The Struggles of World Building

Word Count: 5712

There are many problems that writers face whilst writing their novels, but there is none so great to me as world building. When you’re creating your own world, there are no rules. Especially if you are building a world completely separate from this one that we live in, as I am attempting to. There is just so much to consider, and not one of the many sites offering well-intentioned advice and guidance ever seem to cover it all.

Of course, there are some amazing examples. Take J R R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series, and surrounding stories that take place within that universe. It is so well beloved that people become obsessed with the detail of it, viewing it almost as a real world. Another great example is George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, with its intimate history of both the land and families, and interesting topographical map and meteorological patterns. I know these are two very famous examples, but they are so famous because they are so well planned and thought out.

On the other end of the scale, you have books like David Baldacci’s The Finisher, which quite frankly left me very frustrated upon completion. Baldacci’s attempted delve into fantasy writing makes it so abundantly clear how important it is to have your world thoroughly mapped out and making sense before you actually write the narrative – not that the narrative of that novel is anything special. He attempts to build a different world, but he changes too many things, making it just uncomfortable to read. For example, he changes the names of timings. Fair enough, people in an alternate universe would likely not have the exact same way of telling the time as us, but splitting their days differently to the way we do ours and expecting people to understand this with very little explanation is simply not the way one writes a functioning novel.

The most continuously successful fantasy novel is that set partially in our world. The examples are endless – the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling, a lot of novels by Neil Gaiman, such as Stardust and Neverwhere, C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia… the list goes on. The benefit of this format is that it allows common terms to the reader – such as, to quote the example from earlier, names for timings and measurements for timings – to be used in the novel, giving the story readability. But sometimes the benefits of this format are outweighed by the limitations it has. The writer has to find a way to tie their new world into the world of the novel, and for many plot lines, this is simply not feasible. Sadly, this is the case with what I am writing.

This has resulted, at least for me, in a serious issue: forced exposition. It is blatantly obvious when a writer is simply making something happen to expose something about the world or the characters within it. However, one of the issues with Baldacci’s The Finisher is that it provides no explanation, leaving the reader to attempt to figure out what is meant by each term themselves. There is certainly a balance to be found, and the fundamental problem that I am facing at this moment in time is discovering this balance. It takes dozens of re-reads and tiny tweaks, by myself and by my friends to try and plough through the bad to find any semblance of something good, but at the moment I’m just trying to get rough thoughts down on paper.

It is, however, not impossible, and therefore I shall persevere – it will just take me significantly longer than I thought to write this story!


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