Fantasy Literature: World Building: On Scope (part I)

Well, it’s time for another post on world building in fantasy literature. The concern today is scope. What are you going to build? A fantasy world? A fantasy universe? Or an entire fantasy multiverse?


Back in the day, when I played AD&D a lot more, Gary Gygax introduced me to that neat little word: “multiverse.” Apparently, the word was coined by William James in 1895, so it’s not Gygax’s personal baby. Still, that one word sums up what I want to talk about today. We all know what the universe is: look into space and it’s that thing that goes on and on. But are there other universes? Or planes of reality? Is there a Hell or a Heaven? Or anything in between? The present science of real-life Earth can only verify the existence of the one universe we experience. But in a fantasy world, one in which you have embarked on a quest of world building, there may very well be a vast and complicated multiverse consisting of many different planes of reality. The different planes can intrude in the story in a variety of ways. One, they can be just present as a kind of back drop for the story, referenced only in myths and conversation. That is how Hell and Heaven and Limbo (or their respective parallels) and similar such things are normally dealt with throughout much of a typical work in fantasy literature. Occasionally, though, characters may actually physically find their way into said planes. At such a point, world building for said places must commence.


But this raises a question: How much world building should the author do? Or better yet: How much world building can an author do? Let’s begin with a fantasy world. They are usually (though not always) conceived to be parallels of our own; i.e. some kind of planet spinning away in space, but a planet on which magic works. It is the author’s responsibility to develop that world and make it an intriguing place for the reader. It should never be said that world building a single fantasy world is somehow too limiting. If you recognize that an entire world parallels in scope all that there is on our world, you will understand that a single world can easily produce enough material to keep authors and readers fascinated for years to come. Just consider the huge variety that exists on planet Earth. There are seven continents. There are hundreds of nations and a plethora of cultures. The environment is rich in detail and full of surprises. If you add in the hallmark characteristics of fantasy literature—a magic system, strange and wonderful creatures, and what-have-you—you will have created a milieu of astounding proportions. Something that can (and has) provided material for innumerable writers involved with world building. One world is plenty. By itself, Earth proves it. As do such fantasy worlds created by gaming companies like say, The Forgotten Realms or Krynn. Such places have provided endless hours of entertainment and have never grown stale.


However, just because there is no need to include another world or plane, doesn’t mean the author doing the world building shouldn’t include such. But those developments are for my next post on the subject.

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