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David Zindell's Neverness, A Requiem for Homo Sapiens and all things Science Fiction and Fantasy
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 Post subject: Writer's Workshop, discussion A: "World Crafting"
PostPosted: Mon Sep 18, 2006 6:35 pm 
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As you may know from reading my post in Snowy Owl chat I'm about to begin laying the foundation of a novel. I've had a wild idea in my head for the last two years, or as Donaldson says, "A story gathering dust on the shelf." While my part of the discussion will, probably, concern itself with Fantasy and Sci-Fi feel free to talk about any genre you like. This should prove be a freewheeling discussion and perhaps more of an associative one-flying from one thought to another. Remember you don't have to be a writer or even an aspiring writer to join in. I need all the help I can get from anyone and everyone, so please join in.

Other discussion ideas, at this point, include Minimalist vs Maximal language usage and scope: timeframe, history and lenght of story.

World Crafting:
Let's take the simpliest distinction between Sci-Fi and Fantasy and explore the differences within. If I make, what's a better word for cut and dried, cliched (yes there will eventually be a "wordsmith/grammar" discussion, as well), oh well: cut and dried statements remember they're there to be knocked down. Be careful of spoilers.

Fantasies tend to lend themselves to one world
Ok let's look around the author forums here at the Hangar to explore this: Tad Williams' Osten Ard is primarily self contained. Donaldsons Covenant series takes place on one planet (which there is no name for), Zindell's Ea, Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice, Lewis' Narnia, LeGuin's Earthsea and Tolkien's Middle Earth follow suit.
For arguement's sake let's call Donaldson and Martin's worlds what everyone else calls them; The Land and Westeros. Note that I said primarily-in Williams' world the Sithi may (or may not) have arrived there from space or some dimension. The protagonists in the Land and Narnia travel between Earth and those worlds through some strange portal, be it by "summonsing" or a dimensional backdoor in a wardrobe.

There are subtle exceptions and assumptions that readers can make, such as (knowing Zindell's Neverness (Sci Fi) books and the similarity of characters and naming) Ea actually being one of Hanuman li Tosh's "forced growth" worlds in The Broken God, and Middle Earth being an implied unknown pre-history of our own world. Other fantasy writers have used pre-history devices to a much more obvious degree like Howard's Conan, King Kull and Bran Mack Morn. Earth/fantasy world hopping is not exclusive to those above-look at how the characters travel back and forth (or get stuck in a fantasy world) in lands such as Eddison's Zimiamvia, Burrough's Mars and Zelazny's Amber.

I mention Zelazny last because his world crafting/hopping is a much more complex example-Earth/Amber, gradual and abrupt transitions, shadow worlds, other dimensions, tarot card jumping and etheral/disintigrating landscapes. But you see the point the primary arena in these stories is one newly created world.

Science Fiction has at least five primary arenas
It seems that Sci Fi can go pretty much where it wants to go. If we limit it at all it would be; Earth, virtual reality, space, our solar system and galactic travel. If we take another trip around the Hangar author forums we see that the major series mentioned involve mostly galactic contructs such as; Brin's Uplift universe, Zindell's Neverness-Manifold, Donaldson's Gap, Simmons' Hyperion-Web, Williams' Otherland (VR), and Herbert's Dune. With of course stinking Gene Wolfe being the hybrid and obscuring the lines of fantasy and sci fi. . In most cases these stories do have a nexus point where that world is intrically crafted: Urth, Icefall, Hyperion, Arrakis.

You can break it down all you want; Donaldson's Gap had a focal point in space: UMCPHQ, perhaps, Brin's The Postman on this (post apocalyptic) world, The Kiln People on it's own world, etc...

Ok since fantasy is what I want to write first
What's the world? How do you get there? Are you born there? Could you do something really weird like jump form there to Earth and back? Yes I realize this brings up all sorts of off-topic questions-ethics, magic, etc...Ok back on topic. If you're writting a fantasy (with the door open for a series) what are the basics? A cool name from your land/planet? A map (I'll have to have a map-I love maps)? And if you have a map how complete should it be? Reserve unknown mysterious places for later? I guess you may not know that until after you're finished with the series. What sort of world should it be? Pretty complex if you ask me. Most are. Simple may be too boring. A waterworld (such as Simmons' Mare Infinitus) would make me want to pee all the time! Would a low-G "floaty" world be too strange? Perhaps the origin or cause of a limited "floaty" phenomenon would be more interesting...

