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

Nov 202017
 
Chapter 4: Creating World Figures

No book on world building would be complete without mention of those who live there, as they are arguably the whole point. That said, the creation of people will depend on our goals. If we’re world building for gaming, then our world needs characters for the gamers to interact with. If we’re a writer, then characters might be best suited to the stories we intend to tell.

Since this isn’t a book on writing, I won’t delve into the details of building memorable characters, because the goal of this chapter is to create well-known figures. Nonetheless, much of what follows can help us build characters. These are people we can reference at any time but which might not figure into a story. For example, on Earth we have Elvis, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Cruise, Tom Brady, Jesus Christ, Hitler, and the boy who cried wolf. In other words, a musician, television personality, actor, athlete, religious figure, dictator, and cautionary tale. In our world, we might replace them with wizard, knight, priest, and martyr. Or star fighter, bounty hunter, emperor, and Jedi knight.

Appendix 3 is a template for creating a world figure. It includes more comments and advice, and an editable Microsoft Word file can be downloaded for free by signing up for the newsletter at http://www.artofworldbuilding.com/newsletter/

Types

Our world could benefit from heroes, villains, martyrs, and others who’ve become famous for whatever reason, such as physical traits, supernatural ones, or their role in world events. There isn’t much difference between one type and another when it comes to inventing them, aside for the reason they’re famous. Figure out what sorts of individuals are likely to be well remembered. This will give us a list of people to invent. Adding a touch of detail to the list will help inspire us. For example:

  • A knight who turned the tide of war, maybe by sacrificing himself
  • A knight who restored tarnished honor in the knighthood by doing something heroic
  • A wizard who made people fear wizards
  • An assassin who killed an emperor and triggered war (or stopped it)
  • A passionate priest and good orator who inspired many to follow a god or way of life
  • An influential leader who was assassinated/martyred, causing great social change
  • A dictator who wanted to exterminate a race and caused large scale war
  • A warrior known for incredible prowess but brought down by mundane health concerns
  • A famous explorer whose ship vanished

If you’re wondering where I got some of those, here are some inspirations in no particular order: Martin Luther King, Bruce Lee, The Princess Bride, Dragonlance, and Hitler. By summing them up without their names, we start the process of making them our own and continue by creating details.

Nov 202017
 

Podcast Episode 4

Episode 4, Part 1: Learn How to Create Gods and Pantheons

Listen as host Randy Ellefson explores how to create gods, whether we need to create them and the considerations we need in fantasy and science fiction. Decide whether your gods are real and their impact on the species/races. Learn the advantages of pantheons vs. a single god. Decide where the gods live and how difficult it is to reach them.

Listen, Subscribe, and Review this episode of The Art of World Building Podcast on iTunes, Podbean, Stitcher, or Google Play Music!

In This Episode You’ll Learn:
  • Why you need to create gods
  • How fantasy and science fiction typically deal with deities and how yo can leverage this
  • Why gods who are real are more useful
  • How to decide where the gods live
Coda

Thanks so much for listening this week. Want to subscribe to The Art of World Building Podcast? Have some feedback you’d like to share? A review would be greatly appreciated!

Episode 4.1 Transcript
Intro

Hello and welcome to The Art of World Building Podcast, episode number four, part one. Today’s topic is how to create gods and pantheons and why this is more useful than a single, all-knowing god. As this is a big subject, the podcast will be split into two episodes. This material and more is discussed in Chapter 2 of Creating Life, volume 1 in The Art of World Building book series.

Do you want practical advice on how to build better worlds faster and have more fun doing it? The Art of World Building book series, website, blog, and podcast will make your worlds beat the competition. This is your host, Randy Ellefson, and I have 30 years of world building advice, tips, and tricks to share. Follow along now at artofworldbuilding.com.

Why Create Gods?

