Friday, 30 September 2016

Two Ways To Create A World

Before I wrote Bane of Souls, I did a lot of world-building in preparation. At the time, this was unusual for me, but I didn’t feel time pressure because I’d only started working on it whilst trying to get a separate (and doomed-to-fail) story traditionally published. So, I tried to do as much background work as possible. Continuity was a big weakness of mine, and having background info ready and waiting helps both keep the world consistent and provides immediate ideas for little snippets you need (for example, social habits might include smoking, visiting cockpits and bare knuckle boxing).

This stood me in good stead, and the world created served as the foundation (with later additions) not only for Bane of Souls, but Journey to Altmortis and a future trilogy (first part, Kingdom Asunder, due for a December release).

However, I accidentally discovered a completely different approach when writing comedy. My world-building for Sir Edric was zero. I made up the incidental aspects (brandy being Andelic, elves having Greek-ish names, the Ursk eating humans) as I went along. Reviewers praised the world-building but, whereas I’d put months into Bane of Souls’ background, I’d done sod all for Sir Edric.

I’m a cautious sort of chap, and my writing method probably reflects that. So it was a bit of a surprise to find that the most neglected aspect of the comedy went down very well.

This does, I think, highlight an important point that’s relevant to both approaches. You’re not writing a guided tour of the lovely, or horrid, world you’ve created. World-building only matters insofar as it touches the characters and plot. And as showing is almost always better than telling, it should be, at it’s best, indistinguishable from the story. It’s the antithesis of an info-dump, the desire is to get the reader to learn about the world without even realising they are.

Maybe that’s why the Sir Edric approach worked so well. There’s little description, but a lot of action and dialogue. An inspiration for this is the approach adopted in Outlaws of the Marsh, a Chinese classic I bang on about sometimes. It’s brimming with action. You don’t need to be told Sagacious Lu is hard as nails, you learn it when he flings a gang of thugs into the nearest cess pit.

So, maybe a lot of background work isn’t just unnecessary, but a backward step. After all, I’m not here to write a guidebook for the Kuhrland or Denland or Felaria, but to write an entertaining story.

It’s worth pointing out a substantial difference between the two styles, though. I write comedy, for Sir Edric, from a single perspective. The eponymous knight is the centre of the story, the world, the perspective. Just about everything is filtered through his prism (hence why attractive women will get more description than plainer ladies). Kingdom Asunder and other serious writing is done from multiple perspectives. This means getting continuity right for both the world and things like timing the plot is more complicated.

I think the single POV approach of Sir Edric lends itself more naturally to spontaneity, as well as making it easier to keep things consistent. It’s not an area where there’s a right or wrong answer, because the two approaches both have merit, but I think it’s interesting that, even for a single writer, the two can work despite being completely different.


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