Franz Kafka said in The Diaries of Franz Kafka, “This tremendous world I have inside of me. How to free myself, and this world, without tearing myself to pieces. And rather tear myself to a thousand pieces than be buried with this world within me.”
That explains what’s inside the mind of a writer. I know I’ve touched on world building before in my blog, but I had to take another whack at it. World building can either make or break a story. You have to make the world your characters live in believable. That means, as an author, you have to be an architect, city planner, landscape artist, geologist and mapmaker, all rolled into one.
I really started last week when I started watching Terry Brooks’ The Shannara Chronicles on MTV. It really made me appreciate this new world he created from the ashes of our world today. That’s a common thread you see in world building in literature–building a new one from the old. You see that in the Four Lands in Shannara, Panem in The Hunger Games just to name a few. These are not worlds built using by redrawing the lines of states and countries but places imagined after the worst possible disaster.
Then there are original worlds like Middle Earth from J.R.R. Tolkien or Westeros from George R.R. Martin. These are the works of masters in the art of world-building. Author Ace Antonio Hall said, “When you get some free time, write. When you get some lazy time, plan. When you get down time, world build. When your time comes, shine!”
This is true for those who take the challenge of creating a world from scratch. This was the problem I faced when I started writing the Forever Avalon series. Though Avalon was a place mired in legend and mythology, it was never something that was mapped out. I had to create Avalon as it would develop in my story and mine alone.
Author Patrick Rothfuss was interviewed by bloggers The Rabid Rainbow Ferret Society about world building. He said, “World building has two parts. One is the actual creation. The other is bringing the world into your story. Everything you create should not be in your story.” He called this secondary world creation.
I did a lot of this in my misspent youth playing hours upon hours of Dungeons and Dragons. As a Dungeonmaster, you create everything from the country to the towns and the dungeons, then fill it with everything under the sun from monsters to Elves, Dwarves, etc.
I took Avalon to be a lot like England was in medieval times, specifically because legend and local lore suggests Avalon was actually a part of Wales. So first, I divided up the lands, giving them out to the various Lords of Avalon to control, in the name of the King. I even used names from towns, provinces and local landmarks in England, assuming that people who were brought from England to Avalon needed that familiarity.
(FYI, here’s my self-serving pitch for those wanting to catch up on Avalon in my first two books, Forever Avalon is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The Dark Tides is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iUniverse.)
I actually had to draw out the map of the island so that, when I’m writing, I make sure I’m going in the right direction when I’m moving characters around the island. I can’t begin to tell you how difficult that’s going to become after my third book, The Outlander War, is finished. So, no spoilers here … not yet at least.
For the best advice on how to reveal your world to the reader, I have to give it again to Patrick Rothfuss, who said, “My advice is to withhold information from the reader. Because if you tease with a little information early on, they’ll get curious. And if I can get them to go “How does this work?” and lean in a little bit, then I’ve won.”
He’s absolutely right about that. In Forever Avalon, I teased my readers about the dragon island Emmyr, the home of Lord Bryan MoonDrake, the Gil-Gamesh of Avalon. I talked about the dragons, how he built a home there, but never let on about the true nature of the island until they arrived to see the floating island in the sky, shrouded by mist and encircled by flying dragons. The surprise was worth the wait.
So create your worlds, build them as you build your story, but keep the reader guessing. It’ll help draw them in and wanting more.