Friday, November 24, 2017

The Bewildering Pine - Worldbuilding - Fourth Friday - November 24th

I wrote about it before, quite awhile ago, but I want to get into the specifics of the world building I've done for my novel-in-waiting, "The Ledgerkeepers".

First I want to say that I admit that I am a prime candidate for what is known as "worldbuilder's disease". This is when you allow the task of creating a fictional world to consume you and you never get to the writing of your book, stories, music and what have you because you can't move past the creation. Well, I spent the better part of a year creating the world that is the setting of this book.

I get it.

It's addictive. There were times I couldn't stop and,even with all the details and ideas I've fleshed out, there remains more to be done.

And while fantasy/sci-fi wiring is most prone to this, it needs to be done for any sort of storytelling really. In fact, one of the first novels I read way back when I was maybe 10 or 11 was a true crime story that was so detailed about the era (1940's -50's), the neighborhood (Boston's little Italy) and the characters (mostly 2nd generation immigrants) that I was swept away into it and have never forgotten the "escape" effect it had on me.

But building a world from scratch? Deciding on a subarctic climate leads to the types of housing, plant life, foods, animals, terrain, clothing that are needed. The types of people/elves living there leads to origin stories, folktales, shadowy pasts, familial/community structure and expectation and superstitions.

The magic, if there is any, leads to needing to set the rules, what it's limits are, who can use it and the many ways it might manifest or change the dynamics in a world you worked so hard to build.

Languages, social structure, government, ability to travel, money, trade, politics etc etc etc

And do not even get me started on mapmaking. It's my favorite part and I am in process of making the third full map of this land.

On and on and on. . . and I could be quite happy with just doing that if it weren't that I feel compelled to tell this bigger story.

But the best part of getting past those beginnings and into the writing is that your world gets to be built from within the telling as much as it did when you were building it deliberately before hand. Some of my favorite bits and details of the world thus far came from just writing and not from advanced planning.

Take this passage from one of the first chapters I've completed:

      . . . And while that was all reason enough for his soured opinion of them, what disturbed Yanne most about the Barchan traders was that, save for a few of the youngest aboard each vessel, they had all been fitted with their trademark iron teeth. Those oversized denticles, which they grated together inside their mouths and scraped along the tines of their heavy iron flatware in a most egregious and disconcerting way, were just too much to bear.  Just the thought of the sound they made sent shivers spiraling up Yanne’s spine and made the hair on his neck and arms prickle upright. Their original teeth, those that they still possess when they’re ceremoniously yanked for the fitting of the iron, are fashioned into a choker that each Barchan wears around his neck with great pride. 

          "And that’s no treat to look upon across a communal dining table."

The Barchans unsettled Yanne — and very few things did.

So, before writing that passage I knew only that the Barchans were traders from the outer world who dealt/interacted with the folk in my world very rarely since  the trader docks are located out on a floating village in the vastness of the bay, away from the bulk of the land which is inaccessible by large ships.

Yanne, a main character in the book, fancies himself a storyteller. The Barchans are rude and obnoxious but so, in his own way, is Yanne. So in deciding what aggravates him about the Barchans,  it is of course some of the mirrored traits he sees in them. Yet I wanted something outside the box for him to focus on about them and I needed something visually specific to identify the Barchans later in the book.

Their oversized iron teeth, the chokers they wear made of their pulled, original teeth and the sounds and sights of iron scraping on iron. All of that came up in the writing/daydreaming and, even though it is just a tiny scrap of the world building, now I can't imagine the chapter/story without it.

World builder's disease can present itself in the writing too though. That passage above was around four times as long after it's creation. The rest was unnecessary backstory and filler. More reveal than was needed which, often, loses your readers. (and this is hard for me because I LOVE reading descriptive text even when I know it's a bit much for the story!!)

As world builders we all tend to think the worlds we create are incredibly cool. And most of them may be. But in the writing I am discovering, even in and among my own creation,  a slow unveiling is far more effective than an info dump of history and genealogy.

A great part of the excitement of the process is that I do not know where it will go exactly or what other little gems I might uncover about the folk who populate it as the story continues!

I am glad you're coming along for the ride and I look forward to sharing so much more as we go. . .

Hoping all my American readers had a wonderful holiday and that everyone else in our beautiful world had a magical day, as always!

Keep building the world you wish to dwell in!




  1. Yes, that is what is so fun.... I discover the book as I go too! (When I write that is, which admittedly has been awhile) but it is so true. Things just pop into your head as you go, unplanned details or scenarios. When I was working on 'wild phlox season' I would get excited when something like that appeared as I was writing along, thinking I knew what I would write about, and instead I'd end up writing about a characters memory of baking 'crazy cake' with her grandma and adding a secret ingredient. Or once I ended up discovering balloons floating down after a rain storm and had to figure out why they were there. It just builds on itself. Ok now, not only can I not wait to read your stories but I really want to get back and finish that novel!

    1. I'm finding it's what always keeps me going when I feel a little stuck. The hope and, lately, the certainty that what's around the next corner or page will bring something new to ME as well. : ) Sometimes I have found the story writes itself. I fought against one aspect of the main plot because it meant a long reworking of the two previous chapters but in the end, the story was right and I was wrong! And all of it, days of work, was just to give an unexpected glimpse of the magic of the world that took all of two lines to show but it had to be then and there that it happened because it just felt natural and true.

      Glad to hear you are wanting to get back to the book because the world needs a little crazy cake in it! :)

  2. And meant to add that if you believe your created world is incredibly cool, I imagine you might be right, and we will all think so too!

    1. Some day down the line I'll want to write about the progression of things from idea to realization. I've been keeping track. What inspires what. How those initial flashes turned to seeds of stories and then those stories became one long novel. And how the world around it came to be over time too. It's so strange to look back already and see those little bits and pieces begin to come together. I could never have imagined it all right from the beginning but I do think it's all created a very intriguing world with a lot of questions yet to be answered. :)

  3. This is so exciting Nicolas!! I love the passage you shared! Big Crow Hugs!

    1. Thank you Stacy! Hope you are enjoying the first days of the season and looking forward to dropping by your world soon!