Randy Ellefson

Fantasy author Randy Ellefson is the author of THE ART OF WORLD BUILDING, a guide for authors, gamers, and hobbyists. Learn more at http://www.randyellefson.com

May 162017
 

5 World Building Tips (Vol 1, #2): Creating Gods

This is the next installment in my series of world building articles! Today’s theme is deities. This will get you started, but you can read more about this in Chapter 2, “Creating Gods,” from Creating Life, (The Art of World Building, #1).

Tip #1: “Decide Whether to Create Them”

A story that doesn’t need gods frees us from inventing them. That might change if the setting is a world we’ll use often, as a religious character would crop up sooner or later. But single-use worlds can get away without deities, though it’s arguably better to just create a lone god and skimp on details or a pantheon. If you don’t have a feel for what to do, skip this…or read Creating Life to gain ideas.

Creating Life (Vol. 1)Tip #2: “Science Doesn’t Eliminate Religion”

A popular theory states that with more science we have less religion, but look at our own world to see how much of it still exists despite all of our accomplishments. Science may explain things that were once held to be of divine origin, but beliefs persist. Your world’s inhabitants will still believe in a higher being, most likely, even if you decide not to comment on it.

Tip #3: “Are the Gods Real?”

In fantasy, deities are typically real and sometimes put in an appearance. SF often doesn’t mention the gods, but if so, they seldom show up. Decide if the world’s gods are real and whether they interfere in events. What are some famous incidents and consequences? Read Creating Life for ideas.

Tip #4: “Mix and Match Analogues”

If we create a detailed setting we repeatedly use, gods are one of the subjects we need to invent only once because they exist outside the scope of our current story and can be reused. This is one reason to create one more highly developed world. One detailed pantheon can be more entertaining and be a common theme across stories. Why create pantheon over and over?

Tip #5: “Use Analogues”

We can borrow gods of various Earth pantheons and alter them to fit our setting. This helps us get started. At the least, we can create a list of gods and their attributes and then start mixing and matching what we like to create our versions, like Dr. Frankenstein creating gods.

Summary of Chapter 1—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.

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May 022017
 

Creating Life (Vol. 1)Creating Life has been published in both eBook and paperback format! Join the mailing list to get the free templates! Chapter summaries are below.

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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.

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May 012017
 

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…”

Apr 012017
 

5 World Building Tips (Vol 1, #1): Analogues

This is the first in a series of world building tips! Today’s theme is analogues. This will get you started, but you can read more about this in Chapter 1, “Why Build a World?”, from Creating Life, (The Art of World Building, #1).

Tip #1: “Use Analogues”

An analogue is a world building element that has a corresponding version on Earth. Maybe we create a country modeled on Japan, using cultural and physical elements so that we don’t have to invent all of it from scratch. This shortcut helps us create realistic items for our world but has a caveat of being less interesting and original. Use wisely and you can save time and effort.

Creating Life (Vol. 1)Tip #2: “The Rule of Three”

It’s more of a guideline than a rule, but when using an analogue, it’s a good idea to make at least three major changes to it so our audience doesn’t immediately recognize it. A large, four-legged, pack animal with big tusks, floppy ears, and a trunk is obviously an elephant. What would you change to make it seem new?

Tip #3: “Don’t Use Names Poorly”

Avoid using a familiar name for something that’s very different. If you call something an elf, people expect pointed ears and a preference for forests. Failure to follow certain expectations will make them assume you don’t know what you’re doing. Use a new name if you’ve changed anything fundamental.

Tip #4: “Mix and Match Analogues”

We can combine elements from different analogues to help obscure where we got the idea. Take staple foods from one land (like rice and fish from Japan), culture from another (like Nazi Germany), and the typical appearance (including clothing) of people from a third (an African tribe). Look at the Earth like a buffet from which you can create a unique meal.

Tip #5: “Make It Worth It”

Audiences have short memories, so we should keep an analogue easy to describe and remember. This is aided by making the changes significant. Adding two extra legs to a horse may not be worth it, especially if all of the horses are that way. It’s not like the six-legged kind are faster than the four-legged ones that don’t exist in your world. Make the alterations relevant or leave it like the original.

Summary of 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?

Buy Now!
Jan 282017
 

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.

Nov 202016
 

I’ve been finishing up Creating Life and would have been done by now, but I got caught up in volume 2, Creating Places. I couldn’t help myself. Sometimes I wake up with a good idea for how to go about writing a chapter and get carried away.

Volume 1 should be on sale by the spring of 2017. Free templates will be emailed to everyone who’s joined the mailing list.

Sep 292016
 

To get an idea of the skills you’ll pick up from Creating Life (Vol 1), head over to Llurien.com and check out the humanoid species.

Randy Ellefson, the author of The Art of World Building, has been building the fantasy world of Llurien for almost three decades. At its heart are seven original species, most of them with at least one race. He’s just uploaded the tip of the iceberg about each of them to Llurien.com.

Some examples:

  • Jhaikan – synonymous with evil and brutal violence. They are used in stories to frighten children and adults. Created by the gods of wrath, cruelty, cunning, and domination
    • Rhaikan – the gods of fairness, joy, peace, and truth created the benevolent rhaikan to neutralize the threat jhaikan pose to all civilization
  • Kais – 3-4 ft tall with feathery wings, the species dominates the skies
    • Daekais – the gods of deception, greed, jealousy, and fear created this flying menace with poisonous teeth, claws, and minds
    • Morkais – a benevolent race acting as interpreters, messengers, and saviors to anyone they see in trouble
  • Karelia – the gods of truth, vitality, courage, and intuition created this species, whose supernatural skills protect people from spirits and undead
    • Sorelia – a corrupted race of karelia, this nefarious race uses their supernatural talents for evil
  • Kryll – the gods of curiosity, aspiration, fairness, and peace created these scholars, peacekeepers, and acrobatic weapons masters
  • Mandeans – the gods of innocence, passion, expression, and unity created this amphibious species, who dominate the seas
    • Kadeans – the gods of hate, domination, and cunning corrupted them into becoming a terror of the waves, attacking all who sail upon them
    • Nideans – a bioluminescent, subterranean race smaller in stature and rarely seen except by those seeking what only nideans possess
  • Querra – the gods of inspiration, empathy, rejuvenation, and patience created this playful, charming species, wise beyond their years
    • Niquerra – cursed by the god of greed, this nefarious race tunnels deep for gems, precious minerals, and secrets of the earth to exploit
  • Riven – the gods of hate, haste, cynicism, and sloth created this torn species, hell bent on killing everything while dying from disease themselves, torn apart from within
    • Dariven – abandoned riven babies are sometimes found and raised in civilized society by other species, with a lifelong need to overcome their base desires

 

 

Jan 262016
 

I hope to make this site a central hub of information about world building, not only from my own writings, but with links to others and possibly guests posts – so if you’d like to write one, let me know!

In the coming months, more information on the series will be revealed here, including actual content from all three volumes.  I’m gearing up for publication but have some other projects in the works, too, so a release date is currently uncertain.

Please join the newsletter to get free templates once the book is published and to receive weekly updates of anything new posted here.