I just received an endorsement from Ed Greenwood, creator of The Forgotten Realms® and dozens of other imaginary worlds:
Worldbuilding—creating a fictional setting—is THE biggest job of a storyteller. It can be done badly or minimally, but doing so risks robbing a tale of richness and impact, by leaving the audience uncaring or making “the stakes” less clear or dramatic.
So, after “once upon a time,” where to begin this devastatingly big job? With CREATING LIFE by Randy Ellefson, even the first volume of which is THOROUGH. This book raises ALL the points, and asks all the questions. Not just recommended: essential!
This is super cool! I consider Ed to be one of the Four Horsemen of World Building, along with Tolkien, Gary Gygax (“The father of role-playing games”), and Dave Anerson (co-inventor of Dungeons & Dragons with Gygax). Sadly, Ed is the only one still alive.
I started recording The Art of World Building Podcast this month. I’ll be covering much of what’s in the three volumes but not everything (sometimes more, sometimes less). In addition to learning more about world building, you’ll have the chance to hear my lovely speaking voice. A transcript of each episode will also be available on the official site (note this one).
Most podcasters need to find royalty free music to use for opening and closing credits or other announcements, but not me. I’m just using my own!
The podcast will launch in July 2017 once I have a few episodes ready for release on day one. After that, the schedule will be every other week, usually Tuesday mornings.
Today, author John Robin was kind enough to publish a guest post of mine about species and races in world building. You can read it here.
The article is drawn from Creating Life (The Art of World Building, #1), which Amazon has listed as a hot new release in its category, currently at #4 (down one spot from yesterday).
Creating Life has been published in both eBook and paperback format! Join The Art of World Building mailing list to get the free templates! Chapter summaries are below.
Chapter 1—Why Build a World?
While world building is expected in many genres of fantasy and SF, we must decide how many worlds to build. This will depend on our career plans and goals. Learn the advantages and disadvantages of building one world per story vs. one world for many stories, and when to take each approach. Sometimes doing both is best, allowing for greater depth in one world but the option to step away to keep things fresh. Using analogues can help us create believable societies quickly but has pitfalls that can be avoided. Do you have the ability to create many interesting worlds, and will they have enough depth to make the effort worth it?
Chapter 2—Creating Gods
Our species will invent gods to believe in even if we don’t invent them, so we may need some deities for people to reference in dialogue, whether praying or swearing. In SF, belief in gods may still exist despite, or even because of, advances in science. In fantasy, priests often call on a god to heal someone, and this requires having invented the gods. Pantheons offer advantages over a lone god, including dynamic relationships between them and the species. Half gods and demigods are other options that help us create myths and legends to enrich our world, especially if gods can be born, die, or be visited in their realm.
Myths about how the gods or species came to exist help people understand the purpose of their lives and what awaits them in death. Symbols, appearance, patronage, and willingness to impact the lives of their species all color a pantheon and world. Gods also create places people can visit or items that can fall into the wrong hands, offering possibilities for stories.
Chapter 3—Creating a Species
Audiences are familiar with using “race” to distinguish between humanoids, especially in fantasy, but species may be a more appropriate term. This chapter explores the meaning and implications of both words, with some examples of which one to use, when, and why.
Creating a species is challenging and time consuming, but the risks and rewards can be navigated and achieved, respectively. This chapter helps us decide on our goals and if the effort is worth it. SF writers might have little choice but to create species because there are no public domain species available like the elves, dwarves, and dragons of fantasy. The benefits of creating something different can outweigh the investment and help our work stand out.
An invented species must compete with legendary ones like elves, dwarves, and dragons; this chapter helps us achieve this. Starting with habitat helps us decide on physical adaptations that affect their minds, outlook, and society, and what a typical settlement might be like and even whether or not they live in jointly formed settlements. Their disposition affects their relationships with other species but can also limit their usefulness to us unless steps are taken to avoid this. Characteristics like intelligence, wisdom, and dexterity all play a role in how they can be used in our work, as does their society and world view, both affected by a history we can invent to integrate them with our world. Their familiarity with the supernatural and technology influences their prominence and how they compare to other life in our world.
