For the last week I have been teasing an article on story world building on this blog, well here it is instead I decide to just call it World Building. For those who are new to following me this is what I do, all my Novel Projects in the works have their own unique verse with rules and elements of the game. The first Draft of Marks of Eilira that I have been reading though and posting on lately has been in the works for years, I started working it six years ago June 3rd. I have a word document that is a hundred and nineteen pages long on how everything in the world works, a few things that aren’t really even in the story but are mentioned. I have a map printed out of the world of Eilira with names of all the cities and capitals locations of mines forests bases and ancient sites that will show up in the story and some that don’t.
For me I need to know everything about my world before I can really grasp the story that is going to take in it it. My worlds are so defined that many stories could take place in them. I’ll get to that, there are a few areas I want to look at in this World Building, and they are: Why world build, How much of the world should you build? Things you should develop when story building; Map, History; world and kingdom, Races/Species, and Magic/Abilities. All these are important when you are world building and that is not just if you are building a brand new fantasy world. Before we being looking at these areas, I want to note I am very much and outliner I map out everything before I even write a world, not to the degree I use to Thank God, however some readers maybe like some of my good friends who write by the seat of their pants. Note while I will becoming from an outline view all this is can work for organic the more technical term writers as well. Let’s begin.
The map, I don’t know what I would do without my map of Eilira when it comes to writing. When I am writing I turn to that map hundreds of times to remember where places are and how to get to them. When you are world building I think one of the best places to start is with a map and for my project Dragon Nations that has been in the works for about as long as Marks of Eilira just not as far, I recently drew up a new map of the world the one I had done when I started this project was interesting but not what I had in my head anymore. I love that map and I am tempted at times to redo my Eilira map but I won’t most likely.
What the map does is allow you to see where your story is going to take place, where locations are villages, cities land features and if you’re someone like me who likes to put a lot of challenges in front of their char acts its nice to throw a mountain or a swap right before where they need to go. A map is just that is gives you a sense of where things are and where a good location to have a scene be located. I feel that the benefits from this from and outliner’s view point are obvious but from an Organic Writer they might not be so let give a few suggestions. Unless you are an absolutist when it comes to writing by your pants, making a map can help. If you have a map and locations already placed while you are working through and as Stephen King has called it “Unearthing your story piece by piece” when you need a location instead of having to come up with a place you will know where one is because you thought about it before writing the story.
I would like to stress that when you finish your map the map is never finished, because while you write or even outline you may realize you don’t have a location on the map for something you want to do or where the story is heading. Well that is the beauty of this you just add it on and make the adjustments as needed. I have two good friends who write organically and both only do it for the story ironically they have mapped out their worlds their story are in to some degree with maps or some history. With my talks to them about their stories it has helped as they write the story they are working on in their worlds. Let’s move on to History now, but I’ll come back to how each of the remaining topics affect your map and others.
If you want your world to feel real you need to have history, every world ever created in fiction has history in them. Some are not good while other’s are, if you have a world created on TV of Smallville they had a base history for Clark and his world and developed the history as the series moved on. This is common for TV because you have a team of writers and I am assume it would the hard to work of there was a mass history that they all had to know. Usually only time this happens is when they adapt a book series to TV like the Game of Thrones. However when you do it for a book series you can be successful with just having a base history and work off that and develop as you go, but you better be keeping track of it because for writers of all skill published and unpublished tend to forget events or change them. Those world that have been created that have rich histories that work and don’t you can usually guess how they came about. George R.R. Martin from my reading of his Fire and Ice Series when he started it started with maps and writing histories of the world, though he is very much a organic writer.
What does giving world history do for a world and your story that you have in mind to write, for me I don’t write stories that aren’t world changers. Every project I have you could define it simply as an Epic because when they all end good ending or bad the world they are in are never the same. I have no interest in close to home stories that only affect the characters you meet in the story, I am not saying they aren’t good stories out there I just have no interest in writing them. If all six books of Marks of Eilira were written you sat down and read them by the time you finished you would see how deeply rooted the whole story is from its historical events before it.