Whether we write fantasy or science fiction, at some point we will probably need gods. Our characters might want to pray or swear, threaten damnation, or just give thanks. That said, creating gods is optional. Maybe we don’t want our characters to do these things or we just want to avoid the whole subject. But our world is arguably more interesting if we have some deities that people can refer to at various times. It creates an impression of depth that would otherwise be lacking.

In Fantasy

Our gods could be wishful thinking, but in many cases, especially in fantasy, they are often portrayed as being real beings who take an active role and participate in how life unfolds on the world. A good example would be Zeus, who has been rumored to father children with earthlings. We can obviously do something similar with our invented world.

Gods are often portrayed as the reason that the world exists. It is uncommon for the world to be portrayed as a place that already existed and the gods just stumbled upon it. Normally, we often say that the gods specifically created the world or that the world was a byproduct of something the gods were doing. These options are something that we will delve into more deeply later in this episode or the next.

The Template

If you’re looking for inspiration on how to go about creating gods, The Art of World Building series has a template that you can download that walks you through all of the things you might want to consider and decide upon. This template is something where you don’t have to fill out every last section, but the different sections will give you ideas on things you might want to consider.

In Science Fiction

In science fiction, characters are often traveling from one world to another, and each of these planets might have a different pantheon or even just a single god like we have here on Earth in modern times. But the existence of gods is sometimes ignored altogether. The usual reason for this is an idea that science typically eliminates religion, but this really isn’t true. Even today in our modern societies, many of the leading scientists still believe in God and other religions, or I should say specific religions.

Either way, the belief in God still exists even among our most educated people. So there’s really no reason to act like, just because science has dominated a world or multiple worlds, that there isn’t going to be any religion. Regardless of our technological and scientific discoveries, people often want to believe in a higher power of some kind, so science is not going to eliminate this. In fact, even on a world like Earth, there are still going to be countries that are more advanced scientifically, and as a result, those worlds might have more atheists, for example.

But there are still going to be areas that are less well-developed and are more likely to have a strong religious basis to the livelihood and even the traditions. Whether you agree with that or not, the point is that there are still going to be religions on pretty much every planet that ever exists. There’s never going to be in a time in human history when religion is just wiped out. There are probably people who wish this would happen, partly because wars are often fought in the name of religions, but beliefs will persist regardless of scientific and technological discoveries.

In many cases, those discoveries are attributed to something that God set in motion and we only just eventually figured it out, so belief always finds its way to account for the things that we have discovered even from our scientists.

More Resources

Let’s take a quick break here and talk about where you can get more useful world building resources. Artofworldbuilding.com has most of what you need. This includes links to more podcasts like this one. You can also find more information on all three volumes of The Art of World Building series. Much of the content of those books is available on the website for free.

And the thing that you might find most useful is that by signing up for the newsletter, you can download the free templates that are included with each volume of The Art of World Building series, whether you have bought the books or not. All you need to do is join the newsletter. You can do this by going to artofworldbuilding.com/newsletter. Sign up today and you will get your free templates, and you will never miss an update about what is happening in the great world of world building.

Travel

In Science Fiction, one of the problems characters may face is that they have grown up in a world with certain gods and religions, and then they arrive on other planets where people have never heard of that god or religion. Some people might find that disturbing and then might want to do something like what Christian missionaries did, where they tried to convert the locals.

This is a scenario that can cause trouble, where the characters are basically interfering with how people think on that world. Their own ideas may be accepted or they might cause more trouble than it’s worth. We can have our characters inadvertently get themselves into trouble by trying to talk about their own gods and religion and how life should be lived based on this. The locals might be very offended. This is a good way to give our characters an angle that causes problems in our story and adds more depth.

Are the Gods Real?

Then there’s the question of whether the gods are real or not. If they are, then are they happy with the species getting so much power that they can leave the world the gods supposedly created for them? Did the gods create the universe and therefore they are okay with the species leaving the planet and exploring? Or are they bothered by this? Is there another world that is ruled by other gods who are actually real, and those guys are bothered by these travelers who have shown up and are starting to try to convert their inhabitants? This is one way that we can introduce conflict for our travelers. Some of these travelers also might be bothered by arriving on a world that has never heard of their god.

