I would title it:
The Joy of Writing
Ask any fiction author, regardless of genre, and they’ll tell you that the foundation of any successful story is successful world building. Unless the world you create makes sense, unless it is internally consistent, your reader won’t stick around long enough to check out all the cool things you fill it with.
Now, when you consider world building, you have to remember that any world your story populates must exist outside of your story, both before and after the events that your story encompass. Even if there are elements in this world that never make it into your story, those hidden elements nevertheless impact other things that might be in your story, and so they need to be addressed. Your world has physics that may (or may not) be unique to your world. Your world has a history. If it’s lucky, your world has a future. Your world building can be as simple or as complex as you wish, but however you build your world, you have to, have to, HAVE TO make sure that your world does not conflict with itself.
Having read books myself where the world didn’t make sense, I wanted to pay particular attention to my world building as I started writing myself. Gemworld was born, actually, as an idea I had while reading another book series, The Deathgate Cycle. It’s a brilliant series by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, incorporating magic and alternate realities – both of which are favorite topics of mine – with techology. The premise was that magic was a created thing rather than a naturally occuring force. I really liked that idea, and (without getting too spoilerish) that idea was the seed that would eventually become Gemworld.
For clarification purposes before I get started, Gemworld is not the name of the world that I created. To be quite honest, I haven’t encountered the name of the world just yet. The residents have only ever needed to refer to the regions of the world – Onatae, the Vale, the Mandible, the Norwood Isles, the Northern and Southern Plains, Lost Aeden’s Garden, Leviathan’s Maw, etc. The world itself has never been a subject broached by the characters, so whatever they may call it, I haven’t discovered it yet. Lacking an “official” name, Gemworld serves its generic purpose.
My protagonist, Navy Lieutenant James Salvatori, comes to Gemworld through a magical portal that he stumbled upon while on a covert SEAL op. He awakens to find the world around him filled with impossible things and impossible people. I actually use his exploration of that world as a world building tool, introducing both the character and the reader to this world at the same time.
As Sal progresses through the world, he encounters a number of things that are native to the world, things that are alien to his own – magic, magical creatures, etc. As with the world in general, I explore these topics with Sal in such a way that the reader discovers them right along with him, knowing only what he knows, when he knows it.
Once I introduce these elements, I consider them available for other points of view. For example, when Sal first encounters magic, it’s all new and mysterious. As he progresses, he learns a thing or two about magic. At this point, I shift points of view to one of my mage characters, and have him wield magic, as one more knowledgeable of the arcane arts than Sal. This gives the audience both the innocence of experiencing something for the first time, and the confidence of a magic system that is solid and has been in place for millennia.
…even though I’m actually creating the magic system as I go!
See, before I wrote even one paragraph of Gemworld, I outlined the physics of this world, for my own benefit. I described the magic system that I wanted, the strengths and weaknesses of each facet of magic, how the magic physically affected the mage, etc. I even wrote a mock essay, as given by a scholar, teaching the basics of the system to someone who is unfamiliar with it.
But that was all theory work, research, dry runs. When I finally started to introduce magic in Gemworld, when I finally started to USE it, I noticed that it had effects that I hadn’t considered in my theory work. For example, the soulgems (the mage’s “interface” with magic, manifest as gemstone eyes) are attuned to specific gems that embody specific aspects of reality. Emerald embodies Life, Ruby embodies Fire, Sapphire embodies Water, and so on.
As I started exploring magic through my writing, I came to realize that how the soulgems “interact” was as important as how they manifest. Take Ruby, for instance. Ruby embodies Fire, so what does that mean for the ruby mage? Most obviously, it means that his magic is based on temperature. But as I explored this, I took to science a little bit and asked, what IS hot and cold? Of course, hot and cold are levels of excitement in elements – the hotter things are, the more excited the atoms get. So when a ruby mage wields his magic, he is actually fooling around with the level of excitement in the elements of his subject.
This brought some very interesting revelations for me when I started to consider other soulgems – Sapphire, for example. Sapphire embodies Water, and water exists in three states – solid, liquid, and gas – which are determined by temperature. In other words, though Sapphire and Ruby are manifestations of two different elements, they are nevertheless similar in nature! As such, there might be certain expressions of their magic that would be similar.
I found the same reality existed between Emerald and Granite, the soulgem of Matter. As Emerald is the soulgem of Life, it impacts the world in terms of vitality and decay. As such, it has the ability to “wither” things, to “rot” them, as it were. This is very similar to Granite’s ability to disintegrate matter.
Ultimately, in exploring the various hows and whys of magic, I came to discover that all of the soulgems were, in some way, related, like how each slice of a pie must touch the other slices, or how each color in the rainbow bleeds into its neighboring colors.
All that to say this. When you do your initial world building, you lay the groundwork, the foundation for what will come in the story. But as you start to actually write and experience your story, as the rubber meets the road and you get some practical application, you should expect to learn things about the world you’ve built, things naturally implied by the rules you’ve set that offer depth to your world.
World building is an amazing and involved process that never really ends until you close out the very last chapter of the last book of your series. It’s also one of the most entertaining aspects of fiction – for both the reader and the writer – because it’s never just about the fireball that Merlin throws. What does the fireball do to the environment around it as it flies? What does it do to Merlin? How did the fireball make the transition from thought to flame? Three books later, when this new character throws a similar fireball, will it be the same for him as it was for Merlin? Why or why not? Writers enjoy finding the answers to these questions even more than the readers do, because we get to play around with them and see what else there is to find out 🙂