The Importance of a Foundation for Your Fictional World

Okay, I’m going to go on a rant here. I’ve been away for a while, and something’s happened that’s really ticked me off. Before I start, I just want to say there’s only one person who’s the target of this rant: Tom Austin. Now, you may have no idea who he is, but it doesn’t matter, because I’m going to tell you.

I’m ranting about myself.

My wife is a big help. We talk about my stories and the world I’m making, and she’s offered some really great ideas. There are entire plotlines that wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for her. At least half of the world of Yma has come not just from bouncing ideas off of her, but getting more in return.

Last night, we got to talking about the draft I’ve finished, and she brought up some confusion she had about the world. It was a fair thing to have happen, because, now that I’ve talk to her about it, I realize that I wasn’t clear about what the world was.

I’m writing a blog about world building where one of the first rules is making sure it’s cohesive, and you know what I do?

Break that rule.

See? It can happen to anyone!

You see, I had a lot of ideas about what I wanted the world to be, but I couldn’t quite decide which ideas to run with. Now that it’s actually been a few years since I first conceived of the world, I can’t even remember what the initial inspirations were, and that’s partially because I made it such a clusterfluff that there ended up being a bunch of nonsensical nonsense that made no sense.

When you’re forging a universe, especially it’s really a multiverse, make dead sure that you have a single foundation to work with. If you have just one universe, then make sure that the races you have, if you have more than one, make sense and work together in their origins and natures. If you have two universes that can interact, make sure that you start with the nature of the connection. Are they parallel universes? Is one higher than the other? Did one come from the other? Were they created by the same deities/interdimensional aliens/spaghetti monsters? What is the foundation?

Pick one.

Don’t just take creation myths from different mythologies and try to shove everything into the same bird. I mean, I’ve heard that Turducken is tasty, but including Nordic, Greek, and Japanese creation myths all in the same world would be like mixing pork, lamb, and tofu, and shoving them all in a pie. Sure, they’re all great on their own, but only one should be used in lieu of the others.

Fortunately, I didn’t go that far in screwing up my world, but I did make it rather nonsensical. Something else to consider is that, if you have to use an analogy to describe the metaphysical nature of your world, use one analogy. This is where I went wrong. I had two separate analogies that each showed the multiverse in conflicting ways, and yet I insisted that they both worked together. If you need to have studied the ancient philosophers to understand the cosmology of a fantasy novel, the fantasy novel is too complicated.CartogQuotePhilosophers

That said, I don’t need to throw out my entire story or my entire world. That would be going too far. I do however, need to rework it. Instead of viewing it like a bread that’s been burned so badly it can’t be eaten, think of a broken fantasy world as being more like a motorcycle that’s been broken. Sure, there are parts that need to be replaced, maybe even be remade in a chop shop, but it can be fixed. It may not be like it was when it was started, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be better. Just don’t go adding a bunch of extraneous things on it.

When you’re making your world, pick a theme and go with it. Work with it. Build off it, but make sure that, if you include other themes in the story as well, that they work with the main. If the point is to make a clusterfluff and get your readers to wonder what the heck you were on when you were writing it, then go with it, but only make sure that the mind screw you make is intentional.

I’m certain that’s why I’ve had so much trouble writing, and so much trouble working on the blog, because my own world was an unintentional mind screw. Sure, I understood it, but just because a crazy man understands his insane world, that doesn’t mean he’s not insane.

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One thought on “The Importance of a Foundation for Your Fictional World

  1. “I made it such a clusterfluff that there ended up being a bunch of nonsensical nonsense that made no sense.”

    Yes… I know that feel. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that my memory isn’t good enough for complex magic systems, AUs, and things of that nature. Glad you figured out where it was broken!

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