World Building for Fantasy and Sci Fi
The Best Sci Fi and Fantasy Books Have Maps — (Editorial Opinion) 😉
I’ve read a number of authors on their take of world building for fantasy and sci fi. Author Nyki Blatchley’s Worldmaking: The Secret Ingredient approaches the issue of “time” very nicely. Well worth a read.
World building is something we who write fantasy, and especially epic fantasy, and sci fi all do. The gods only know the hours I’ve spent in creating the world of Krîl-lôc on which my epic, The Years of Bone and Ash unfolds. And wonderful, challenging hours well spent they have been.
Truly, there’s the actual stone and bone world itself — its physical history from creation to its still shadowy future. Then we have its people, their evolving cultures, languages, religions … a lotta stuff there. A whole lotta everything I see around us today and how we got here, all re-imagined and applied to my creation, Krîl-lôc. Think of the movie Lucy and its last fifteen minutes as Lucy achieves full consciousness.
I found much of this building comes about in the form of a work in process as my characters develop. How do they measure time, distance, seasons, days in a year, a month; how do they refer to a month, a week, dawn, dusk, day, night? All this flows from their conversations, inner dialogs, and thoughts. Which then leads me back to the whole languages/culture thing. Much good and constructive mileage can be got with a minimum of ink by pushing our characters to use their own, novel expressions in speech and thought.
-:- Years become winters or summers or …(?). (I am a grown woman, Gywn thought, her wry frustration showing as she bit her lower lip. Sixteen winters and I still stumble over my words when the High Singer questions me.)
-:- The sun moved three finger spans. (20 minutes?)
-:- Twenty strides. (About 25 yards?)
-:- Firstlight/dawnslight; firstdark/evenscome; dawnsmeal, evensmeal …
-:- Five glasses. (5 hours of sand in an hourglass)
-:- Two glasses. (2 hours); Three bells. (3 hours) Lots a’ terms for time out there. Even today different cultures speak of measurement and time in a multitude of ways. All fodder for our new creation.
What we want to do is fashion and display our world through our characters — how they experience it. Just giving it three moons and two suns (one red!) does not a world make. It needs be reflected in the different cultures and societies of its people, creatures/animals/spirits(?) who inhabit it.
Tolkien created two complete languages and several partially heard ones while filling his world with people, hobbits, wizards, elves, goblins, orcs, and spirits along with a pantheon of godlike beings of good and ill. I’m always appreciatively amazed at the scope of his labors to build Middle Earth. But so necessary in order to have the pallet upon which to write his epic fantasy.
Now, from a wider view of world building, let me narrow it down to what some who don’t understand fantasy readers (and sci fi readers as well, for that matter) find humorous in their sad ignorance: the map.
I’ve enjoyed countless differing approaches to the map in the novels I’ve read. From Middle Earth to Mars (The Martian). Minimal detail, extreme detail. Beautifully done artwork, rough outlines, and everything in between. All equally helpful and key components in their own right to the story they support. I can’t think of a fantasy reader I know who doesn’t check out the map when looking for a good read in the prison library. We all reach first for an interesting title and cover art; down comes the book; the front matter pages are keenly examined for a map, then pages turn in search of a dramatis personae and possibly a glossary.
True, a living world a map alone does not make. But mention a place of significance (and insignificance por moi) and don’t have a map? You’ll have created a disappointed fantasy reader. We love our maps. Think nothing of stopping for a quick reference check, and then dive right back into the story. Actually, as far as we’re concerned, we never left it. So yeah, as a fantasy or sci fi writer, build your world, but give her and your readers the map as well.
Here are two from The years of Bone and Ash. Modified many times over in small ways, and still liable to additions as needed, they were born out of the pre-writing process and shaped Krîl-lôc and the story arc as much as the characters. They embody their world as much as it reflects them and their history.
As for me? I’m just a lucky time-dimensional traveler with quill, ink, and parchment always handy. Love to sightsee throughout the known and unknown.