In fantasy, the gods are usually portrayed as being real. One of the ways that this typically comes up is that a priest of a religion can lay hands on a wounded person and call on that god to heal them. If this is successful, there’s really no getting around the existence of that god. Obviously, they are real. We might then need to figure out the circumstances in which a god will agree to do such a thing. Do they do this for anyone? Is it only the priests? Is the cause worthy? Is that the criteria for healing someone or interfering in mortal affairs?

One of the problems with gods being real is that they are all powerful, in theory. They can swoop in at any time and do whatever they want. This is problematic from a story standpoint because that is not great to have the characters rescued from a situation by a god who can pretty much snap their fingers and make everything go away. This is something we generally want to avoid and we might want to minimize the times and circumstances under which the gods interfere with mortal affairs.

We don’t need to come up with elaborate reasons for this. We can just decide that, for the most part, the gods want people to figure things out for themselves. And that their chief interference is when they are trying to heal someone through one of the priests. Saving a life seems like a good reason for a god to intervene.

On the other hand, if they are always interfering in trivial matters, then this makes the gods too much of a figure in the world. We might want to do this on a world that we are not going to use very often just because we don’t want to get into a pattern of the gods helping people or interfering all the time. It removes the focus from characters and puts the focus on these deities.

Patreon Support

For those of you who support crowdfunding, I am on the patreon site and would appreciate any support you can lend. Think about whether you’re benefiting from this podcast or the art of world building blog and website, and consider supporting the effort to spread the word far and wide. Your support could help a budding world builders create an awesome world that you become a huge fan of. This podcast and related items are my way of giving back to the fantasy, scifi, movie, and gaming industries that I love so much. You can give back too by helping to fund this effort. When the next Tolkien or George R.R. Martin shows up, you can tell yourself, “I helped him do that!”

Your support can be just $1 a month to the cause. Higher levels of support get you increasingly cool things, such as PDF transcripts of this podcast, free mp3s (including unreleased music), free eBooks and short stories, book marks, and even signed copies of books and CDs of my music. Many of these are unavailable to the public.

Just go to art of world building dot com slash patreon. You can also just go to the home page and click the big icon for it . Please note that patreon is spelled a little weird. It’s p-a-t-r-e-o-n. Support great world building today!

The Species

If a world has multiple species, then we must also decide if there is one pantheon of gods that all of our species worship, or if each different species, like dwarves or elves, worships a different group of gods. The problem with creating multiple groups of gods is the sheer number of gods that we have to invent. If there’s a group of gods who created elves, for example, then it makes sense that the elves are worshiping those gods and only those gods. If another group of gods has created dwarves, the same thing applies.

On the other hand, if there is one group of gods who has created all of the species that inhabit that world, then it makes more sense that all of the species are worshiping the same gods. The elves might be more prone to favoring a group of gods versus the dwarves, who are favoring another group of gods, but we should make a decision about this.

It might be easier for us in the long term to create one group of gods, where different groups within those gods created different species or influence them, or are simply more appealing to them. That way, all of our species can be generally aware of all of the gods and devoted to subsets of those gods. But generally they’ll just be aware of all of them and paying attention to them. It’s a more cohesive group of gods. What we’re trying to avoid there is creating so many different groups of gods that it just ends up being a lot of work for us.

Generally, we don’t want to spend too much time on world building even though it is a time-consuming endeavor, so we need to find ways to minimize the work that we are doing while also creating great content for ourselves, our characters, and our audience.

Pantheons

Let’s talk a little bit about the pantheon. A pantheon is nothing more than a mythological collection of gods. On Earth, at this point in time, we talk about a single god, but at times in our past we have had pantheons, like the Greek gods or the Roman gods. One of the great things about a pantheon is that we have more variety. Each god can specialize in a certain set of attributes that they care about and that they influence in the hearts, minds, and souls of people on the world. This gives us the ability to have a character who worships a particular god, and this provides insight on what really matters to that character. There might be other characters who worship an opposing god and as a result, we now have some conflict.

