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A rendered conworld, as would be seen from space by an observer.

Worldbuilding is the process of constructing an imaginary world, usually associated with a fictional universe. The result may sometimes be called a constructed world, conworld or sub-creation. The term world-building was popularized at science fiction writer's workshops during the 1970s. It describes a key role in the task of a fantasy writer: that of developing an imaginary setting that is coherent and possesses a history, geography, ecology, and so forth.[1] The process usually involves the creation of maps, listing the back-story of the world and the people of the world, amongst other features. Worlds are often created for a novel, video game, or role-playing game, but sometimes for personal enjoyment or its own sake (see geofiction).

A constructed world typically has a number of constructed cultures and constructed languages associated with it. Constructed worlds often provide additional backstory and history to events in novels. Authors typically revise constructed worlds to complete a single work in a series.


[edit] Methods

There are two schools of thought for world-building, top-down and bottom-up, as well a combination of these two ("top-down-bottom-up"). Top-down and bottom-up design are two strategies used for information processing and knowledge ordering. These are also equivalent to "macro-to-micro" and "micro-to-macro" approaches to scale change employed in various scientific disciplines, where macro is the large scale and micro the small.[2] The world-building guidelines for the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons uses the alternative terms outside-in and inside-out respectively.[3]

In the top-down (or macro-to-micro) approach, the designer first creates a general overview of the world, determining broad characteristics such as the inhabitants, technology-level, major geographic features, climate, global history, and other details of strategic importance. Once this is complete, the details of the world are developed by gradually focusing on smaller and smaller details, such as continents, civilizations, nations, cities, and towns.

A world constructed using this method is generally well-integrated and the individual components fit together in an appropriate manner. However it can require considerable work before enough detail is completed for the setting to be useful at a tactical level, such as for use in creating a story.

The second method is the bottom-up (or micro-to-macro) approach where the designer begins with a focus on one small part of the world, possibly with a few elements, not necessarily consistent, needed for fictional purposes. This location is given considerable detail, adding in important facts about the local geography, culture, social structure, government, politics, commerce, and history. Many of the prominent locals are described, and their interrelationships determined. The surrounding areas are then described in a lower level of detail, with the information growing more general and less detailed with increasing distance from the focus location. Later when the designer needs to use other parts of the world, the descriptions of these other locations are then enhanced.

The benefit of a bottom-up approach is the almost immediate applicability of the setting. The details pertinent to a story or situation are rapidly developed, and the information can be used without waiting for the remainder of the world to be detailed. The draw-back of this approach, however, is the world is designed in an unfocused manner and the setting can develop inconsistencies on a global scale.

The alternative third method is the top-down-bottom-up (or macro-and-micro) approach, where the designer uses a combination of the first two methods by beginning with a loose overview of the world as in the top-down (macro-to-micro), determining basic characteristics of geography and climate, but is not very detailed. Next the designer switches to the bottom-up (micro-to-macro) approach, filling and adjusting details as required.

Worlds constructed in this method have the benefit of being able to be immediately applicable to the setting as well as having consistent global scale details. The drawback is there is more work required in creating the world to keep the marriage of Macro-world and Micro-World consistent. Worldbuilding—though primarily the tool of fantasy and science fiction authors—is also a helpful tool to authors of any genre. Worldbuilding allows the creator to add a depth of realism that they might not have been able to achieve otherwise, having a guide to the created world that can be easily referred to will help to avoid simple mistakes in the lore of the world.

[edit] Construction steps

The goals of world-building are to create a context for a story. Consistency is an important step in the construction of a world, so it requires a foundation or baseline to provide the core concept of the setting. This can include the selection of a genre and the physical nature of the world, including the types of environment. What follows is an iterative process that adds detail to this baseline.[4]

An uninhabited world can be useful for certain purposes, but the large majority of constructed worlds are inhabited by one or more sapient species, and, often, numerous sentient species. The designer usually selects these creatures prior to the start of the world-building process, although less significant species can be merged in at a later stage of the development. Designers in the hard science fiction genre using a top-down approach sometimes leave questions of flora and fauna until the end, creating scientifically novel situations and attempting to predict environmental adaptations to them.