In anycase, after speaking to a lot of people about what they want in a fantasy novel/series it's a fast pace, believable characters and interesting twists. Of course it's more complex than that, but how could your world be designed (or how should it be designed) to accomodate the fast pace and help provide weird twists itself. Yes it seems I'm going Donaldsonian, maybe that's my nature, and alot of books haven't really been written that way (or succeeded that way). As opposed to the more "homo-centric" worlds of medievilish swordplay, humanlike demigods, altered human and human-like constructs like elves/sithi, etc...But that's whole 'nother dicussion.

I'd have to have magic but aside from an "Earthpowered" magic land I guess my first real question would be: How do you form the natural features of the land/world to have a magic all their own as far as the layout is concerned? Aside from strange nexus points, places of power etc...something that hasn't really been done before within the landscape? A limited world within a much larger world the characters don't initially know about? Mist covered lowlands the characters, apparently, believe are inaccessible? A future explanation of a strange part of the land that myteriously appears out of nowhere? If you see what I'm driving at I'm trying to get ideas that will pose something completely new to the readers and break the cliches of the basic fantasy world, and, yes, even the Land. We haven't even begun to discuss "underworlds" yet and that appears to me to be very tricky because the reader can tend to get bored and disoriented easily if those worlds, caves, passages, weirs, labyrinths, etc...aren't done exactly right. Some examples: right, left, up, down under Mt. Thunder, endless catacombs of Osten Ard, wiers of Malazan-as opposed to some to the straight forward (and possibly cliched) caves in LOTRs and Dragonlance type stories--but abysses are great, gotto love abysses!

Your thoughts? *****
Before, you are wise; after, you are wise. In between you are otherwise.
Fravashi saying (from the formularies of Osho the Fool) <i>Edited by: danlo60 at: 9/26/06 6:15 pm
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 Post subject: Re: Writer's Workshop, discussion A: "World Crafting&qu
PostPosted: Tue Sep 19, 2006 5:52 am 
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The UnTitled
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Wow, what a post danlo. Am gonna have to read it a few more times.

It's difficult to answer some of those questions, because readers tend to read for different things. Me, I'm a fan of detail. I like complex, detailed histories, but those often slow the pace.

As for how you turn up, I guess that depends on whether you want any interaction between your world and what we might call "the real world." Do you want your protagonist to be "reachable" as an ordinary human being suddenly in a strange situation? Or as a native of the world?

Magic...tough one really. Very difficult to have a justification for it that is completely original I'm afraid.

A name and a map are good, the map you can probably develop as you go, remembering to stay consistent to it. It should be complete to the "area" of your first story I guess.

Low-G automatically makes me think Sci-Fi...

As for simplicity and complexity, it should start off simple and become more complex the harder you examine it. Too much complexity at first could be off-putting and pace-killing.

Will think about the rest.

--A ____________________________________

A sense of the sardonic preserves a man from believing in his own pretensions. -The Sayings Of Maud'Dib<i></i>


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 Post subject: Re: Writer's Workshop, discussion A: "World Crafting&am
PostPosted: Sat Sep 23, 2006 6:24 am 
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Just some random responses at 2AM:

Some of the best "fantasy" I have read lately is very much a marriage of fantasy with science fiction. In this I would include the R. Scott Bakker trilogy, as well as Steven Erikson's Malazan Empire books.

Minor Spoiler:









Both series are set in a "fantasy" setting, but there are also hints at space ships, alien invasions, and possible genetic engineering in the pasts of those worlds!















/spoilers

I prefer a balanced pace. If the story seems to go nowhere, and has many subplots that do not seem to tie in well with the main plot, then there is a problem for me.

Likewise, if the story seems rushed, I also have a problem.

Robert Jordan's books are a good example of both ~ for a while late in his series, some of the books seemed to stretch forever with seemingly nothing important happening. Yet his latest book seemed to be too fast.

For magic, I have often preferred "low magic" settings to worlds filled with spells which are the equivalent of nuclear bombs going off. For instance, LOTR and SRD's First Chronicles are stories that handle magic very well, IMHO. There is magic and it can be very powerful - but the people who can perform that magic are few, and it is rare! On the other hand, I really dislike stories where someone can pull a hydrogen bomb spell out of their pocket and destroy an army single handed. Terry Goodkind is a good example of that sort of thing.

I like backstory and history to a world. But I prefer that it come out bit by bit in the story rather than have a big "info dump".

These are all personal opinions from a woman who is a bit brain dead right now. I might well pop back in a day or so, when i can think more clearly and make more sense. ******************************************************

Our lives are the songs that sing the universe into existence.~David Zindell
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 Post subject: Re: Writer's Workshop, discussion A: "World Crafting&am
PostPosted: Sun Sep 24, 2006 2:56 am 
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Great forum Danlo! Good thoughts Av and Duch. I have some quick thoughts. Hopefully I can add more later.