J.K. Rowling is famous for how much history she made up for Harry Potter verse, the final book of the series Deathly Hallows goes all the way back to possibly early in the history of the Wizarding world to three powerful magical items. Imagine having something like that you could draw from in your story both outliner or pantsers. I know how hard sometimes when I am writing something that I need answers for and could not come up with something when I looked back at the history of the world I had the answer already but didn’t know it. I could have waited until I came up with something instead but that could have taken a while. I am not sure about anyone reading this, but when I hit a problem usually character related they shut me down, or plot I can’t move on until I solve the issue. It was one of the reason it took me so long to finish the first draft of Marks of Eilira.
It took 59.9 hours to write, out of 32 days that I actually wrote scattered throughout a six month period. There were so major problems with the story arch, why I believe I have found those problems and have the solution wanting to write the draft was hard. Now I am sure you didn’t think this was what I was going to talk about when it came to world history, neither did I. You still have one of the elements of creating a believable world of a history to look at. I gave a little in the intro to history above.
Like I said you can write your history out before or do it while you writing the first drafts of each book or outlining, but then you need to keep track of all historical events you write about and put them somewhere. I like to write a summary of the history of the world up to where the story is going to take place. I skip over the details of events that take place between the big historical moments and focus on them. Marks of Eilira history in my packet is 18 pages long. I broke it up into different Ages and each age is about a page and a half long while a few ages are longer. My friend Matt who writes organically has mapped out his history for his fantasy world. Not in great detail but he knows some of the major events and then goes back to different events and gets his friends and twin brother Tim to create characters and story chat and write out the historical event that way. I thought it was a great way to do it, since he likes to create the story as he writes, while he knows the event will end but the overall details of how are fleshed out as he writes. The funny thing is he does this for the history of his world, but for the story he can’t he has no clue how it ends.
Before we move on to the Kingdoms history lets look at how the events of history affect the map, it allows you to put historical landmarks down, know where battles were fought and maybe even put a battle their gain of history repeating itself. It just another way to flesh out the map of your world that you are building.
Once you have a world land masses and physical locations you need to focus on the people who live in there, I deal mostly on them in the Races/Species section. However for the history a world without people in it there is little history you can come up with, if you read on the history of just planet earth and what scientist know about just earth and not the people or life that lived on it, we have been through several mass extinction and the world has been covered from north to south pole in ice twice. These events are interesting but after a while who is really going to care about a world the has no intelligent life on it.
In our own history we like to think we know a lot about our past when we have no clue about it. We know the last give or take four thousand years beyond that we don’t know much. Watch an episode of Ancient Aliens on History channel and if you believe in that great too me they have never given any evidence of ancient aliens only that a possible technology existed back then that was lost at some point. While knowing everything historical event in your world is nice and unless you are going to build one world and only have your stories take place in that world it may not be possible to do that.
I say flesh out your world where you know the beginnings of the place the story is going to take place. Christopher Paolini author of the Inheritance Cycle, he wrote out the history of Alagaësia, I only know that humans came to the land from another part of the world there maybe more to known but I haven’t read the whole series yet and is on my list of books to read. Anyway, he knew the basic information of when man enter the story you should as well even if it is just bullet of event leading up to your story or bullets of events that happen throughout history to the people who live in your world. You can’t have a world without conflict and all history is is a record of all the different conflicts that have happened.
What writing out the history of your kingdoms does for your map is help build borders for territories and those kingdoms as they are when your story starts or before. Maybe your story is about how your world unifies and forms a High Kingdom or how the High Kingdom comes crashing down. Historical events will be in play and guess what if one of your plots points is for an old kingdom wants its borders back you will need to know those old borders. As for me I have five maps of Eilira with different borders through out the history of the world, what they are now and what the first borders were.