[edit] Cosmology

In science fiction worlds, especially those with space travel, the process can begin with designing the star and solar system in which the planet resides. If a realistic world-setting is intended, the designer can choose to develop detailed astronomical parameters for the orbit of the world, and to define the physical characteristics of the other bodies in the system. This will establish chronological parameters, including the length of the day and the durations of the seasons.[5] This can lead to cultural aspects of time-keeping, including names for sub-divisions of the calendar and important anniversaries. Astronomical equations are used to develop solar systems consistent with physical laws as they are currently known; however, many authors forgo formal design processes and simply design plausible-sounding systems. Some systems are intentionally bizarre. For Larry Niven's novels The Integral Trees and The Smoke Ring, Niven designed a freefall environment, a gas torus ring of habitable pressure, temperature and composition, around a neutron star.

Fantasy worlds sometimes have unique cosmologies as well; in the Dungeons and Dragons RPG, the physical world is referred to as the Prime Material Plane. Other planes of existence devoted to moral or elemental concepts are available for play as well. D&D's Spelljammer setting provides an entirely novel fantasy astrophysical system.

[edit] Geography & Cartography

Map construction is usually begun in the early stages of world-building. The maps are used to determine the location of key terrain features, and the significant civilizations, nations and settlements. It is vital to have clear and concise maps that display the locations of key points in the story — both so the author can be sure to be consistent and so the readers can get a clearer picture of the world being described. Two examples of famous maps in both literature and modern media are Middle-earth and the world of Azeroth.

When a realistic world setting is a design goal, the physical geography of the map is considered when determining weather patterns and the location of weather-dependent features such as deserts, rivers, swamps, and forests. These in turn affect the growth and interaction of the various societies, including the trade routes, locations of important cities, and places of likely conflict.

Some designers use software programs that can create random terrain using fractal algorithms. Sophisticated programs can apply geologic effects such as tectonic plate movement and the erosion due to climate and water flow. The resulting world can be rendered in great detail, providing a degree of realism to the result.

Once this process is complete, the creator begins to design appropriate ecosystems for each biome. The degree of novelty in each setting varies considerably by author. The primal biochemistry of the life is sometimes innovated (for example, Isaac Asimov's short story The Talking Stone is based on silicon, while the Outsiders of Larry Niven's Known Space series are based on liquid helium). More often an existing Earth ecology is used, with novel species added.

Many authors create their own fauna and flora to enrich their world. Imaginary herbs are a large part of many fantasy novels, Kingsfoil in The Lord of the Rings being one such example, the spice melange in Dune is another. However, the creation of novel life forms that fit well into an unusual setting can be a challenging task, especially if realism is the goal. In this case some knowledge of biochemistry and ecology is beneficial.[6]

[edit] Names

Once the preliminary map is drawn and the locations are described, the next step is to provide names for places and features. Unique names are often used to provide atmosphere to the world setting. When the civilization of an area is modeled after a human society, the place names can be chosen to match the style of the language of the model society. In other cases, the place names may be developed using a constructed language (perhaps a minimal one used only for devising names), or the names may be made up from scratch, ideally with a consistent style that suggests they originated in a single language.

[edit] Culture and History

The use of past human civilizations as a model for societies in a constructed world is a commonly-employed method to aid in the construction of constructed-world societies. The audience for the constructed world can usually relate more readily to a well-known civilization than to a novel culture. But this approach can become problematic when forming a society of non-human beings. Building a satisfying and self-consistent alien culture is a distinct design challenge. The different cultures that inhabit the world are another important aspect of worldbuilding. These are often based on real cultures, such as the Vikings, Western Europe during the Middle Ages, ancient China, or the Bedouins.

With the establishment of societies and nations in place, the interaction of these groups becomes an important factor in the history and development of the world. A history is constructed to explain the current circumstances of the various nation-states, including the location of the borders and the various alliances and enmities. Conflicts are typically a key element of a story, and these provide a method for placing notable individuals within the setting.