Regarding the gods themselves, we often decide that two of them are married, or that they have children together, or that they are brother and sister. This allows us to inject typical family relationships, such as siblings who often have problems with each other or they don’t get along. Children often don’t respect their parents. Parents are often frustrated by their children. And we can use all of this to characterize not only the relationships among the gods, but the people who follow them.

This also greatly helps us come up with stories and myths about those gods, where one person has tried to thwart the authority of another god and this has resulted in a story, which might also result in artifacts that fall into the wrong hands, like those of the species. Generally speaking, when we have these more dynamic relationships among multiple gods, it allows us to create stories. This is kind of an improvement over a single god where that god is all-knowing, and is kind of a general deity who doesn’t have anything specific about them that draws one person instead of another.

Subscribe

So let’s talk about how to subscribe to this podcast. A podcast is a free, downloadable audio show that enables you to learn while you’re on the go. To subscribe to my podcast for free, you’ll need an app to listen to the show from.

For iPhone, iPad, and iPod listeners, grab your phone or device and go to the iTunes Store and search for The Art of World Building. This will help you to download the free podcast app, which is produced by Apple, and then subscribe to the show from within that app. Every time I produce a new episode, you’ll get it downloaded right onto your device.

For Android listeners, you can download the Stitcher radio app, which is free, and search for The Art of World Building.

This only needs to be done once and at that point, you will never miss an episode.

Inventing with Attributes

When it comes to inventing a god, we may want to start out with a list of traits such as truth, love, hate, curiosity, greed, fear or others from the seven deadly sins, and just come up with gods who are based on a single trait or maybe related traits, and then figure out what this god is actually like and what their followers will be like. We can also use phenomenon like choosing a god of storms or war, or even death. We can also choose a hybrid approach, such as deciding that the god of wrath is also the god of storms.

Pantheons are often not organized in any particular way beyond family relationships. However, we can inject more into this if we choose. For example, we can decide that every god is associated with a season, or color, or an element. Once we have assigned one of these to all of our gods, then we might have a group of gods who are all in favor of spring or fire, for example. Making a decision like this, it is often helpful to decide that a goddess of love or passion, for example, is also the goddess of heat. By extension, she would also be a goddess of summer, right?

Once we create these associations, it adds more color and depth to what we’ve created. Speaking of color, this can also result from a goddess of heat, summer, and fire being associated with maybe yellow and red, which are colors we often associate with fire.

 

Organized by Alignment

There’s another way the gods are often organized and this is by good, neutral, and evil. Personally, I tend to avoid those particular words and say something is benevolent or nefarious. The reason for this is mostly that good versus evil is an interesting way of characterizing things, but it’s also a little bit juvenile, at the risk of offending some of you. Many of us don’t like boiling the world down to such simple ideas. Even so, this is an interesting way of dividing up your deities.

And what you don’t want is to have a world that is mostly full of evil gods versus good gods unless you’re doing that on purpose for a specific reason.

A subject that is included in volume 1, Creating Life, but will not be discussed in this podcast is the different power levels of gods, and children, demigods, and half gods. If you’d like to learn more about these, consider purchasing the book.

Review

if you’re enjoying the podcast, please rate and review the show at artofworldbuilding.com/review. Reviews really are critical to encouraging more people to listen to a show haven’t heard of before, and it can also help the show rank better, allowing more people to discover it. Again that URL is artofworldbuilding.com/review.

Where Do They Live?

We should also decide where the gods live. Are they on the planet and they can be accessed easily? Or are they up in the clouds? Are they on another plane of existence and they can only be reached by special means? Our decision will affect how easy it is for mortals to reach them.

