Worldbuilding Series Part 1: Origin and Tone

The best way that you can understand what I am doing with my world is to describe what started it off in the first place. There is usually that spark, that initial inspiration that begins the whole process. Like billiard balls, one idea leads to another and that idea leads to more ideas. The initial spark is most often very unique to the individual and the moment. For me, the spark comes from the story that I wrote for Sojourn V2. The whole story revolves around the decisions and the fate of someone called the Dreamt Myriad (I don’t know what that means but it sounds cool). In the story the Dreamt Myriad is the foretold hero and champion of the Western Kingdoms who is destined to save the world. He is the head of the church, king of kings, and champion of the people. The idea is tried and true in fantasy fiction and I was drawing upon my nostalgia for books like the Belgariad by David Eddings. The story concerns the Dreamt Myriad as he mistakenly trusts the leader of the Eastern Kingdoms, a man whose position mirrors his own, a man called Tybrin, and thus dooms the Western Kingdoms. That is the cliff-notes version. Hopefully when you read the story in Sojourn V2 you will see the nuances that I thread into the story.

Now worldbuilding, at its heart, is all about making decisions. Macro decisions like “will this world be a literal flat earth” to micro decisions like “what is the economy of this dwarf village?” When you start making a world there are so many questions and so many decisions that you can start to feel overwhelmed. What are the religions? Are they monotheistic or polytheistic? Are the religions tolerant or intolerant? Are the gods real? How involved are the gods? What are the holy scriptures? Are women allowed to be priestesses? What is the preferred weapon for the clerics in my world? When you make a world, question begets question at a frightening rate?

Sometimes when starting out a new world I have gotten shell-shocked by the sheer amount of questions I had to answer to start laying the foundations of the world. Even when I started answering the the huge pile of questions I felt wrong when I did it. My decisions felt arbitrary and contradictory and I feared that in the future my decision were going to lead me into a creative dead end. Over the years of writing and worldbuilding I have developed a useful solution to solve this anxiety. The solution is to go back to my original idea, the spark that got me thinking about the world in the first place. If you examine your inspiration, often a large majority of the questions will fall into place.

Let’s use my world as an example. One decision that I struggled to make was whether the tone of my world was going to be nihilistic or romantic. What I mean by the word “tone” is how the world feels emotional. So was this going to be a romantic world where heroes are heroes and villains are villains. Or was this going to be like George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones where heroes are killed and the villains are rewarded for their cunning? This was a dilemma for me because I love both. I love the sheer emotional power  of romanticism! Those are the stories that just lift you off your feet and take you towards the adventure. Star Wars is a great example of unabashed romanticism and one of my personal favorites. On the other hand I love the complexity and the thought-inducing quality of nihilistic stories (I could not really decide on the correct term, a more apt term would be “postmodern” but that word is as loaded as a revolver so I decided to just go with nihilistic). I love both of them and if you forced me to choose the only real deciding factor would be the side of the bed I woke up on that day.

But if I go back to my inspiration as a guide, the decision becomes clearer. For my story I wanted the Dreamt Myriad to be the real deal. I didn’t want him to be a fraud or a buffoon. I wanted to show that even if one is chosen by prophecy then you can still mess everything up. I wanted to explore the idea that even the best of people can screw everything up for legitimate reasons (not because they are idiots or bastards). And in order to buffer that idea then the prophecies have to be true. And if the prophecies are true then most likely the tone is romantic.

There are no hard and fast rule. It is very possible that I could still have a nihilistic tone and then subvert that by having one prophecy, in a world of crack-pot prophecies, that can be the only true prophecy. That would still work and be beneficial to my goals. I decided upon the former simply because of personal preference. Your creativity will become enhanced tenfold the moment you break the unconscious box that you have erected around your work (I’ll talk more about this idea in future posts). The thing to understand about this process is that going back to your inspiration is not a way to find definitive answers. But the glorious thing that it does do is turns an arbitrary decision into an actual decision.

For my next installment I am going to figure out the major conflict in my world and decide what is it these Eastern and Western Kingdoms are fighting about. And if it will devolve into a snap fight like in West Side Story.

Intro to Worldbuilding Series

Okay so here’s the plan: I am going to show by example. I have a lot of thoughts on worldbuilding crammed into my head and instead of giving advice I would rather like to teach through example. I have finished the rough draft of my Sojourn V2 story and when I wrote the fantasy story I created a whole new universe for it to exist in. I made it up as I went along and anything that did not work with the story I threw out. I have a vague conception of the world, but that is where it remains, vague and nebulous. Once or twice a week I will post some new development on the world. Here you will be able to see me go through the creative process and hopefully along the way learn something, find inspiration, or learn what not to do. I think it will be a lot of fun.

Brief Thought on Worldbuilding

Worldbuilding has always been one of my favorite hobbies. Ever since I was first doodled out a fantasy map on the kitchen counter top when I was eleven years old, I was hooked. I think my early writing career actually was hampered because I spent so much of my time worldbuilding (not much loss, since most of the stuff I wrote back in middle school was not that good anyway–I was still learning). The greatest part of worldbuilding to me is that brief moment, maybe only a second or more, when you believe in the world that you have created. Not in any delusional sense, of course, but merely a suspension of disbelief. When the world is so varied,dynamic, layered and intriguing that for a moment it fools the creator, that is what I live for as a worldbuilder. That visceral moment when I lose myself in the work to such a point that I have to remind myself that I made it up in the first place. For that brief moment the names snatched form the random name generator become an organic name derived from a specific language of your world. For a few seconds the geography, that is just a jumble of lines and labels (that might as well be written with crayon for how unprofessional it looks), suddenly becomes a window into a living and vibrant landscape. For a single heartbeat the history of the realms that is a bastardization of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire (that you half remember from a History Channel special) becomes a dynamic and living account of the achievements and failures of the peoples of your fictional world. I call this the harmony moment. Its the moment when the collection of documents that make up your world click together and take on a life of its own. That is what I strive for in both my fiction and my worldbuilding–the moment when it surprises even me.

Hello and Welcome

I am Ryan J. McDaniel and I am an editor/writer for Sojourn: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction. My contribution to what was then called the Fear the Boot Anthology was getting the initial momentum going. So you could say that the anthology was my brain child. My main function will be to blog about Sojourn, but I will also talk about writing, editing, storytelling, inspiration, and other great topics such as worldbuilding.

I swear I will never use this blog to vent about obstinate writers that will not bend under my editorial will. Never… I swear.