Creating a history for an imaginary world adds a depth and flavour that can help to draw readers into it. Created history can be based on anything, but many science fiction and fantasy authors base their novels in worlds where a major war has occurred in the past, is occurring, or will occur in the near future. Examples of such writing include The Lord of the Rings, the Shannara series, and the Belgariad series.

[edit] Human Geography

Settlements are a significant component of most constructed worlds. Typically the description of a settlement includes the location, rulers and political organization, population size and composition, economic situation, military defenses, and whether the settlement forms part of a greater political body, or exists as an independent state. Significantly more detail can be added to this description, and for many purposes a large settlement can even serve as an entire world unto itself, with only marginal attention paid by the developer to the outlying world.

Many of the above considerations also apply when creating a fictional country within our own world, as Austin Tappan Wright did in his novel Islandia.

[edit] Physics and magic

A key determining factor of the world system is to decide whether it is based primarily upon Physics or Magic. The former is favoured by Science Fiction authors, who use technology in accordance with theories of the universe to create "magic-like" circumstances. In some fantasy worlds, the laws of physics are changed to create a story. For example, in The Edge Chronicles, certain rocks and types of wood are naturally buoyant and will float given enough mass. Hyperdrive or faster than light travel is a common factor in most science fiction, and is an example of Physics. The latter is favoured by fantasy authors, who will give some (or all) characters magical talent. Authors such as David Eddings and Holly Lisle use Limited Magic, whereas authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien and Fiona McIntosh prefer Limitless magic. Combinations of physics and magic are becoming a common occurrence, such as The Dark Tower and Star Wars.

[edit] Map making

Almost all constructed worlds will include one or more maps intended to portray the geography and political boundaries of the setting, as well as the key features and settlements. Most such maps will be drawn in a style suitable to their genre, with fantasy maps being highly stylized while science fiction maps will often strive for realism. If the world setting is Earth-like, a realistic map will often take into account the effects of terrain on climate, as well as the results of erosion and tectonic mountain-building.

Here are some common rules used in the building of fictional maps:[7]

  • Mountain ranges are formed where tectonic plate movement causes subduction, or where plates collide. These tend to be long structures with occasional valleys and passes. Older mountain ranges will be lower, rounder, and more eroded. Solitary mountains are more likely to be volcanic in origin.
  • Rivers always flow downhill, and join with other bodies of water or eventually evaporate. They flow precipitously in mountainous areas, sometimes forming canyons and waterfalls, but tend to meander and build river valleys in lowlands. Rivers often join up, but almost never split, at least until very close to their mouths. The region around a river is usually rich in life.
  • Swamps form where the ground is level and there is a large influx of water, such as at a river delta, that drains off slowly.
  • A forest will typically form in locations with higher levels of rainfall. Where the prevailing winds cross a mountainous rise, the forest will appear on the windward side where moisture tends to be deposited. The far side will be dryer, and may become desertified.
  • Deserts form in locations where the climate conditions limit precipitation. They can occur inland where they are sheltered behind a mountain range, or in regions that receive little humidity due to the prevailing wind conditions. Deserts can occur at any latitude, including the arctic conditions found in a tundra.
  • Sapient settlements will normally form in locations where there is a suitable economic need for a population center. This could be a port along a river or coast for trading; a location that is favorable for farming or resource gathering; or a commerce center along a land trade route. Less frequently settlements may form for particular cultural reasons, such as the proximity of a religious site.
Example map of a fantasy land named Etrusca that uses the geography of the Italian peninsula.

Early maps will often be sketched out by hand in a simple fashion, drawing in the oceans, mountains, and forests, and adding in the cities, national borders, and other features of interest. When greater detail is needed, more detailed maps are then created for specific locations. If professional results are needed, the maps can then be created by an artist. There are also special software packages such as Campaign Cartographer that are available that allow the creation of good maps.

[edit] Specific constructed worlds

[edit] Professionally constructed worlds

Some examples of constructed worlds in professionally published works are Middle-earth and Ethshar. J.R.R. Tolkien began with creating languages, then developed peoples (the various races of Elves) to speak them, and much later wrote novels set there. Tolkien regarded the invention of constructed worlds (which he called "sub-creation", in imitation of God's creation of the universe) as a near-religious act, part of the process he referred to as mythopoeia.

