Sunday, 21 June 2015

World Building, Part Two -- Going EXTREME

Welcome back! Hope you're having a great weekend. It's Father's Day and I think the kids are downstairs preparing a special lunch, so I'm trapped in the study...

Last week I touched on my inspirations that got be going on writing fantasy. This next post will overlap that, but that's inevitable since when it comes to world-building we're hoping to weave a seamless whole.

Going EXTREME. What does that mean?

It means not sitting on the fence. It means taking your biggest, best ideas and turning them up to 11. In fantasy (and I'll include sci-fi as the image is DUNE after all) you want to explore beyond the boundaries. You're venturing into the unknown, or you'd better be or else you're not offering anything new, are you? The reader wants to stand in awe of the new worlds, peoples and societies you've created. Mediocre has no place in epic.

The Extremes
1. Good and evil. Yeah, we know the world's full of greys. Good people do bad things. Bad people are heroes to some. The world's a twisted, illogical place. In fiction, it all has to have a reason. Randomness can exist, but it's still all part of the plot. There are countless Dark Lords in fantasy. Waaay waay too many to count. How can you add your twist so we're taken by surprise? George Lucas did it in The Empire Strikes Back. Darth Vader was our super-evil dude, then turned out to be the hero's dad. I know it was a long time ago (and in a galaxy far, far away) but it was a true OMG moment in cinema history. I was there (about 13, popcorn in face).

You may say "But what about Game of Thrones? Lots of grey characters in there."
To which I'd reply "Not as many as you think. Joeffrey? Robb Stark? Tyrion? Dany (most days)?"

2. Settings. DUNE is a primary example. A whole desert planet, inhabited by bedouin travellers called the Fremen. LORD OF THE RINGS is another great example. Mordor doesn't have any nice spots, does it? The kingdom is EVIL down to its very soil. How can soil be evil? In can in fantasy. This is taken from the Arthurian legend of the Fisher King, a poisoned king means a poisoned land. It's the ancient belief that the king and the land are one of the same.

EARTHSEA by Ursula le Guin is loved because she has a brilliant setting, a world made up of tiny islands. She breaks the cliche of horse-riding knights by putting everyone in a boat. How would that affect a world?

Then you have individual locations. Castles should be epic. GORMENGHAST is a world within a castle. So is Hogwarts. So too are the motorized cities of Philip Reeve's epic MORTAL ENGINES saga.

3. History. In fantasy it's usually ridiculously long. Far longer than our recorded history. No kingdom is worth its name unless it's tens of thousands of years old. Legendary founders are a must. Dune, obvs, LotR too, GoT also has a highly detailed past, whole reigns are outlines, and you have Valeria, the mythic past (that world's Atlantis).

4. The inhabitants. This is both the cultures and the creatures. Cultures based on a single attribute. The horseclans of the Dothraki. The Fremen. The Bene Geserit. I have to admit DUNE is probably my fav fantasy/sci-fi book even. It's a masterclass in world building that doesn't follow the North European tropes than, I feel, have bound typical fantasy into a parody of Tolkien since, well, since forever.

Creature-wise we're looking at your dragons and elves and dwarves, wizards and whatnots. If this is the path you're going down, TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT!

My own particular hate is the helpful wise wizard. I still don't quite understand why Gandalf isn't just say "Give me the ring, Frodo. I'll just summon one of my eagle friends, we'll glide over Mount Doom and we'll be home before the kettle's boiled."

Right, I hope that's given you something to think about. More next week.

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