Monday, November 8, 2010

Today let’s start digging into world design.

Now, this is the sort of thing that takes a lot more thought than most people realize, and a lot more effort than a lot of writers are pulling to put out. This is why so many books, even in the fantasy genre, manage to be set on earth. The theory is that having your book about wizards going to school in a castle take place on earth, this will be a lot easier and more believable than building a second world. All of my books to date have been set in the same second world, I’ve even created a massive wiki to help keep track of all the details.

The term “second world” originates with renowned author J.R.R. Tolken, though he probably wasn’t the first to use the concept. It basically means you have your story take place in a completely different, unrelated world where they’ve never even heard of Earth.

And while this does take a considerable amount of effort, it’s actually much easier in the long run. For general purposes, creating a fictional city like Superman’s Metropolis or Batman’s Gotham removes a lot of issues as the author no longer has to worry about writing in a real city. Street names, addresses, bridges, all of it can just be made up, which is particularly useful if you’ve never been to the city your writing in. Residents of the city will always catch the little mistakes, and you’re bound by the constraints of reality. But just a fictional city does not a second world make, in the superhero examples, these cities are still set on earth and the characters frequently travel to other, actual locations.

The second world removes all of this, giving you total freedom. It actually takes less suspension of disbelief for the reader to immerse themselves in this world, since you’ve already told them from the get-go that they don’t need to pay attention to reality. But, from there, it gets tricky.

Authors typically tend to want a few specific features for their second world, without giving much thought to the underlying system that makes them possible. Just like magic requires a system, a second world requires all the functional aspects of this one. It needs a stable economy, a working system of government; its people need religions and schools and houses and food. There is quite a bit more to world-building than you first imagine.

Fortunately, for a lot of it, you can basically copy-and-paste from the real world. Not to much, though; systems resembling real-life ones are good, but they shouldn’t be identical.

Start by considering the type of world you want to create. Is it a futuristic sci-fi landscape? A medieval fantasy realm? Somewhere in between? Now research first-world equivalents; if you’re going for medieval, read up on European history, if science fiction is more your game, look for the closest real-world equivalent(Disneyworld).

Medieval realms were basically agrarian societies, so your medieval fantasy world is probably going to be like that. This means a lot of peasants, farmland, castles, etc. Travel is going to be pretty slow and typically via animal power. This means if a character is going to travel 1000 miles, they are probably going to walk or ride a horse the entire distance. Horses, by the way, move a lot faster than wagons being pulled by horses, remember that.

Information moves a lot more slowly in world where a fast galloping horse is the state-of-the-art in high-speed transportation. If the character is going to travel 1000 miles, expect them to get there quite far ahead of any information about them—unless of course you invent some sort of means for the people of your fantasy world to move information faster. The Lord of the Rings had the seeing stones, you have plenty of options available.

Economics are a complex thing, but one that must be considered. Even if it doesn’t factor into the story in any spectacular way, your world needs a working economy. An Agrarian society with lots of subsistence farming is fairly easy to manage, though it gets more complex from there. You might be surprised to know that such modern jobs as doctors and lawyers existed as far back as ancient Egypt, 3000 B.C. Egypt back then was mostly about subsistence farming, but they needed doctors and lawyers even then.

Essentially, any modern profession that doesn’t deal specifically with electricity is a viable occupation in a fantasy realm. Even your subsistence farming culture is likely to have aqueducts, bridges, roads; all of which will need to be constructed and maintained. Even in the dark ages, people knew how to build some pretty spectacular things.

Tomorrow, we’re going to dig into inventing religions for our second world, should be entertaining.

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