm always looking to reach that little further. I'm a perfectionist but realise perfection can't be achieved. It's merely a way of making sure you keep pushing further and further, never taking your current abilities for granted and never considering yourself 'there'. I'll never be 'there' because, just like 'natural talent', 'there' is an ever moving scale.

Now I've pretty much learned all the basics I need and have moved on to expanding in other places, stretching my voice, tone, rhythm and so forth. That's where I'm at with The Sixth Chamber. This is a hard wall the break down though. I'm never quite intelligent enough, deep enough or educated enough and I strain my brain on a daily basis to push beyond. I will do it though and one day my natural ability will be publishable.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I just gave a listen to Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastards series. Wonderful and colourful stuff! It's been touted as one of the best for world-building. It does remind me of your style quite a bit, so likely you could use him as an example of how much detail to add. One thing I noticed with the little bit I heard was how quickly he got into using dialogue to tell the story.
I wouldn't even DARE compare my style to his. He's wonderful. However, I did get whiffs here and there, which is why I think it's worth me picking it apart. If you read Clive Barker you'll likely see a little of me there too.
 
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Lawless

Senior Member
This was an amazing journey of self-discovery, an inspiring example of following one's heart through all ups and down. Thank you for sharing it.

Still, there's a question I'd like to ask. I'm sorry if it sounds rude, but curiosity wouldn't leave me alone:

I gave up on writing stories. I didn't entirely give up on writing though. I continued by writing poetry. I wanted to keep the engine ticking over just in case.

Why did you stop writing stories just because you couldn't find proper fighting courses? You had actually achieved success. Wasn't that enough encouragement?

I mean, when you don't get published, you obviously need to do something differently. When you do get published, what's the point worrying that, say, the writer XYZ ceates better nature scenes than you?
 

Lawless

Senior Member
Oh... You had already answered the question I just asked.

I'm more interested in producing work I'm proud of than producing work I can sell. If on writing something I'm proud of, I also write something that gets published, then that's a bonus. Of course I want to be published but I don't write to be published.
 

Tyrannohotep

Senior Member
I see it as something like the eternal planner versus pantser debate. Some people can make up their world on the fly as they write, while others need to sketch out what their world is like prior to writing. I would say I'm somewhere in the middle, in that I need to know what kind of setting I have beforehand but can make up some details as I go along.

That being said, if you're writing historical fiction or anything else set in the past, some basic research is necessary before you begin (e.g. the time period and what major events were happening back then). Though, even in that case, you can look up certain details while you're in the thick of writing rather than doing it all at the beginning.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
This was an amazing journey of self-discovery, an inspiring example of following one's heart through all ups and down. Thank you for sharing it.

Still, there's a question I'd like to ask. I'm sorry if it sounds rude, but curiosity wouldn't leave me alone:



Why did you stop writing stories just because you couldn't find proper fighting courses? You had actually achieved success. Wasn't that enough encouragement?

I mean, when you don't get published, you obviously need to do something differently. When you do get published, what's the point worrying that, say, the writer XYZ ceates better nature scenes than you?
Have you ever feared going to bed because in the darkness all that occupies your head is thoughts of killing yourself? It gets in the way of any creative thoughts.

And of course the quote you found.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
I see you as a definite world-builder already. What was all that stuff with Yarrod and the desert? World building for sure.

I think you’re saying do you need to write a few languages? Like Tolkien. Do you need to come up with a currency? Do you need myths, religions, gods and 2000 years of history?

I would look at the career of one, Patrick Rothfus. He writes beautiful mesmerizing prose and after his first book the critics were singing Tolkien-esque praises but now people are so angry at him. I am kind of too. Check it out.

But the epic fantasies are just one type of fantasy. Look also into soft and hard magic systems— there are both with pros and cons. I suppose if you look into what epic fantasy readers want right now then that might give you an idea. I think Brian Sanderson is probably the big writer there right now, and people like his hard magic systems but I personally don’t always see the benefits to a hard magic system. Soft is fine for me, like Harry Potter.

Do you need tons of history and backstory? I don’t know if everybody needs that, but I think you already bring in enough to make your world-building rich and interesting and I don’t think most people need more than that. Not everyone reads the Silmarillion in order to appreciate the Lord of the Rings. Usually there are only a few people like that… Steve Colbert and my cousin Greg. They can sigh over “But you don’t understand how meaningful that bit is right there. Do you know what battle happened with that shield right there? You have to read the Silmarillion to ever truly appreciate Tolkien.” Thankfully most fans aren’t like that. People usually want what they need in the moment to understand what is going on with the plot and maybe just a flourish or two more for interest. This is my opinion, of course.

