Building Worlds Takes More Than One Book
I have heard of people spending hours and hours doing nothing but building worlds for their characters to play in. They sacrifice time creating those actual characters and creating stories for them to exist in all for the sake of a more detailed legal system or better rules of magic or whatever.
I suspect, for those people, the fun of creation is such that the actual story writing might be a chore.
Sort of like being the Dungeon Master (DM) versus the Campaign Party (CP) in DnD. The DM creates the dungeon and all of its inherent challenges and rewards. The DM loves torturing and making the characters work. The CP meanwhile, is excited to have a place to play and those very same challenges to work out.
Two very different mindsets. To make the complete story, both are important.
But, should the author spend all that time building a complex world or should he/she actually create the world’s skeleton and flesh it out gradually?
Some people prefer the former. Me? I prefer the later. Take multiple books to build the world.
Why Build Your World Gradually?
I have a very good reason for doing the building gradually and here it is. Authors are paid to write books, not build story wikis, draw maps and create settings.
To be even more blunt, what happens if you build a complete world complete with maps, rules of magic/reality/whatever and your first book flops? No publisher wants to see more stories. All of that preparation, as fun as it was, is wasted.
Good Examples of Gradual World Building
Terry Pratchett is probably my favorite example of gradual world building followed closely by Anne McCaffery. There is also Robert Jordan and Philip Jose’ Farmer. I could name dozens of excellent examples but I will talk about two.
In Sir Terry’s case, he built the Discworld over 20+ novels and countless supporting books. He referenced far off lands in early books and then, much later, had books that were set in those lands. He created a complete world, complete with magic, gods, religions (yes, they are related, but separate), lost civilizations, current civilizations and technology.
No one story could possibly have done it and, I’m pretty certain, when he mentioned the far off lands early on, he only had a faint idea what they were.
For Ms. McCaffery (and I’m talking about her realization of the world Pern, here) she started small in DragonFlight, introducing two very niche parts of the planet and its cultures. Over the next many books she expanded her world to include the entire planet including centuries of history.
To say her stories were immersive would be an understatement.
Mik Murdoch is My Example of Gradual World Building
In my series, Mik Murdoch, Boy Superhero, I’ve been doing exactly what I’m talking about. A single story won’t work for building all of Mik’s environment nor should it. None of us experience life that way, so why would our characters?
With each book you meet new characters and you experience familiar characters in different ways. They become real. You also see more and more of the world as Mik explores it. Doing it this way also leaves shadowy areas that the reader might want to explore more fully. It lends itself to more stories.
I will confess, this method is probably more for those of us who profess to be Pantsters. I certainly fit that category (at least to a certain extent). It’s fun to see the world evolve along with the characters and the stories.
How about you? World builder to the extreme or gradual evolution?