|Image from The USC Cinematic Arts' Worldbuilding Institute.|
With The Name and the Key and The Step and the Walk, I was always very strict about how I would build the world for the series. It was my fervent belief (and mostly still is) that I didn't want to spend a lot of time in the book talking about the world, and I didn't want it to invade the story to the degree it would undermine characters and plot.
As I've written before, I'm pretty comfortable with letting readers understand my books are "Once upon a time, in a long-ago kingdom..." and then they would fill in the blanks themselves. I would give clues to the time period and culture through syntax and descriptions of things like clothing, technology, the architecture and landscape, the flora and fauna, and so on. What I didn't want to include were maps, invented languages, and created races with unique names. I wanted a world that was an alternate to our own and therefore I didn't want to extensively rebuild a version of ourselves. I wanted simplicity!
However, when the novels transformed during rewrites, suddenly my story had far more Magic than before, with gods and other mythical beings making appearances. I wanted my cities to be stranger and more unique. Perhaps the largest change of all involved the story's major magic conceit. It was based strongly off of alchemy, and Andresh was its primary user. But once Andresh's goal in the novel changed, the magic became more complex--specifically about the birth of gods and parallel universes.
|A photo of my World Book, showing some of the gods I created.|
Since the books' magic involved the creation of new worlds, I needed to have a better understanding of what it actually means to make a universe. Thus, the World Book began.
A lot of speculative fiction writers create some sort of manual for their fantasy and science fiction universes to help track what's happening. My World Book is a tool to:
- Ensure continuity and consistency within the work
- Create a more immersive experience for the reader
- Enhance the sense of wonder for the reader
- Promote the suspension of disbelief
It's been fun making the World Book--more than I expected--but I made a personal rule for when it comes to the information I created my manual:
Only 15% of the World Book is allowed to show up in the novels.
I created this rule to avoid the dreaded information dump that plagues a lot of fiction. Info dump is a controversial term whose usage has ballooned on its own over the years. There are writers who argue that info-dumping is necessary, and that when it works, it can be magical.
I still like the term because it suggests that not all details are needed at one time, and that you must watch for sensory and information overload. You don't want to derail readers from the story; you don't want to give them an excuse to put down your book.
Whenever I've given critiques and reflected on my own work, I usually ask writers: Do we need to know this right now, or in the near future? Does it advance the plot or develop the character? Can you sprinkle in the details over the course of the novel, when they are most relevant?
As inspiring and exciting as my World Book is to me, I estimate that 85% of it will never be relevant to the plot: the details therein have nothing to do with my characters, their scenes, their motivation, purpose, or stories.
My World Book is written mostly for me, for my benefit and enjoyment. If it's not for my readers, it won't (and shouldn't) go in.
I'll have a follow-up post on how you can build your own World Book, with plenty of links to helpful sources (and lots of worksheets). Stay tuned!