Introducing guest poster Paul Philip Carter, author of the soon-to-be released epic fantasy trilogy The Plotters of Cantaera.
POC is based around the life of William Deane, a 16 year old young man who has just seen both his father AND his grandfather abducted by unknown forces for unknown reasons. William's only desire is to find and save his family, but he quickly discovers that not just his family but the whole world has been caught up in a struggle between good and evil and it is not at all clear which side is for the good.
Talk about world building? Who needs it?!!
There are a lot of good books and websites out there that can give you ideas on how to build a world for your fantasy/epic fantasy novel. Orson Scott Card, Ursula Le Guin, and the SFWA.org site are great first starts. But I think a brief refresher is just what the doctor ordered for many writers and this is just what you can get from this post. (And FYI these tips work for ANY type of novel or story ;-)
You might think that many of the ideas below are self evident, like, “What an idiot! OF COURSE I thought of all these things!” If so, then GREAT! You are already well on your way to making your world and your characters seem and be more real.
But it can be easy to forget these things. Sometimes we can get caught up in the wonder of our own world and forget that the reader has not yet been introduced to that glorious realm. Keep these things in mind and keep your readers enthralled. Don’t do it? Well, hey... the real world still needs starving artists (writers).
World building is a subject that could easily be discussed for years to fully flesh out, but there are ways to simplify the process. Orson Scott Card divides his writing into a MICE quadrant (milieu, idea, character, and event). For our purposes here we would be working on themilieu, or world building.
When you first approach the topic, you can break world building into three easy and workable sections. Doing these things up front will GREATLY enhance your ability to accurately portray your characters in the proper context and bring a deeper connection between the reader and the character. But PLEASE remember to also consider these core tenets all throughout your writing.
1. Location (location, location)
LOCATION: Where does your story take place? In a frozen wasteland ala Salvatore’s Icewind Dale? Or a desert wasteland, like much of Goodkind’s Pillars of Creation? Is the terrain mountainous, or plains, or swamps? It REALLY makes a difference. Depending on the location your characters will be required to wear different clothes, carry different supplies, provide different housing, etc. And these things will affect how the characters react to the situations and conflicts they encounter. Your group will not be able to jump up and run out the door in an instant quest if they live in caves on the sides of mountains, or if the swamp surrounding the town is overrun with poisonous snakes. Your characters have to show HOW they overcome these things in order to seem real.
CLIMATE: Location and climate are very closely related and it is vitally important you have a specific idea how climate (weather) fits into your story. A change in weather affects your characters and they will (and should) react to it. AND (most importantly) you can use the weather they encounter to change the scene (at least) or the quest and possibly even the whole plot. If a storm rages in, use that bugger to show how great your champion is at saving the rag-tag companions who tramp along behind him. Or, you can use it to stall your villain and keep him from snatching victory out of the hands of your champion.
CULTURE: The local culture of your characters hometown, or the different cultures encountered on his/her quest, will add wonderful flavor to the story stew you are cooking. Perhaps your hero’s hometown has mystical spiritual beliefs and can speak with the dead, or commune with lesser gods. How does your protagonist react to this? Does she agree with these practices? Does the fact that the local shaman has to sacrifice baby goats in order to open a portal to the ether make your hero scream inside against the insanity of such a practice? How do other cultures react to the primary/main culture in your story? Is your main culture well liked by the other races? Or, are they scorned and avoided and considered low-life scum balls? ALL of this MATTERS to your story! You can use this to show how your main characters feel about it, and use it as a building block to show the reader the hurdles and conflicts they will encounter.
Bottom line is this: it is up to YOU how you portray your world to the reader. You can be flippant and disregard all these things (and maybe that’s what your story dictates). But ignore these things at your own peril. It can be MUCH more entertaining to the reader if you at least make these things that build your world CONSISTENT.
DO NOT send your main character out into the cold, frozen wasteland with nothing more than a handkerchief like Bilbo on a fine spring morning. Give her some cloaks or some furs, or Dear Lord at least ADDRESS the fact that she has no warm clothes and may well freeze to death because of her haste and stupidity. Because readers are pretty smart and they will notice immediately when you fail to clear up these inconsistencies.