I agree that a great fantasy setting should not be overwhelming at first. I believe a well done world will offer little detail, lots of vague references to legends, distant cities/regions, secret societies, sorcerers, heroes etc. I love a believable history and setting--just mete out the information properly.

It's easy for some writers to confuse a complex world with too much useless detail. I think it is important to keep the history of the world close to the story. Don't write a history of the fantasy setting without a story to back it up. (Unless it's a damn good history!)

Avoid unpronouncable names, countless heroes, wizards (as Duchess says magic everywhere!) and useless back stories that serve only to create a history of the world. I love, in fact really get into tangents of stories as long as they relate to the main story or add some piece of historical detail to the main story or characters. Intricate is great as long as it is not too contrived.

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 Post subject: Re: Writer's Workshop, discussion A: "World Crafting&am
PostPosted: Tue Sep 26, 2006 5:16 am 
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The UnTitled
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Yeah, good posts folks. Pretty much agree. One thing that Jordan was very good at was that ekeing out of new information.

Just as you started to learn one race/group/whatever, you'd find out about another which, over a few books, would become more and more detailed.

--A ____________________________________

A sense of the sardonic preserves a man from believing in his own pretensions. -The Sayings Of Maud'Dib<i></i>


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 Post subject: Re: Writer's Workshop, discussion A: "World Crafting&am
PostPosted: Tue Sep 26, 2006 5:12 pm 
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Danlo,
Hope my comments add to the discussion. One of your queries concerned where does one start world crafting. To be simplistic and cliched, 'One starts where one starts'. For example, Tolkien started with creating languages (based a little on natural languages), and then molded the worlds to fit those languages (borrowing liberally from the natural languages native literature). Starting with maps is, if I understand the role playing world, is sorta the way the D&D world starts its adventures; therefore, I presume that starting with maps would be OK.

All I have for now.

Edit: Since you and Duchess mentioned story pacing. I recently read an essay by Lois Bujold at the The Bujold Nexus where she mentions pacing is a frequent error with beginning writers, her comments were made in reference to fanfic, but probably apply to all begining writers. taraswizard
Allan Rosewarne N9SQT/WDX6HQV
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my livej<i>Edited by: taraswizard at: 9/26/06 10:20 am
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 Post subject: Re: Writer's Workshop, discussion A: "World Crafting&am
PostPosted: Wed Sep 27, 2006 1:31 am 
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Right on taras! Yes, I'm extremely interested in pacing... I'm triply exicited because a ton of ideas for my fantasy have begun to sink in. I'm afraid to give anything away but I've been talking to everyone I know and they're offering some incredible ideas and characters-even all the way to foodstuffs! I've become super high-tech (at least to me) with super highspeed DSL/Direct TV/a zillion phone functions nothing but DVD, all sorts of things. And I'm enjoying little Elora Grace, the beautiful weather and the freedom Tam's given me to write.

If my book did make millions I'd actually donate my first nickle to my hardass/stuffy old boarding school and dedicate a library to my creative writing "master" there. Mr. Tappan taught me to help anyone in need, can the BS, take no prisoners and above all, "write what you know." That's what's coalesing in me right now: 27 years of stories, hearsay, culture, archaeology and myths that surround my local area. And using the depths of my own, personal, inner struggles.

I'm ready, but i'm going to bombard you with tons of questions...without, hopefully, giving antything else away. *****
Before, you are wise; after, you are wise. In between you are otherwise.
Fravashi saying (from the formularies of Osho the Fool) <i>Edited by: danlo60 at: 9/26/06 6:32 pm
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 Post subject: Re: Writer's Workshop, discussion A: "World Crafting&am
PostPosted: Wed Sep 27, 2006 4:07 am 
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I'm probably the least sci-fi/fantasy literate person here, so I'm in no position to dispense advice to anyone - least of all you, danlo. But I do wish you success in your writing project!

Me, I don't mind magic and technology co-existing in a story if it's done smartly. That's one reason why I thought Donaldson's Mordant books were so cool. Here you have an already intriguing "fantasy" world that uses magic mirrors, but then via those same mirrors comes an equally intriguing sight: a technological warrior - a refugee, as it were, from a sci-fi reality. It was clever and rather hilarious the way Donaldson handled it, the contrast between the mystery of magic and the mayhem of a trashtalkin' guy with a big-ass laser rifle.

I'm sure there was a point to my post somewhere...



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 Post subject: Re: Writer's Workshop, discussion A: "World Crafting&am
PostPosted: Thu Sep 28, 2006 2:50 am 
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Good luck Danlo.



Hopefully you'll get some decent input (I'll gladly add my thoughts if it helps nudge you along!) and better yet I hope you can offer us some writing insight as you go. Keep everyone posted on how the world creating is coming along!

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