There is a tradition in fantasy where mortals must prove that they are worthy in order to reach the gods. Therefore, it is not terribly easy to make it there. If I were a god and I had many worshipers, as I assume I would, I wouldn’t want every last person on the planet trying to track me down all the time. I also wouldn’t want them trying to get me to resolve some petty fight that they’re having with someone. So the cost for someone to seek me out should be a worthy one and therefore it should probably be an arduous task to reach me.

If the gods live on the world, I recommend avoiding something as obvious as a mountaintop because most people will immediately associate that with Mount Olympus and the Greek gods, like Zeus. On the other hand, a god of the sea living underwater is obvious, but that also raises the question of whether that god is trying to avoid anyone reaching him. After all, most people cannot swim underwater to incredible depths without modern technology. Is the god trying to avoid anyone trying to contact him?

If we’re doing science fiction and our species has a learn to ascend to the heavens and beyond, then if this is the place where the gods are rumored to exist, then what happens when the species is able to get up there? Do they find that the gods do indeed live up there running the world, or did they discover that the gods are not where everyone thought that they were? Does this have an impact on them? Are people disillusioned and wonder, “Hey, wait a minute, I thought that the gods were up here in the clouds and there’s nothing here!”

Are they having a crisis of faith as a result of this? Do the gods even allow people to achieve technological advances so that they can discover such an idea is not true? These are some things that we might want to consider.

Not Included

The lifespan of the gods is another subject that we will not be discussing in this podcast but you can find out more by purchasing Creating Life and reading chapter 2 on creating gods. We also won’t discuss vulnerability and whether gods can be hurt, killed, or upset in any other way.

The mythology of our gods is also very important. This includes creation myths and end of world myths. These are two of the most important stories to work out regarding our gods and how people feel about how time began, and even more importantly, how it will end. Everyone loves a good end of the world story and this is something that characters can mention at any time. It also offers a convenient way to talk about their lives and what consequences they may face when they die and are judged by a god. To learn more, check out chapter 2 of Creating Life.

Closing

All of this show’s music is actually courtesy of yours truly, as I’m also a musician. We’re going to close out today’s show with a song from my album Now Weaponized! called “Keeping Pace.” You can hear more songs at RandyEllefson.com. Check out artofworldbuilding.com for free templates to help with your world building. And please rate and review the show in iTunes. Thanks for listening!

Nov 142017
 

Creating Places (Vol. 2)Creating Places has been published in both eBook and paperback format! The audio book will be released soon. Join The Art of World Building mailing list to get the free templates! Chapter summaries are below.

Buy Now!
Chapter 1—Case Studies

Three case studies show how the contents of this volume can aid in creating relationships we can use in our work. They discuss the effects of prevailing winds, climate, land features, rain shadows, and the impact of passages to travel through troubling areas. Each affects the sort of sovereign power suggested by a region and how alliances and enemies can be forged, some changing with time. Each power will have different ideologies and geographical features and needs, which can help us determine relationships between different powers.

Chapter 2—Creating a Planet

This chapter focuses on creating an Earth-like planet. World builders should understand the role of the moon and its effects on tides, seasons, and more if we intend to have a moon different from our own or multiple moons. Mention of other planets, constellations, and comets can make our world seem like it’s not an island. The equator, climate zones, prevailing winds, and rain shadows all affect how much precipitation falls in an area, which in turn affects all life there, including vegetation or the lack thereof. Understanding these basics will help us create believable landscapes.

Chapter 3—Creating a Continent

Which hemisphere our continent lies in affects the seasons and might impact where we place constellations. Understanding plate tectonics can help us build believable mountain ranges and place volcanoes where they might occur. This can also determine where deep areas of the sea are, giving our sea monsters somewhere to call home. We have some liberty to name bodies of water what we want, but this chapter includes details on when to use which name, including seas, bays, inlets, and more.

Chapter 4—Creating Land Features

A continent will have mountains, volcanoes, lakes, rivers, forests, woodlands, savannahs, jungles, prairies, wetlands, and deserts, but world builders should understand each to place them in believable locations. While some aspects are obvious, minor details can change our decisions and augment our resulting stories. Why say characters have entered a run-of-the-mill forest when we can say it’s a savannah instead, describing how it looks and what life is like for inhabitants and those traversing it? This chapter aids world builders in making a more varied landscape—one that is accurately depicted.