Chapter 4—Creating World Figures
Villains, heroes, and more give our characters admired or despised individuals who’ve shaped the world and inspired them. Using Earth analogues can speed the invention of such world figures, though it’s best to change some details to obfuscate the similarities. Living figures can provide ongoing usefulness but the deceased can cast a long shadow, too. Their possessions can be just as famous and offer opportunities for our characters to find something helpful or dangerous. Family, friends, and enemies also provide ongoing possibilities for their life to impact our current characters.
Chapter 5—Creating Monsters
The difference between monsters, species, and animals is largely sophistication and numbers. Many monsters are created by accidents that turn an existing species or animal into something else, but sometimes monsters are created on purpose. In the latter case it’s especially important to decide who caused this. A monster’s habitat has an impact on its usefulness and sets the stage for creating atmosphere and characterization that will largely define our audience’s experience with it before the terrifying reveal. Its motivation in life, or in our work, also determines what it does and the sort of trouble it’s causing for our species.
Chapter 6—Creating Plants and Animals
In fantasy, creating plants and animals is optional due to expectations that the world is very Earth-like, but in SF that takes place away from Earth, audiences are more likely to expect new ones. It takes less time to create these than other life in this book, but we’ll want to consider our time investment, how often our setting will be used, whether our creations impact our work and the impression it creates, and whether the desire to do something unique and new is worthwhile for both us and our audience.
Plants and animals are classified into categories, such as cycads, conifers, and flowering plants, and amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles. The lifecycle of the former and the behavior of the latter help distinguish them and can be used to propel or inhibit stories involving them. While we may have purposes for them as an author, our world’s inhabitants have them, too, such as decoration and medicinal uses for plants, and domestication, sports, guards, pets and transportation for animals. Both can be used for food and materials to enrich life and our world.
Chapter 7—Creating Undead
Many types of undead already exist and are public domain, and it’s challenging to invent something new. Undead are often classified by appearance and behavior, but it is also their origins and how they can be destroyed that will help distinguish our undead from pre-existing types. The two basic ones are those with a body, like zombies, and those without, like ghosts. Those with a body might have a soul or not. We can decide on the mental faculties of our undead by deciding if the mind goes with the soul, but there are other factors that can impair the minds and even emotional states of undead. All of these affect behavior, as do their origins, goals, and what they’re capable of.
On the eve of publishing Creating Life, I just received a great endorsement from bestselling author Piers Anthony! Impeccable timing.
“I read Creating Life (The Art of World Building, #1), by Randy Ellefson…It is exhaustive, well written, and knowledgeable…I, as a successful science fiction and fantasy writer, have generated many worlds, so this material is familiar, but it would have been easier and probably better had I had a reference like this. It is realistic, recognizing that the average writer may not have the patience to work out all the details before getting into the action…”
Creating Life can now be pre-ordered at Amazon! Other retailers will follow soon. The official release date is May 2, 2017. Newsletter subscribers (for The Art of World Building) will receive the free templates in April ahead of the release.
Creating Life (The Art of World Building, #1) has been written and is now being edited by JJ Henke, who’s worked with me for years on various projects. I should have it back in about two weeks. Then it will take another couple of weeks to go through all the suggested changes and format it for release.
In theory I could publish it in about a month, but to do things right, I need more time. I’m hoping to get some endorsements to help with promotion. I also must line up more of what I intend with ads, blog tours, and the like.
In the meantime, I’m hard at work on Creating Places (Volume 2) and making great progress.
Here’s the cover for the next Talon Stormbringer book, The Screaming Moragul. The story is named after the ghostly ship that will give Talon and his crew trouble from beyond the grave. It’s my version of The Flying Dutchman. The ship is named after a carrion bird of my invention for Llurien, where all the Stormbringer stories are set. Look for this to be released later this year.