world building woes

Recently I started reading an enormous book (700+ pages) that had, among other things, fantastic world building. History… no, it wasn’t just history. It was economic history, military history, artistic history, mythological history, the history of arcana, discrepancies between the histories and difference of opinion based on source. It spanned racial customs, clothes, weather, standards for different classes, idioms, the difference between different districts in a city, children’s skipping rhymes. It included little details, always relevant, always practical: a minor character took a room not far from a butcher, and the main character can’t help but notice the smell every time he comes by to see her. And the method of immersion into this world was so well done that finding more about it felt as if I were slipping into a steaming bath, or cuddling up to a down blanket. I get excited when the author writes a few pages of summary or explanation; I feel as if I can safely laugh at the show-don’t-tell Nazis now that I’ve seen it done so well, so efficiently, in such an entertaining and smooth fashion.

I have a difficult time reading new books. I can’t turn off my internal editor, which tends to focus on plot, theme, and composition. So when I’m trying to read for fun, I keep finding myself considering the question, ‘If I’d written this, would I be proud of myself?’. When I find that the answer is ‘no’, I tend to stop reading. And when I find something as detailed, complex, and well-done as this, I start raising my standards. My novel just got a little worse.

June was ‘Villain Month’. That seemed to go fairly well. I think I need a ‘World Building Month’ next, a concept that was mentioned a few weeks ago. I do want to finish this draft of my book first, but there are fifteen days of July left and roughly twenty thousand words to write. And I get anxious the closer I draw to the grand finale. That puts me at 1,333 words every day (including this one) until July. … On the bright side, it’s not as bad as NoNoWriMo.

Here are my goals, then:

  1. 1,333 words a day until the book is finished. I estimate that will let me finish the book before August.
  2. Finish ‘The Name of the Wind’.
  3. Write a book review.
  4. Possibly send girlish fan-letters to Patrick Rothfuss.
  5. Start the hype for ‘World Building Month’. Set it for August.

I’m imagining that World Building Month will be more useful to writers of speculative fiction than contemporary fiction. Even so, solidifying a good, living setting does deserve some attention. So, since Villain Month met with such approval, I’ll be doing the same thing. Anyone interested in signing up and joining in the event are welcome.

9 thoughts on “world building woes

  1. Just stumbled upon your blog somehow… not quite sure how I got here, but I must say i like what I see. It’s great to see a fellow fantasy writer who has shown the fortitude to break 70k words! Good luck with finishing it.

    I recently completed a 145K word novel that I started submitting 17 days ago. I’m hoping for the best myself.

    Anyway, there seems to be enough good stuff going on here on your blog, that I’m going to link to it. That way I can get here easier without having to leave breadcrumbs!

  2. 145K? That’s long, even for fantasy. Good luck to you, and thanks for coming!

    I’m hoping to go on a quick burst and finish the book in the next two weeks; then starting August I’m going to be hosting a carnival event. You’re more than welcome to join in, if it so interests you.

  3. Quick bursts are always awesome! I had mine the end of May when I finished my first draft writing 30k in two weeks (let’s just say your caffeine consume is bound to shoot through the roof :p ) Good luck with hitting your deadline and man, it does feel awesome to be done with that first draft – says I now in the middle of editing woes…

    Anyway, I do like the idea of a worldbuilding month, especially since I’m working more and more on mine, because I can’t help but notice some gaps here and there. Any idea how to structure it yet? Maybe one week on geography, one week on history, one week on religion and one week on magic or something like that? Just an idea, but I’m all in for it 😀

  4. Well, my world is a little odd, so I was going to focus on some parts more than others, and I’m leaving this open-ended so writers of things other than speculative fiction can join in.

    As for myself, Patricia C. Wrede wrote a good guide to world-building that I think I’ll follow (if perhaps loosely). It goes over world basics, physical/historical features, magic systems, people, customs, government, commerce, trade, and daily life.

    I’ll probably make this a formal announcement on Saturday, when I have time to plug it formally. 🙂

  5. The world-building event sounds interesting. Maybe I’ll stop by.

    Either way, whether I participate or not, I’ll definitely be reading.

  6. I have mixed feelings about worldbuilding. I agree that it’s essential for establishing consistency and creating a lush, absorbing environment to draw readers into. If you’re writing fantasy, you have to worldbuild, period.

    But I find it can be really hard to establish a nice balance between developing a world and actually writing it. I’ve known many people who focus so much on worldbuilding that they never write the damn story!

    Anyway, watching these people develop and develop and never write has made me so leery I hardly worldbuild outside of the actual story. One of many bad habits that come back to bite me in the ass, so the worldbuilding month definitely interests me even though I’m a bit nervous about it. 😉

  7. Saint– I know exactly what you mean.

    The reason I really want to do this is because I’m about to finish the second version of my book. I’ve developed the basics to know the general scenery, the general order of things, the general lay of the land and history, but my story completely lacks the sort of richness that I see and admire elsewhere. I think I might have to do it this way, in fact. Story first, then setting. Otherwise what comes out is a world not suited for the story in mind, and it’s a whole lot of work for nothing.

    So aside from using it as a form of procrastination, why not world-build within the story? Like developing a secondary character. Someone just came from such and such a place to enter the scene… so, what was it like?

  8. That’s one of the best ways to give your world a sense of size and “Realness’

    having characters talk about places they’ve been or are from is realistic and offers cool variances in culture and such without actually having to bring the reader there. I’m looking forward to seeing more of your story!

  9. Just stumbled in.

    Would like to know the name of the book your talking about.

    I have found the Mike Stackpoles last two series, were very rich.

    The Cartography series though a bit odd in the 3rd, was very good IMHO, and the world was very lived in to me.

    Look forward to reading more here.


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