World-building is a tricky subject. Too much of it, and it ends up clogging the story. Too little, and
the setting ends up feeling too far removed from reality. There are many different aspects of world-building we can touch upon, but the most important thing you have to remember is…
If you like it and it’s part of our world, don’t be afraid to use it!
Too many writers forget that it’s alright to use realistic elements to their worlds; those can only add to your writing, enhance it. I’m as much of a sucker for magic, fantasy religions and amazing storytelling as you’ll ever find; I absolutely love to see authors add real-world elements to their works. Once you do that, you can then work to subvert that real-world aspect in order to show, rather than tell, how magic works.
Imagine for me, if you will, a world in which wizards with telekinetic abilities are fairly common. How would that affect a maritime nation’s…docking bays, for example? Would shipmasters pay a dozen men to load and unload their expensive, fragile cargo, or would they prefer to pay the local mage, who works faster and more efficiently?
Would lantern lighters be used in big cities where pyromancy wizards could snap their fingers to do an otherwise lengthy, tedious job? How about agriculture; how would the entire process of growing and harvesting food change if your world had magics that could be used to cultivate and grow plants at a much greater rate?
We can see positives to these examples, to be sure, but what’re the negatives? Could you pinpoint them for me?
Thinking about the socio-economic consequences of a given type of magical or religious system has on the world ensures that you add a complex layer to your fiction. It takes hard work, but the added level of realism makes up for it.
I’ve mentioned religion a few times now, and I feel obliged to expand on that particular topic. Religions in fantasy are often based on Greek and Norse mythology; borrowing real world religions can work very well, as seen in Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos– in those books, Catholic Christianity is fascinating to read about.
Two of the central characters of Hyperion are Catholic priests–men who have put their faith in (what is at this point) a crumbling, dying religion. It’s understandable why we find the church in such a state of disrepair; seven centuries later, Christ has yet to rise again. In the face of more attractive religions such as Zen Christianity, Catholicism simply wanes.
Later, because of events I won’t spoil, Catholicism does reemerge as the dominant religion; but this time, as a much more sinister organization, akin to the Catholic Church that was behind the Inquisition; thus, past and future intertwine.
Again, it’s important to build on how exactly the religions you borrow from work differently in your world. A good point to start from is…are they based on real events, or not? If they are, how accurately do they represent historical events? How much of what you know about the religion in question is common knowledge?
Question like these will help you create a solid foundation on which to build on!
The topic of world-building is hardly exhausted with this short discussion; next week, however, I will try and tackle exposition, and how not to bore your readers to death. See you next week!