World Building—How Much is Too Much?
World building, in my opinion, is one of the most important aspects of creating a believable backdrop of your fantasy story. As writers, we must create a world that our readers will understand and relate to without having to concentrate too much on what is being presented. One must find the balance of too much new information and too common of information to create this world. Replacing every common word or reference with a newly invented word makes the head spin to have to remember everything. However, using basic references that would clearly not belong in the world you’re creating takes the reader out of the story.
For instance, my husband and I have been crafting the world for our YA steampunk fantasy series—The Keystone Chronicles—that takes place on a planet called Evanterra (see map in progress). We have gnomes, but not your typical garden gnomes like Wil Huygen envisioned and what most people are familiar with. We used to play (quite heavily) the MMORPG game Everquest 2, and their gnomes are all about steampunk—gadgets, gizmos, inventions and even airships! (By the way, if you follow that link to Everquest 2, you can learn more about gnomes on the Neutral tab of races.)
What is this reference all about? Well, we’re on a completely different planet, in a different galaxy and solar system that doesn’t even know earth exists…so I can hardly say, “These weren’t you usual garden-variety gnomes. They were…” Garden gnomes don’t even exist on Evanterra. It’s a complete Earth reference. BUZZ! Nailed!
This world we’re creating from scratch has magic and mythological beings such as unicorns, centaurs, merfolk, faeries, etc. I struggle with names. Do I call them unicorns, centaurs, merfolk and faeries? Or do I reinvent their names and let their descriptions speak for themselves? Do I reference cotton and wool material? Or create new names and let the descriptions lead my readers to the conclusion that such material is like wool and cotton? The challenge has been both frustrating and exhilarating! We’re finding a delicate balance. The familiarity of such fantasy creatures draws in those readers who are in love with them, but then we do our best to make them unique to this new world—centaurs are very Native American in culture and art and they’re vegetarians, for instance. Of course, I can’t say they’re Native American….Earth reference again. LOL But I leave it up to the showing instead of telling to handle that.
What about you other writers? What struggles have you experienced in creating your worlds? As a reader, I’m taken out of a story if things are TOO familiar…and I’m also jarred when I can’t keep track of all the new information. Your experiences, readers?? What do you love about newly created worlds? What are some of your pet peeves when reading fantasy or sci-fi? What are your favorite examples of world-building where you became lost in the world and didn’t really notice any difference in such references to their world compared to the world in which we live?
That’s my two pence…I’d love to hear yours!