Before moving on to Races/ Species lets look at History for Organic writers, having a rich history for your world to pull events for your current story is not a bad thing. I have read so many arguments from organic writers that anything written a head of time is wrong and prevents creativity as they write. If you felt like that then don’t do what I am suggesting, but my whole point here is to say the more you know about the past the easier when you unearth the story you want to write will be. Your mind will jump to what you have already written to fill in the gaps when needed making it that much easier. Just imagine coming up with a great historical event that has a really unique item that you just love then when you’re writing the story suddenly the story turns where that item you loved and so excited you created is going to be used in your story instead of just being part of the world history?
I am not going to break this section up into races and species, I just decide to label it that, with history done we need to focus more on the people who live in the world you have created. For me it is important to know what kind of creatures live in my worlds, I like to draw from the mythologies of earth and find a way bring them into it. I can’t tell you how I do it in Marks of Eilira because that would be a huge spoiler for late in the series. In the Gathering series the Faerie Folk as I call them once lived with man but eventually moved to another plane of existence which is why in that world we don’t ever see them.
Now when I am talk about defining the people in your world I am not talking about just creating the typical fantasy creatures, such as elves, dwarfs, etc. If they are going to be in your world do yourself and everyone else a favor and make them your own, Christopher Paolini did this in Inheritance Cycle, he made the elves powerful race as a friend of mine who has read the whole series put it, you run into an elf you run because you do not have the skills to take them on. Stephanie Myers did the same thing for Vampires for Twilight, as much as I think it is stupid that her vampires sparkle in daylight, I will give her credit for mixing up the vampire lore. Even though I say there are just some lore if you’re going to play around with best to keep to close to it as possible but you can always put a spin on it.
For Marks of Eilira I have Seven Races that live in Eilira or as I call them Seeds, they all are basically human with physical traits that make them distinct from each other as well abilities. Originally I wanted to do my version of the classic fantasy races, but decided not to for well they are over used. While a few of the races you could probably tell what race they are based on I don’t have any pointy ear ones, well not the last time I read through the descriptions of them.
Going back to the map, where you place the lands of each race will also have and affect on the race as well their culture and the types of food that they eat. Think of Japan, an island people where they can grow food but for meat they did not have the numbers of animals on land like America or Europe, so they turned to what they had a vastness of, fish. Where you place each race will affect their culture this is an area I struggle in and as I write the books in Eilira am going to half to make an effort to come up with different cultures for each race as the stories visit each realm. I know the elements are in my head ready to come out, they haven’t yet well that is for six of the seven seeds.
Going back to Organic writers who might be still reading this and hopefully there are some, if you have races in your world that are not human you need to know what makes them different. Mapping them out and knowing it is not a going to limit your creativity by knowing it a head of time. Like everything else when you create something as you write its hard to remember all those details and guess what when you go back through to make the second or maybe the eighteenth draft flow better you need to really focus to make sure all the details are right because you can bet your readers will pick up on anything that doesn’t make sense or details that change. Writing something like this before helps with that because while writing the story you and check back to remind yourself on those details.
In your story world you don’t have to have magic, which is why I put abilities because you might not have magic in your world, but have people with special abilities or powers. It drives me nuts when people don’t know the limits or heights of their magic system or abilities in their world. Harry Potter is a great example of a magic system done right, while J.K. Rowling could have put limits on magic based mana or based on age, she simply limited how powerful a wizard could be by how many spells they knew and how hard the spells were. Dumbledore constantly tells Harry that Lord Voldemort is the Wizard of the Age because he knew magic spells that he did not. This was something that terrified Harry but never shook his faith in Dumbledore to protect or possibly even beat him.
Have anyone ever read a story where there are clearly define rules for their magic then later they break the rules not because it was some idea the author had or reason and could still do it, it was just they forgot their own rules. My favorite is when they have a major if you do this you die and then they have some character do it and the character doesn’t die because they author wants to keep him or her alive. When you have magic or abilities in your world you need to know how they work, what the limits are and just how powerful magic or the abilities can be.
