I have a proposal in at Tor for two more Thieftaker books, and I am quite hopeful that I will have good news to share on that front before long. But I also have other projects in mind, because the reality of today’s writing business is that a full-time author probably can’t make enough with one series to sustain a career. (Unless, of course, that writer happens to be named something like Martin or Rowling, in which case all bets are off.)
I’m pursuing a couple of urban fantasy projects right now, and I’m hopeful that at least one of them will pan out in the next several months. Recently, though, I have also been thinking about a new epic fantasy idea. And that means that, for the first time in several years, I am neck-deep in worldbuilding.
I have covered worldbuilding in previous posts, but I thought it might be helpful (for me as well as for all of you) to touch on the basics again, as a way of reminding myself of things I need to consider as I move forward. And so, here is my worldbuilding to-do list for my new project. (Please keep in mind that this is my list; yours might look somewhat different. Still, the basics I refer to here include many of the creative elements that all worldbuilders should think about.)
1) Create a map. All right, I should confess that I already have the map done. See, the world I’m going to use for my new epic fantasy (at least the physical version of the world) is the one I created originally for the Thieftaker books. But while I have the map completed, that does nothing to diminish the importance of creating the physical space for my new story. In fact, I have spent a lot of time over the past few weeks re-acquainting myself with the map I made several years ago. Because map work for a worldbuilder is about far more than oceans and mountain ranges, countries and cities. It is about defining, in a broad sense, the politics, history, religions, cultures, economies, and customs of the people inhabiting these lands. So much of who and what we are is defined by our physical surroundings — this is why when I was still an academic, I focused on environmental history. As I create my maps, I learn about the places I’m building. I make decisions that have far-reaching ramifications. Plus, I get to play with maps, which is often its own reward.
2) Imagine relationships. In this case I don’t mean character relationships — those come much later in the process. No, right now I am talking about bigger relationships. The world I’ve created is called Islevale, and I imagine it having a technological level analogous to the early Renaissance. It is, as the name implies, a land of oceans, seas, and literally dozens of islands, large and small. Some of the islands are tightly bunched. Some face each other across strategically important bodies of water. Some have lots of forest land; others don’t, which becomes important as the various lands attempt to build naval fleets of wooden ships. Some may be rich in minerals and ores, while others have extensive tracts of farming land, or productive vineyards, or spices that are prized throughout the world. Each isle has its place in the military, political, and economic interrelationships that inform Islevale’s power structure. As I work on this aspect of the worldbuilding, I often find it helpful to build historical timelines, to imagine what wars were fought, how alliances shifted and how influence and military prowess might have waxed and waned over the course of decades and centuries. Not everyone enjoys studying history as much as I did. But I can tell you that creating history is loads of fun.
3) Develop mythologies and religions. These can spring from the geography of the land, and/or from the histories and relationships I mention above. Creation myths often grow out of observable land features, as well as from the exigencies of survival that are dictated by the terrain. By the same token, myths and belief systems will also, in turn, shape the histories we create. As we know all too well from our own world, religious conflicts often lead to wars — civil conflicts as well as international ones.
4) Come up with a magic system. This is the part that is giving me fits right now. I have some very specific attributes in mind for the magic I want (some of) my characters to wield, but I have yet to find a cohesive magic system that encompasses all that I want to do with the story. I will say, though, echoing themes from previous posts on creating magic, that I feel all magic systems should have certain elements. A) Magic should operate under specific, consistent rules, just as laws of physics do in our own world. It should not bend and flow to accommodate narrative necessities. Create your magic system and then stick to whatever rules you establish. That will help make it believable. B) Place limits on your magic. Unlimited magic that is easy to use and all-powerful will quickly take over any realistic world or story. Limiting your magic forces even those characters who wield powerful sorcery to rely on their wits, as well as their spells. C) (And this is related to B) Make sure your magic carries some cost. Give it consequences so that using magic requires a choice. Again, this will make your magic — and your story — more interesting.
Of course, there is more to worldbuilding than just these four steps, and I will touch on the subject again in next week’s post (since I expect I will still be worldbuilding next week . . .). But probably the most important point I can make before signing off for the day is this: I list these four steps as if they are discreet, separate, sequential. In reality, they are none of those things. Worldbuilding is a deeply organic process. When it goes well, I find that there is a synergy between my map-making and my development of histories, between the myths I imagine and the relationships I create among nations, between my magic and my religions. It all works together, and it all comes to me in a wonderfully chaotic rush.
And so, with that, I go back to it (with a break of sorts for copyedits on Thieves’ Quarry, the second Thieftaker book). What questions do you have about worldbuilding? What are the most important elements of the worldbuilding that you do?David B. Coe http://www.DavidBCoe.com http://www.dbjackson-author.com http://magicalwords.net
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