The perils of world building

World building can be a bit of slippery slope when it comes to fantasy novels. Some people feel they need to know every aspect of their created world intimately before they can write that novel.

I’ve seen people who have pages of beautifully detailed maps, drawings of all their characters, races and animals, thousands of words of country histories and back stories for their characters, in-depth knowledge of the agricultural system, religion, clothing and weaponry.

Tolkein was a classic example. He even created several fully functional languages.

The danger is you become so consumed with world building and getting every detail perfect that you never actually write the novel. I suspect some people actually enjoy the world building more.

These days I take a very light-handed approach to world building. Once I’ve set up the basics of my world, if it’s not directly relevant to my story, I’m not going to bother to work it out.

I realised last week that despite about 20,000 words of the novel taking place in one city, (with more to come) I’d never actually drawn even a basic map of it. It exists visually in my head – I can describe the sounds and smells, how the buildings are constructed and what it feels like to live in it, because these are important to the story, but I couldn’t tell you how to get from the barracks at Elephant Gate to the Great Amphitheatre or the Cemetery. How to get from the Salt Measure to any of the Universities.

As preparation for this year’s nanowrimo, I decided it was probably time to sketch something out. More of the novel will be set here and I’m in danger of talking myself into inconsistencies, yet those 20,000 words existed quite comfortably without a map.

Here's the map of the city of Eslos, and it's not going to win any beauty contests

2 thoughts on “The perils of world building

  1. The Hyperteller

    Hey fellow NaNoWriMo er… person? Challenger? What do you call someone who does NaNWriMo? Other than a little bit crazy? 😛

    I too haven’t really done a map (one of the things I get fed up of is opening a fantasy book and finding a map on the inside cover) but I’ve realised now that, what with me working on the second volume in my series whilst the first gets sent off to agents, I really need to know how elements of my world relate to each other, otherwise by the time/if I ever get to book 5 or 6 there will be so many continuity errors it’ll be impossible to proceed.

    1. kirosl Post author

      I believe we’re known as wrimos 🙂
      Book 5 or 6? You have ambition! I’m going to limit myself to a one-book series to start with. I do think maps can be useful, I just think they’re secondary to the plot. I suspect a lot of me getting bogged down rewrting my WW1 novel is trying to stick religiously to the geography, rather than inventing it as required for the story.


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