What are your favorite fantasies? I think it’s okay to write what you like yourself.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I see you as a definite world-builder already. What was all that stuff with Yarrod and the desert? World building for sure.

I think you’re saying do you need to write a few languages? Like Tolkien. Do you need to come up with a currency? Do you need myths, religions, gods and 2000 years of history?

I would look at the career of one, Patrick Rothfus. He writes beautiful mesmerizing prose and after his first book the critics were singing Tolkien-esque praises but now people are so angry at him. I am kind of too. Check it out.

But the epic fantasies are just one type of fantasy. Look also into soft and hard magic systems— there are both with pros and cons. I suppose if you look into what epic fantasy readers want right now then that might give you an idea. I think Brian Sanderson is probably the big writer there right now, and people like his hard magic systems but I personally don’t always see the benefits to a hard magic system. Soft is fine for me, like Harry Potter.

Do you need tons of history and backstory? I don’t know if everybody needs that, but I think you already bring in enough to make your world-building rich and interesting and I don’t think most people need more than that. Not everyone reads the Silmarillion in order to appreciate the Lord of the Rings. Usually there are only a few people like that… Steve Colbert and my cousin Greg. They can sigh over “But you don’t understand how meaningful that bit is right there. Do you know what battle happened with that shield right there? You have to read the Silmarillion to ever truly appreciate Tolkien.” Thankfully most fans aren’t like that. People usually want what they need in the moment to understand what is going on with the plot and maybe just a flourish or two more for interest. This is my opinion, of course.

What are your favorite fantasies? I think it’s okay to write what you like yourself.
Just a general idea of the world is what I really want. This is based entirely on the fact it's my first book and I want to get it written in a year if possible. I don't really want to spend an age in the weeds. I want to write a good story with good characters. I have some things I've already got in my head. My magic system is as basic as they come for instance:

Magician: Small tricks and effects. Can manipulate smaller objects and create minor illusions.
Witch/Warlock: Specialise in curses, can also manipulate object but to a greater degree than magicians.
Wizard: Can do all the above but because of codes, stay away from curses. Their speciality is controlling the elements.
Vivic: A rare kind, beyond anything any of the above possess. These have past into legend and have powers that are said to make them almost gods.

These are all going to be minor details, not a huge part of the lore but rather, like food, wine, air, dealt with with no fanfare. They just are and that's that. I'll avoid giving anyone powers that would help them get out of a problem easily. That's the only thing I'll be keeping an eye on.

I'm not a lover of Brandon Sanderson. I find his prose dull and uninteresting.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
Just a general idea of the world is what I really want. This is based entirely on the fact it's my first book and I want to get it written in a year if possible. I don't really want to spend an age in the weeds. I want to write a good story with good characters. I have some things I've already got in my head. My magic system is as basic as they come for instance:

Magician: Small tricks and effects. Can manipulate smaller objects and create minor illusions.
Witch/Warlock: Specialise in curses, can also manipulate object but to a greater degree than magicians.
Wizard: Can do all the above but because of codes, stay away from curses. Their speciality is controlling the elements.
Vivic: A rare kind, beyond anything any of the above possess. These have past into legend and have powers that are said to make them almost gods.

These are all going to be minor details, not a huge part of the lore but rather, like food, wine, air, dealt with with no fanfare. They just are and that's that. I'll avoid giving anyone powers that would help them get out of a problem easily. That's the only thing I'll be keeping an eye on.

I'm not a lover of Brandon Sanderson. I find his prose dull and uninteresting.

Yeah that’s just enough to make it interesting.
Brandon Sanderson… yep, not Brian, I thought something sounded off. I’ve been lazy lately double-checking names and I’m awful at names. Point is, I don’t like his stuff either— I’m sure that is sacrilege to someone— but I don’t. It’s too dry and doesn’t involve my emotions, so I end up putting it down. My favorite fantasy writers are Patricia McKillip (especially her early work) and Robin McKinley. Both are capable of making me feel and I love their writing style and world building and characters. I like Orson Scott Card as well.

Honestly, I haven’t found better than Patricia Mcakillip’s early work… the last fantasy that engaged me was Johnathan Stroud’s Bartemaeus trilogy, which I highly recommend.

I looked into Historical Fantasy after that, which is a whole different kind of fantasy and I would say kind of “new” as a genre. And how it differs from a magical realism is in the history part of it, I think.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Yeah that’s just enough to make it interesting.
Brandon Sanderson… yep, not Brian, I thought something sounded off. I’ve been lazy lately double-checking names and I’m awful at names. Point is, I don’t like his stuff either— I’m sure that is sacrilege to someone— but I don’t. It’s too dry and doesn’t involve my emotions, so I end up putting it down. My favorite fantasy writers are Patricia McKillip (especially her early work) and Robin McKinley. Both are capable of making me feel and I love their writing style and world building and characters. I like Orson Scott Card as well.