In Marks I have two magic systems known as Marks and Tribal Marks which I believe will be getting a name change soon, they are the two types of how magic works for the good and the bad. While magic can be used other ways for the bad, as a weapon these are how they are done. I also have abilities for the Seven Lords unique to each one while while other characters have abilities as well. One such ability is to use someone else’s ability, this is a strong ability but to limit it I made it so the character who has it can only use it while in a certain distance of that person or creature. Ability to speed up or slow down time is in there, but it is so powerful the character who has it can only use it for so long and right now I only have one scene that it is in. Maybe I’ll have it pop up in a later fight but if that does the character using it will not be able to use it as much as he or she wants only so much when its used up he or she has to wait to sand glass refills.
One thing I hate is limits but in reality how are your characters going to survive if there are no limits to the main villains power or abilities. Even in Marvel when Thanos put six gems on his gauntlet that gave him the power over all and make him pretty much god. In the story he whips out half of the population of the universe and later wipes out another half of the remaining population. That is one powerful dude so how do you even fight that? Marvel knew this and Thanos to impress Death allowed a chance for people to stop him. While the power had no limit and that is what they wanted they had to find another way to allow it. A characteristic was their way around it, which I am okay with but if you do that too often it becomes annoying. Lord Voldemort was far more powerful then Harry at the age of 17, but how did he defeat him, well you could say because of Harry was the true owner of the Elder Wand, or that in all of the knowledge of magic Tom lack of understanding of Love powerful magic was his undoing. I would say both, because of Voldemort’s lack of knowledge of the magical power of love lead him to believe ignorant when it came to the elder wand. Then again even the Elder Wand had a limit because Dumbledore beat it, when it was supposed to be unbeatable.
Taking this back to the map, maybe you might want magical areas where magic is stronger or weaker or can’t exist at all. Placing these on the map allows you to add a different kind of border or location magical. Maybe you have magic flow like a mist from at the core of the world, well to get out you would need vents, putting them on the maps is a great idea, especially if you have a story line where either the good or bad guys want to rid the world of magic by destroying the vents. You need to know how many there are and possibly how many may have been sealed by events in the past.
Pantsers knowing how your magic systems works and limits to abilities a head of time just makes it one less thing you will need to look for consistence when you go back and write the other drafts as you polish your story.
In closing I hope you see what World Building can offer you as a writer regardless of how you write. For any Pantser reading this you could problem come up with many responses to say why I am wrong and just writing is the better. Well you wouldn’t be wrong for you, because is what works for you, this is what works for me. I am an outliner and have only written one story by my seat of my pants that is the Chronicles of Skylar Grant on this blog and I haven’t even finished it, though I am close. Maybe I will someday. This post was just to focus on what has worked for me in my writing and while I am not a published author I have given plenty of examples of authors both outliners and organic writers who World Build before they ever write. What everyone needs to do is learn what works best for them and do that, however the only way you can learn what works for you is try other things.
Best example, for Marks of Eilira before I dropped two books from and fit the story into six books, all eight books were outlined to the finest details. I had chapters to start off the outline and broke down the chapter to six of seven bullets based on related events in each scene. I could take chapter fifteen from book 1 outline and write the entire chapter with that outline. Being an outliner I thought this was going to work for me, it didn’t. Besides the plot problems for book one I felt I had no freedom to expand the story as I wrote because it was all mapped out. I learned something about my writing style, while I do need to outline my stories bullets of events work much better for me so I can fill in the details as I write and be creative and open to ideas. Organic writers who read this I suggest try story building and see how it works, just not just because you put down before doesn’t mean when you write you story that is going to take place in this world you can’t change the details to come up while writing that go against something you have already written. You must go where your characters take you and what they learn as they journey if not then your story is going to not work, however that is a topic for a completely different article, which maybe I’ll write later.