Saturday, October 6, 2012

Building a New World

Out of all the questions I'm asked by fans, family and friends, "how do you think all this stuff up?" is definitely at the top of the list.  When I ask for clarification as to what they are referring by "all this stuff" they normally indicate the world of Satorium.  In literary circles many would call what they are asking about World Building and it is a subject of much discussion on fantasy boards and fan sites and there are several different approaches to tackling the subject for a writer (I will discuss my own approach in a minute but I'm going to ramble on for a bit first).
When you think of world building, one author inevitably comes to the forefront.  J. R. R. Tolkien.  Now aside from being what many would refer to as the father of the fantasy genre(there are other contenders and many who would argue this point), what Tolkien does provide without really much debate is a prime example of world building as the vehicle, even the purpose of the novel.  Tolkien was a linguist and a historian and without actually knowing the man, what I understand is that he created the world and history of Middle Earth as a mythology in which to give life to the languages he developed, which we know as Quenya and Sandarin, or for those who aren't Tolkien geeks or scholars, Elvish.  The entire mythos which is part of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit wasn't created for the sake of the novels.  The stories were simply ways in which to expand and share his world and languages.
The other approach which I believe is expertly displayed in the works of one of my favorite authors, Joe Abercrombie (side note, his books are not appropriate for young adults so please research before sharing his titles with your youngster).  Joe Abercrombie does not front load his novels with the world his novels are set in, but rather lets the narrative reveal the intricate and rich world over time.  One gets the impression that the characters (and in fact in interviews Mr. Abercrombie has stated the the character Logan Nine Fingers was the origination of his series) came first and the world came up around them as he told their story.
Personally, I avoided writing fantasy for a long time because I was only really aware of Tolkien's process, a task which seemed so out of reach and amazing that I would not have any hope of attempting.  To be responsible for what everything looked like, smelled like, where everything was located, what the towns were named, what the people were called...are they even people...
And then came Ms. Rowling.  According to J. K. Rowling, she got the entire idea for Harry Potter while riding on a train, jotted down what she could during the ride, went home and started writing.  The idea that such a rich and fantastic magical world could be derived by an idea and just sitting down and writing was compelling to me.  I've always been a, just sit down and start writing, the rest will come, kind of author.
So, with an idea inspired by the filthy little German Shepherd puppy who had found her way into our lives, I just started writing and Satorium seemed to invent itself just as any character might.  As the books went on, I have done a bit of more traditional world building.  I had to draw a map at some point to keep things straight and I had to do a bit of day dreaming on the deeper background of some of the characters and races.  For the most part though, my world building technique is one of discovery rather than actual construction.  My unsatisfactory answer to the original question is, it just comes to me.  If at some point it no longer does, perhaps I'll have a better answer because what Tolkien did was a lot of work and I'll be more than happy to tell you how hard it is and how I miraculously accomplished it.  Until next time...Calo anor na ven

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