Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Worldbuilding Wednesday

Fantasy is not an abandonment of logic – it is a reinvention of it with imagination fueling its life source. To make fantasy believable, you need to create an alternate structure of logic – a world that follows rules and has consequences when these rules are broken. For fantasy to truly work you need to have a logical structure within your world. Like science, it follows a pattern of consistencies within the knowledge of the world. Things don’t seem to happen randomly in a fantasy world – it is a land of cause and effect. Someone or something is always responsible. This is the logic behind all fantasy stories.

It is at the very core of how many of us are raised as children – we learn to believe in the happily ever afters, the characters like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy. We learn the fundamentals of “magical thinking”: “if you wish hard enough for something it can come true” and that the power of your thoughts and actions can make totally unrelated things come true: “step on a crack and you break your mother’s back” You are empowered.

Magical thinking presumes that an object that represents an object controls it and that there is power in words. This is often a basic building block in the power of magic through fantasy.

Every great fantasy is built on a logic system that may seem silly in a rational “real” world – but it is still consistent and complete and works for your fantasy realm. If, for example, dogs talked in your fantasy world it would be equally logical that cats could talk as well. If saying specific magical words can make fantastical things happen, it only stands to reason that mispronouncing the magical words can have disastrous results. Fantasy works by its own rules – but it does have rules. You can set the rules in any manner you like, but once set you have to consistently follow them or the premise of your world will collapse around you; you will lose credibility and lose the trust of your readers.

The realms of both science fiction and fantasy can take you anywhere – it is limited only by your own imagination – taking you to worlds that don’t exist outside your own creation. Both realms require that you strictly follow whatever rules you put into place and the structures of believability you construct. The difference is science fiction is rooted in the logic of the physical universe while fantasy is rooted in the logic of your personal universe.

As novelists we often create our own micro-worlds, even outside the realms of fantasy and science fiction. We are, after all working in a fictitious world or city or town with fictitious characters and the basics still apply. You must follow the rules that are in place or there will be consequences and chaos. This is a reality that transcends genres. We are all world builders in our own right and we gladly welcome our readers into the worlds of our stories. How do you world build? What elements do you bring into your world – do you like working with small towns and a close view of your characters lives or do you prefer settings in a large bustling city? What is the personality of your world?

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Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I have to admit, writing fantasy really draws me. There are many "rules" for the mystery genre and I'm interested in writing a series that would have fewer. Great post, Nancy.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Galen Kindley--Author said...

Nancy, are the points you make valid for fiction in general? That is, no matter your genre, don’t the rules of consistency, logic, and believability also apply? I’m thinking the big difference in fantasy is the readers willingness to suspend a larger chuck of their reality.

That is, for a murder mystery set in New York, it doesn’t take a big stretch for the reader to believe that something like that could have happened there. Whereas with Harry Potter, an entirely greater degree of suspension is required. Nonetheless, in both cases if the writer violates the basic rules you stated, the story doesn’t work. Thoughts on that?

Best Regards, Galen
Imagineering Fiction Blog

Karen Walker said...

HI Nancy,
I love this explanation. It explains a lot of why I was so screwed up for so many years. I believed in magical thinking, just as children do! Thanks so much for your kind comment on my blog yesterday. Isn't it odd how we can feel as if we are friends with people we've never met in person?

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I have always admired how fantasy writers are able to create whole new worlds. I never related it to other writers, but it makes sense that the rules transcends genres.

The Old Silly said...

Good explanation and post. Definitely of paramount importance to be able to build the world your story is written in.

Marvin D Wilson

N A Sharpe said...

Hi everyone - thank you so much for stopping by today.

Elizabeth - I have a WIP that is a mystery - I like the storyline but my questions are which organizations handle what sort of crimes: police, FBI, CIA. That is the sort of thing I am trying to research becaue you have to be accurate on those sort of details.

Galen - that is exactly right. In the "real worl;d" we are familiar with or a fictitious town you are still building your own little "micro-world" and have to stick to the rules that govern it. Less has to be explained in stories that take place in a familiar setting, but you also have more restrictions than someone writing fantasy. In stories that take place in our world there are already "pre-set rules" you have to work within, in fantasy you are only limited by your imagination.

Hi Karen - I agree. I have met some very good friends online that I have never met in person yet I feel like I have known them forever as close friends.

Hi Jane - I think any kind of novel requires a certain amount of world building. If you are in a more traditional setting, I think of it as a template where you have some basics but you need to personalize it and tweak it to get it just rigt for the setting you need to build.

Hi Marvin - world building, I think, is an essential part of the process no matter what genre.

Thanks so much for your thoughts everyone!

Nancy, from Realms of Thought…

Patricia Stoltey said...

I never thought so much about world building until I read Lynda Hilburn's first vampire novel. I interviewed Lynda, and kept saying, "But, I always thought vampires yada, yada," and she'd answer something like, "In my world, this is how I see it."

It gave me a whole new perspective on fictional worlds of any genre.

Danyelle said...

Great post! And very true. Especially in fantasy, it's important that the magic has rules that it follows, otherwise it jars the reader out of the story.

I world build on accident. It all ties in together, but it's not something I consciously think about most of the time. My stories are character-driven, so the world the reader sees is through the lens of different cultures, society, and personal (of the characters) values.

Helen Ginger said...

So interesting to hear you explain all of this. Thank you.

Straight From Hel

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