Honestly, I haven’t found better than Patricia Mcakillip’s early work… the last fantasy that engaged me was Johnathan Stroud’s Bartemaeus trilogy, which I highly recommend.

I looked into Historical Fantasy after that, which is a whole different kind of fantasy and I would say kind of “new” as a genre. And how it differs from a magical realism is in the history part of it, I think.
I don't know if you've seen my 'Writer Confessions' thread. :) I have read very few book, probably around 30 - 40, all being said. Since I made that thread I remembered I'd read some of Fritz Leiber (the Grey Mouser series). I do however listen to a lot of audiobooks on YT. I don't listen to them from start to finish though. I dip in randomly and listen closely to the writing for around an hour or so. The only reading I actually do is my own work. It's like kneading dough. I listen to different fantasy, take a little of the ingredients and fold it onto my own work. Then I reread what I've written and tighten it up. Each time I listen to more fantasy, I find other interesting approaches and again fold it into my own work. As I do this my own work improves and reading it makes me more consistent.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
Well, for Jonathan Stroud’s Bartemaeus books I would read instead since the humor is in his footnotes— oh my gosh, it’s so hilarious! His main character is a jinn who makes fun of everyone in such a fun way in those footnotes, but there are more powerful creatures than him and he has to be so smart and sly and creative in order to do the things he has to do for his young wizard tyrant. I have wondered how audio book would even work.

I wonder if you would like Patricia McKillip. I started reading her books when I was a teenager. I started reading “The Forgotten Beasts of Eld” to my husband which is one of her YA novels and my husband said, “This is YOU!” I said “I know it is... but what about that was me right there? I think she was describing a dragon.” Him: “I don’t know… it’s just you.” Lol. Yeah, her style and the feelings she was able to bring up for me influenced me. This is why we write, right? Books become a part of you, especially ones we read when we are young. Every time I think of this I feel like I need to write a non-creepy fan letter to McKillip before she dies! lol. But yeah… to me you can’t underestimate the impact of a book that really helps you find your soul.

Hmm. About you not reading that much, there are probably some posts outlining all the different kinds of fantasy and I think sometimes things like knowing if your magic system is soft or what, or knowing if you’re writing an epic fantasy or what can be helpful. Of course, as far as I know we just kind of get a feel for what is out there and can naturally make fun and subvert, but supposedly also knowing in detail what people expect means you can subvert it even better, I guess. I’ve been realizing lately what a fun thing it is for everyone when we play with a genre like that. I think it’s why “The Princess Bride” is so loved, because it plays around with the genre. You did that with the Tolkienesque comedy you were writing and I really enjoyed that. A new series written and acted in by Steve Martin called “Only Murders in the Building” actually has the earmarks to me of a classic show that plays with all these genre cliches and tropes for the mystery genre. (I’ve got to say I am sick of people calling everything a trope, though.)

If I find a good (actually good) quick YouTube video or article online on all the current fantasy genre trends I will send it your way.
 
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Llyralen

Senior Member
Subgenres.... but I have seen much longer lists than this. How did they miss Erotic fantasy? Urban fantasy? Such huge subgenres. Vampire fantasy, Steampunk, etc. they missed it. There are some young youtubers who go into longer lists, but they have been long and annoying videos for me so far, but they did suggest a bunch of fantasies I've never heard of and hearing their attitude about the trends in subgenre is probably useful. Anyway, you can look those up on YT, which is already in your toolbox.
I watched a few of the 20'ish year olds on youtube talk about trends. I guess Dragon fantasy has been increasing. It seems like most people still wish for something as high quality as Tolkien without suffering through mediocre wannabes. One guy said Arthurian fantasy hasn't had any really good contributors for the last few years. I would paste the link just to give credit, but then I don't want to just be pasting tons of low-quality videos in here.

By the way, I saw this really cool video that I think is high enough quality to paste that kind of shows the power of myth and hence, fantasy. The hero stories and archetypal stories that are universal in every culture, including European myth like what Tolkien used for his books, kind of interacts with us on a subconscious and very powerful level, I believe. At least, I loved this:

Most cultures have their own really rich old myths and worlds that almost always resonate in our psyches like this.
 
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BornForBurning

Senior Member
Most good worldbuilding is essentially poetry, in my opinion. When people say LOTR has good worldbuilding, what they really mean is that they find Tolkien's world of moonlight and elves and murmuring trees terribly moving. They don't mean how the architecture of Barad-dur reflects a neo-orcic style diagramed in the appendices, or something.
 
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