Tag Archives: creativity

World-Building: Inheriting Stuff From Earth

One of the first tasks in writing a fantasy novel is world-building. I’ve written several posts on the topic now, but I want to return to a point I have previously made just to emphasize it. Namely, any world you create should be understandable to the reader. That’s basically a no-brainer, and I wouldn’t expect someone to violate that premise, but it is worth discussing. Creativity is great, but there is such a thing as too much creativity.


J. R. R. Tolkien invented the Elvish language for his books set in Middle-Earth. Which is very cool, and very fine. But he didn’t write his books in Elvish, or even the dialogue of the books in Elvish. Sure, there were a few poems in Elvish, but he usually provided an English interpretation. He knew that writing substantial parts of a book in a language only he was conversant in was not a good idea. Hence, the modern writer should feel no shame in inheriting certain aspects of Earth for their fantasy world. Although there is a pull in one direction to make your world as unique and as different from Earth as you can, this pull is not absolute. If it were, the best fantasy books would be complete gibberish.


Some things that should generally be the same as they are on Earth: language—you can call your language something else like Common or Emarin, but on paper it should be written as English (or some other Earth language with a large population base); and the number system—even if your main species has twelve fingers and twelve toes, the number system they use should be base 10. Those are the only two things I can think of (today) that should essentially remain the same as they are on Earth. Everything else is up for grabs, but there should be a word of caution: a reader can only handle so much new material at a time. You must strive to strike the right balance. You can’t overwhelm the reader, else they will lose interest. That means you must keep things similar enough to Earth that you can tell a coherent story. For example, although it is cool to use the occasional unique plant or animal designed just for your world, developing an entire ecosystem is probably going too far. Most of your flora and fauna should be basically Earth-like with only a handful of exceptions. The world itself should probably be a planet or something equally easy to grasp (a hollow world, etc…). You don’t want the reader to work too hard to understand your novel.


All that being said, take my advice with a grain of salt. In the end, it is fantasy literature we are talking about.

Seeking Inspiration for Fantasy Literature

Twisted ancient gods, demonic plant men, or wild creatures from the darkest deeps of the earth… where do such things come from? A fantasy writer’s mind, of course; but does that do it justice? Creativity is a strange thing. The muse comes and goes. Sometimes it lies dormant for weeks… months, even years, then you get a surge and the ideas start coming. Professional writers, though, don’t have the luxury of waiting for it. No, they must get inspiration for their work on a regular basis. How is it done?


For myself, I seek inspiration from a number of sources. My short story, “The River’s Eye,” for example started when I was at my uncle’s house and caught sight of an interesting picture on his wall. It showed a house, a small stream, and a young woman with an umbrella by the stream. There was a certain feel to the picture; a certain ambiance. I looked at it for a while, and ideas began to percolate in my mind for a story. I could imagine the young woman looking for stones on the banks of the river. What if one of those stones had mythic powers? What if something strange lived in the water? The ideas kept coming, and before you knew it, I had the idea for the story. I started with the title, “The River’s Eye” and the story grew up around it.


That is one of my more common inspirations for stories: beatific scenes portrayed in paintings. But there are others, from the feeling I get from a song—something I feel can be expressed in greater detail in a story—to the very ambiance of the very real weather on a particular day. Visual arts tend to be the most effective for me: posters, paintings, even the covers of other books. I formed an idea of what the story behind the “Dragonriders of Pern” by Anne McCaffrey would be based on the cover. The actual books were completely different from my idea, but I still have that germ of a notion, that perhaps someday I will expand into a full length story. So art can feed art, and the creative muse can find inspiration almost anywhere.


Another powerful source of inspiration—although, again, it is primarily visual—is dreams. The subconscious is a powerful thing. Not only can dreams provide the kernel (or perhaps even the bulk) of a story, they can help to iron out wrinkles you’ve encountered in the writing process. Sometimes, a night spent in the Sandman’s domain is enough to figure out just how your character is going to escape her predicament, foil the bad guys, and save the day.


Last, but not least, is the process of stream of consciousness writing. Sometimes it helps to just sit down at the computer, open a document, and let your fingers take on a life of their own. I haven’t used this technique often, but it works. Sometimes I don’t even begin writing words; I’m so frustrated I pound letters like “lalskjhar, dljjdtrlckdm.” And on and on… eventually I get bored with that and start typing actual words. Perhaps, I’ll begin with just a phrase or two, but sooner or later, I’ll be pounding out concrete story ideas.


Anyway, those are a few of the places I get inspiration from for my fantasy writing. I’m sure there are other methods. What about you?