Thursday, March 12, 2009

World Creation Redux: Part One: The Why and Wherefore

World creation is one of my favorite things about writing fantastic literature, and I've given up with only a single botched (if ultimately useful) attempt? Not likely!

In my finite wisdom, I have decided that the problem was that paracosmogenesis is just too big a topic to handle in a single post. So, I'm going to break it up over (n) posts, each one covering a stage in the process of creating a setting. I don't know how long this is going to take, and I don't assure you that I'm going to tackle this issue with any regularity. All I promise is that I will finish what I start, albeit in my own sweet time.

The first step is answering that immortal question "why bother?"

* * *

I would like to establish an important first step for setting creation: deciding what the hell you're about before you ever put pen to paper or electron to hard drive. For all that world creation is a lot of fun, you can't just start at "in the beginning" and expect anything good to come of it (or, at least, anything useful - I should confess that I've been known to do just that when I'm feeling like a bout of intellectual masturbation). You need to have an idea of where you're going.

What sort of world are you trying to make? What are you going to use it for? Do you want to tell a story? What sort of story do you want to tell? Are you going to use it for a roleplaying game? What kind?

Once you've got an idea of what you're about in the process - a paragraph, an image, a scene, a conversation, something - you're ready to move on.

* * *

  • I'm making this up as I go along: what do you think is step two?
  • Am I the only writer who occasionally makes up half-worlds, pantheons, and cosmologies for fun? It wouldn't bother me if I were, I'd just like to know.
  • What are your experiences of this all-important first step?


Montgomery Mullen said...

I worldbuild all the time. Cultures, ecologies, theologies, philosophies, physics, metaphysics, histories, psychologies, and so on. Immersion is the key word here.

Generally, a world starts with 'what if' or 'I have an idea'. Sometimes a seed of an idea demands a huge garden plot to grow into a proper tree. Sometimes I just want to create something different.

From there, it's usually building frames from frames. I get an idea for a culture with a penchant for eugenics. Why do they have that penchant? What was their environment like? What's their history, and does it have anything to do with eugenics? What do their neighbors think? Who are their neighbors? And so on.

Is it a huge project? Absolutely. It is hard to grasp just how varied and large a world is. There are always going to be more questions. Heavens, we haven't even answered all the questions about our own world, and people have been asking for over a thousand years.

I certainly don't let that stop me. Questions are, ultimately, why stories get written.

Anonymous said...

My husband started off his last campaign world by playing with tectonic plates.

It doesn't matter what the hook is to get you started, or how far you build it, if enough for your purposes. (But of course the more complete it is in your mind, the more dimension your campaign or story will have.) It's also not like a tapestry, where you have to start the weaving from one end and need to make sure there's no holes. It's more like a painting, that can have some sections left in broad strokes and the details filled in later, so it doesn't matter how you build it. And anyway, you're bound to need to paint over some of the early bits later.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like you're both in the same place I am. You need a "what if" or a "wouldn't it be cool if" to start with, or you're going to get confused.

I've got to admit that I've never started with tectonic plates before.

Montgomery Mullen said...

Interesting trivia: Mars does not have tectonics. This is why it has the vast mountains and canyons it does, and we don't.

Imagine the possibility of caverns.