Different processes produce different results. I use Microsoft Excel. I’ve talked about this before. I like spreadsheets. Some people like to use the same tools they use when they run DnD campaigns. Some people just make it up as they go. Others keep detailed notes, in hand, or draw maps in mapping software, or all sorts of other things. World-building is a good idea in fantasy, because you get to make the world your own.
What does it matter, really, what tools you use as long as your world suits your narrative?
Often, I am bored by world-building in the books I read. I’m not really into “cool” worlds. I read for characters and to find the questions of my life that I did not know I was supposed to be asking. I mean, really, what matter whether a river is purple or a mountain is made of glass if the people of that world are not changed by it in some fashion, and not just in that they need special shoes to walk on the purple water and climb the glass mountains? I mean imagine that the glass of the mountain is a metaphor for a bright, shining, religious lie, and it is so massive that all the stained glass windows in the world have been thrown up together into one, huge monument to the lies. I mean that the character who climbs this mountain discovers a truth upon it that makes the monument a lie, because the thing that inspired it all was wrong to begin with. Things are different for a reason, and it has to do with art. Otherwise, we’re just messing with reality for the sake of making reality cooler than it is, and it feels lazy to me because reality is actually very cool, already.
Does that make sense?
I hope not, for your sake. There’s this thing called paint-by-numbers fantasy, in some corners. It sells better than this stuff, anyway. Really, just paint by the numbers. You’ll have more readers, in the end, and more money. Take a historical world you’d like to learn about, and add a few fantasy elements that would make it cooler. There you go, you just built your world, and you’re ready to have an adventure in it.
Honestly, when it comes to this sort of thing, if you don’t agree with my thesis before I begin, there’s no point winning you over with words about world-building my way. We’ll never see eye-to-eye unless we already do. My little words here will do nothing to peel you away to the side I want to promote, nor would I be happy if absolutely everyone did what I wanted in books, because I enjoy a little paint-by-numbers fantasy sometimes, too. Of course, we’re not supposed to get along. That is the world we have built for ourselves in our shared fake reality on the internet, where there are only two kinds of fantasy to discuss. Mine, and yours. Populist and Literate. In all our discussions, we never break away from this imaginary binary, and even attempting to talk about distinctions where the boundaries are fuzzy disintegrates into poor sportsmanship.
We built this world, collectively, on-line where there is probably no other way to talk about things without labels that rile up passions. We world-build for the author whenever we use a term to separate a book from another book. In this fashion, we construct the rules of expectation that readers will use judge the worlds in the books that authors don’t have any control over. Pick your terms wisely. Books have been judged failures for lesser sins than the banner they carry into another person’s heart.
I guess what I think about when I think about world-building, and why it got me thinking about internet memes, is that I think about the whole internet systems and feeding tubes and warez and everything, all of it, when I think about world-building, because it is a world wide web that is completely artificial, with its own standards, codes, and memes, and it is a way to explore all the many wind tunnels of human imagination. It’s a separate sea of language, with whole eddies of thoughts and ideas that flow independent of each other, occasionally clashing around the geologic flow of real world events. In this place, whole edifices of the imagination rise and fall inside their spheres of gravitational pull. It’s all so connected, yet everyone lives in their own private bubble, with their own ecosystem of blogs and news and websites and eCommerce, often never seeing beyond their own little sphere. That’s our world, isn’t it?
What else do I think about world-building? I think that when I make a fantasy world, I want to remember the rule of the internet: for every world I know, there are a million different worlds in the same one, and I never know when I will stumble upon it, only to find my
All weekend, I’ve been hearing gunshots. I live in Atlanta. I live in the best, safest place I can afford, and I thought I was fine, and I am probably fine. No one’s shooting at us, or even particularly close to us. They’re at least beyond our apartment complex, along the roads or in the woods somewhere. Still, all weekend, there have been gunshots. There is a world I do not know, and it is not very far from where I live, and I hope the police come soon and stop them, because it’s terrifying to hear gunshots. I want to go back to the safety of my own, little sphere of cafes and gardening and working in peace with the fan on in the middle room. I want to keep my family safe.
That is what I think about world-building.