Fantasy World Building Part 1: Establish the Rules through History

Hello folks.  Welcome.  I have been wondering about what content to share with you that is different from every other writing websites out there and inspiration struck.  The one thing that Sharp-Writing has that other writing websites don’t is me.  It was so simple really.  I started thinking about my own creative writing and decided to share the process, if not the details (you’ll forgive me for keeping my stories close to my chest until they are ready for reading).  A couple of disclaimers.  I write fantasy so my posts will often refer to that – and this will be one of them.  And secondly, whilst I have studied creative writing at Degree level and consider myself skilled enough to know what works much of the time, I am not infallible.  I am going to share what I am doing just now, and perhaps it can help some people.  And perhaps some of you can help me by sharing your thoughts.  This post will be part of my Fantasy World Building series.

Disclaimers done, let’s get to the good stuff!

I am currently working on a Fantasy Story.  I have been working on this story in one form or another for the better part of 10 years.  It has gone through many evolutions, and I have abandoned hundreds of pages of work when I realised that they were going to fail for various reasons (cliche, strands pulling apart and so on).  However, I still want to tell the story even if some of the details change, even if some of the setting changes.

One of the problems I kept encountering was that whilst I liked the characters, and their goals, the rules of the world were just too convoluted.  Individually they were fine, but because they were not developed consistently.  I would write some stuff down one day, and then not add to it for months and thus forgot important stuff (highlighting the importance of Writing Daily – I did a post about that).  So, I started again.  I often start again when a rework is so monumental it would take equally long or longer to revise what I had.

I knew in my world I wanted the technology level to be somewhere between medieval and renaissance Europe.  I wanted Magic to be a thing, and even had the “laws” of magic in mind.  I didn’t want guns or cannons.  I knew I wanted necromancy and various states of vampirism to be a thing.  I knew that I wanted a Pantheist society, and I even had a few of the Gods worked out.  In my original lineup I had a major plot device spring from a division amongst the gods.  I penciled this in, but was less sure about it.  I had an idea for the over arching plot, and the underlying message and who the villain would be.  I wanted to keep that villain, so they were added as a character.  Though I decided that their background was going to be different as the original one was too convoluted and didn’t quite work.  I had all these ideas, and they weren’t dissimilar to the stuff that I had written before (yes there were some changes, but not many).  And I wondered how I could rationalise it all, and not forget it.  And that is when I decided to write, in brief, the history of my world.  Don’t get me wrong, at this stage basics were all that were necessary but I figured that I would write the history of my world and work into that history, into that story, how all the things I wanted would come to be.  And then I would have a reference document that I could update along the way, which I can then turn into a single document to read through anytime I need a refresher.  I used the software Scrivener, and if you click on the following video I will show you how I did it.

So, that short video deals with creating a history of your setting, in the example a history governing one of the rules of the world.  I alluded to it in the video, however I will reiterate it here.  I am more likely to remember the rules of my fantasy world if I remember the history, the story that created them.  This is because your brain remembers thinks that are more vivid and evocative.  History is a story.  Rules are bland.  Writing the background history establishes the why, and once you understand that you don’t forget it.  And, as an added bonus, writing background can generate unexpected story.

knowing the history of your world helps you remember the rules of the world and can generate story

It occurs to me that I have talked about needing to be able to understand the rules of my world but never said why.  And it is simple.  It is about consistency and stability.  If your world has sorcery that can conjure fireballs, seemingly from nothing, then that needs to be part of the rules of the world.  And thus that means anyone can do it under the right circumstances.  Fantasy Narratives are a hard pill for some folk to swallow, but nothing helps them fall apart more quickly than when the writer breaks their own rules.

So, does this seem like it is of use to you?  What do you do and how does it work for you?

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2 thoughts on “Fantasy World Building Part 1: Establish the Rules through History

  1. As I am not a writer (not counting my blog obviously 😂), I can’t really say what I do, but it certainly makes sense what you write here. I am always amazed at how some fantasy worlds just have such a rich and incredible history as if they were real. That only makes the reading experience that much more interesting 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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