♦Welcome to another edition of the Open Book Blog Hop!♦
Share your tips for world-building, even if it’s only a village.
Welcome back to another Open Book Blog Hop! The authors included in this ongoing series wish to thank you for your reads. Even more so, we appreciate that you share our writings with friends. If you’re new to the series, welcome aboard. The authors engage and impress weekly. Prepare to become a regular reader.
Writing historical fiction makes world-building a lot easier! Obviously, the world in historical fictions exists. Thus, we can research its details for the time in which we set the story to achieve extra impact and accuracy. And, you should. However, that doesn’t necessarily work for fantasy or science fiction. These genres rely on the author to come up with compelling settings and cultures to go along with the characters. World-building happens in historical pieces, but not on the scale of fantasy and Sci-Fi.
How do I deal with world-building in my series? When I first exercised my writer brain, high fantasy held my interest. I grew up on Tolkien and his impact on me was huge. It took less than a decade to decide I could not add to the worlds through my words, as they were well-handled by existing authors. My work would not stand out here. Retreading territory is easy–in the sense established lore provides the ease of working with something akin to historical fiction. Yes, it still takes research and vetting, learning cultures that have the breadth and depth of those her on our Earth. In the end you’re just regurgitating what has already been done–like a remix of a hit song. Sure, it’s great, but everyone knows it’s not original. That mattered to me.
I walked away from high fantasy. While I messed around with an X-Men fan-fiction, I didn’t want to write in that vein either. That was simply an exercise in idea building, dialogue, and just exercising my skills as they were at the time. Writing existing characters is just as problematic as writing in established themes, in my opinion. What stands will hem you in. Certainly, you can attempt to break away. That said, if you get it wrong, readers will quickly cast you off.
It took me years, and two historical works, to bring me to world-building my dark fantasy series. What changed? It uses historical ideas from existing cultures in our real world. Existing characters weren’t fleshed out to a point that they limited. The idea was from my own dreams and nightmares that I had been having my entire life. The world was familiar. A second world, to me. Thus, world-building was like describing a picture on the wall.
Fleshing it out the world of Trailokya did require research. Concepts of spirituality and culture play greatly into the shape of every aspect. However, I was familiar with them. What I needed to write, keep in mind, was adjacent to the reality of what we know. The main concept is that we come from a home world that gave rise to the mythologies of heaven and hell, angels and demons, and so on. Not everything that is in the books should resemble the spirituality or beliefs of those faiths and cultures to the letter. The way in which we engage with this world has dampened if not muted our memories entirely. Therefore, it would be impossible to recreate the home world exactly.
World-building a realm that is adjacent to reality is complex. You have to know a lot about the world (cultural studies helped a lot with this). Then, you have to know where to make disconnections, new twists, mirror, or bend. Lastly, the structure has to remain sound. A bad switch could cause the whole structure to tumble down. It’s intense work!
In some cases, elements providing depth to the work came from loosely established but familiar characters like the Archangel Michael as General Mikhael, the kingdom of Zion as the out-dimension universe an world of Zion. I’m sure you have heard of the Astral Plane, Jahannam (Islamic Hell), Oblivion, Nirvana, and so on. In addition, there are factions that take on names familiar to us in the guise of orders (communities established similarly to military battalions, of corporations if you think in that way). The Order of Fenrir, Order of Odin, Moon Order, Sun Order, and so on, all elicit ideas well established human ideas. This provides strength and familiarity to the structure.
Promoting connection and layers for the reader to enjoy is essential in world-building. There will be some work for some concepts, but not everything will crush them with having to learn what it means. For instance, it is pretty easy to understand that the universe of Nirvana beings created all the other universes, or planes. Then, they populated those worlds with the smaller beings created in their own. Knowledge is king. That’s how you evolve. The more you know. The basics make sense and reverberate through all belief systems.
My recommendation to anyone seeking to build a world is to slow down. Don’t try to write a book every few weeks. The rush will show, and you will likely end up screwing yourself out of really great ideas because you failed to establish the bedrock earlier. If you go ahead and plug it in, readers are going to note it and very likely not approve. This could lead to readership dropping off. Plan. More planning. Still plan. World-building isn’t for the faint of heart!
You know that screenplay artists use 3 x 5 cards to write ideas down and pin them on a board to keep things straight for continuity. The same could be done in a virtual document or on your office wall for your novels. Before you set pen to paper, so to speak, start writing down notes on the lore, culture, and characters. Create a cheat sheet document to refer to often. This will help you keep it all straight. You will want to keep it all straight!
Write down the scenes and ideas you come up with as you’re fleshing out your world in your head, and arrange them on your board. You might get a vision for a scene that doesn’t happen until book three or later. Of course you don’t want to lose that, so you write it down in detail and pin it.
Speaking of pinning. Have you tried Pinterest? I have aesthetic boards for my books. They are organized into two parts, the overall folder and the about folder. In the overall, I pin images and articles that fit the aesthetic, but are not directly about my work. The about folder holds my articles and personal images. Just to be extra: the pin board on the Akashic Record has a folder for learning items, as if it is the record!
Aesthetic boards help you maintain the feeling and look of the work. I highly recommend this tool, even if you don’t make it public. I have several boards that are not public, because they pertain to future works, which I may never write. They’re for me to work on my ideas alone.
Writing and organizing notes while you research is a great tool. You can write notes to yourself about what an item specifically pertains to. For instance, you come across the perfect helmet for a character. If you can print it out and pin it to your physical board with a note on who it is for, that’s a great tool. You can do this ‘board’ in binder if you prefer. This way, you can have several binders: Costume, Setting, Culture/Beliefs, Language, Scenes.
These tools will stay with you and be used again and again, especially when you’re writing a series. This is why having a dedicated work space is so important. A desk, some shelves, and a corkboard are a great start. Eventually, you’re going to look like and FBI investigator mapping out crimes on the wall. It’s all good. That’s what you want!
There are ways to do this in binders or electronic documents, if you work like I do. Just remember to back everything up multiple places. You never know what is going to happen to your equipment or access to files. Save yourself the stress. That kind of heartbreak can shutdown your work for good. I’ve lost whole sections of books back when they were on 3.5 floppies in multiple files. I cried for hours and hours. Didn’t get my file back and I never felt any better about it.
Other than that, all I can recommend is research. Study the writers in the genre, the non-fiction books that pertain to your genre, and ideas adjacent to your topic. You’ll find inspiration in all of them. And, if a detail comes from an established idea, you’ll know and then make a smart decision about going along or defying that established idea.
Best of luck to the writers out there reading this for guidance. Be sure to look through the other posts by the other authors on the hop as they will each have something of value to offer.