Other examples of worlds developed for novels include Terry Pratchett's Discworld, the three continents (Faltha, Bhrudwo and Elamaq) created by Russell Kirkpatrick, the pseudo-Earth Hyborian Age from the Conan series; Arrakis from the Dune series; Darkover, Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea and Gethen, and the broken world of the Wheel of Time series.

Lawrence Watt-Evans says that he created Ethshar for use in role-playing games before he started writing novels based in it. Steven Brust used Dragaera for role-playing games before he wrote novels set there. M. A. R. Barker originally designed Tekumel well before the advent of role-playing games, but Tekumel was and is used for this purpose by many gamers including Barker himself. Barker has also written novels based in Tekumel.

L. Frank Baum's Oz series, which preceded all these works, was not created with a pre-prepared world, so one can see the process of worldbuilding as a writer's evolutionary process in that series. It has been noted that Baum's Oz work is consistent within four sections: book 1, book 2, books 3–6, and books 7–14. The first three groups were all intended to be the end of the series, so he changed his conceptions (not enormously, but noticeably) without revising the already-published books as the start of each new sub-series, as it were. He also wrote numerous novels and short stories set on the same continent. A key text in establishing his hierarchies of immortal folk is The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. Maps of the Land of Oz and its surrounding countries first appeared in the endpapers of Tik-Tok of Oz (1914). In an article about how Ozma of Oz was intended as the start of a tetralogy, Michael O. Riley notes that Baum did indeed create a preprepared world in The Enchanted Island of Yew, but that many of the named places are never visited because they did not fit into the story.[8]

A shared universe is a single universe with aspects that can be used by several different authors. Examples include the Star Wars Expanded Universe as well as several campaign settings that have been developed specifically for role-playing games. One of the oldest such role-playing fantasy settings is Oerth for the D&D Greyhawk setting. Forgotten Realms is another D&D setting that was originally a homebrew campaign world by Ed Greenwood. Inspired by the works of Tolkien and Barker, N. Robin Crossby designed Hârn, a highly-detailed, very internally consistent world with a medieval feel. An example of a science fiction setting is Blue Planet, a water-covered world with a detailed ecology.

Webcomic artist Jennifer Diane Reitz, who spent years as a Gamemaster, has built universes notable for their extremely detailed physical laws, most famously Tryslmaistan and Pastel. Her works also mention a number of other universes, such as the ones traveled to during a Pastel Defender Heliotrope sequence, Ktlikitkaktl (home of the oft-mentioned, never-yet-seen-directly Ktlikitkak) and the worlds of the Krawlni. In essence, they form a cohesive multiverse and mythos. (Interestingly, Reitz has implied that Flatland is contained in her multiverse, though it will almost certainly not be involved in any storylines, for obvious reasons.)

An example of a fictional world whose inner workings are currently under construction in the public domain is Globus Cassus.[verification needed]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Stableford, Brian M. (2004). Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0810849380. 
  2. ^ Berger, Joseph; Zelditch, Morris (1998). "4. Theoretical Structures and the Micro-Macro Problem". Status, Power, and Legitimacy: Strategies & Theories. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 156000343X. 
  3. ^ Cook, Monte; Tweet, Jonathan; Williams, Skip (2003). Dungeon Master's Guide. revised by David Noonan, Rich Redman. Wizards of the Coast. ISBN 0-7869-2889-1. 
  4. ^ Laramee, Francois Dominic (2002). Game design perspectives. Charles River Media. ISBN 1584500905. 
  5. ^ Anderson, Poul (1991). "The Creation of Imaginary Worlds". Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-06003-3. 
  6. ^ Clement, Hal (1991). "The Creation of Imaginary Beings". Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-06003-3. 
  7. ^ Long, Steven S. (2002). Fantasy HERO (Hero System Fifth Edition ed.). San Francisco: DOJ, Inc.. pp. 290–294. ISBN 1-58366-016-X. 
  8. ^ Michael O. Riley. "Ozma of Oz: The Beginning of the End?" The Baum Bugle 51:3 (Winter 2007), 19.

[edit] External links

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