Chapter 5—Creating a Sovereign Power

Kingdoms, empires, dictatorships and more are types of sovereign powers that world builders can create. Before we do, a high-level understanding of the differences between them is crucial. Many variations to government types exist, which gives us freedom to tweak details for our needs, but we should know the rules before we break them. The role of sovereignty, including how it is gained and lost, is examined in this chapter along with the “divine right of kings.” We also look at the head of state and head of government roles, the differences between them, and the conflicts that can arise. The nature of each branch of government is examined along with parliamentary systems. Democracies, federations, theocracies, monarchies, autocracies and more are examined for their key differences.

Inventing a sovereign power should include friends and enemies who shape policy, lifestyle, and culture. The form of government has significant impact on inhabitants and results from world view. History affects this as well, and while creating a history is optional, it enriches the dynamics of relationships and can create heroes, villains, and attitudes in the population. We should consider which species are present and in how great a percentage, and what languages are spoken or forbidden. Our power’s location and climate will impact lifestyles and vegetation, which also influences what natural resources it has or lacks, and what the power does as a result. These can all lead to tensions both with other powers or the residents. Symbols, colors, flags, and slogans will be a source of pride and even fear for both foreigners and the population.

Chapter 6—Creating a Settlement

Location impacts a settlement more than many world builders realize, from climate to terrain and water supply, but our neighbors also determine how much fortification is needed and the number of armed forces, including their skill sets. Ancient and recent history can bring lasting change and cause attitudes that enrich our setting. Our population’s diversity is also critical for determining what life is like for the majority and minorities alike, but first we need to decide who is who (and why), how much power they have, and whether they can subvert those who are supposedly in power. Whether outposts, castles, villages, towns, or cities, or even an orbiting station, a settlement will have secrets, a reputation, colors, symbols, and local lore that characterize it in the minds of inhabitants, friends and enemies.

Chapter 7—Travel Over Land

In settings without automobiles, world builders may struggle to determine how long it really takes people to traverse a distance, whether that’s between settlements or land features. Mountains, hills, desert, and vegetation all impact speed and endurance, whether one is walking, riding a steed (even flying on one), or hauling freight like a wagon. The presence and quality of roads alter this, as do life forms that might cause wariness and therefore slower travel. A methodology is presented to assist with organizing distance measurements and scale, determining the base miles per day (BMPD) for various mode of travel, and terrain modifiers to BMPD. Using both miles and kilometers, formulas are provided for making calculations, which can also be estimated for overall land area in sovereign powers. Newsletter subscribers receive an Excel spreadsheet that can be used to alter scale and modifiers so that all calculations are automatically updated, reducing the need for manual calculations.

Chapter 8—Travel by Water

Landlubbers have difficulty determining how long it takes for any ship, whether powered by oars or sails, to traverse a distance. This chapter explores the factors affecting sailing speeds and what vessels are most likely to be used during an Age of Sail period. Calculations are provided for realistic estimates. Both long and round ships are discussed, including the galley, brig, frigate, galleon, sloop-of-war, and ship-of-the-line. In fantasy, we have species and warrior types who might be part of our crew. We might also rule out gunpowder and cannon, which means having ships with no real fire power or which use alternative weapons, some of which are examined. Subscribers to The Art of World Building newsletter receive an Excel spreadsheet that performs calculations in kilometers, miles, and nautical miles.

Chapter 9—Travel in Space

Science fiction features invented technologies for traveling the cosmos, but that doesn’t free us from attempts to be realistic about life in space or how to maneuver. Modern engines operate on the principle of thrust, which requires rear-facing engines, and we’ll need this for slower-than-light travel within a solar system. Imaginary propulsions, like warp, hyper, or jump drives can benefit from believable limitations. We should also remember that locations in space are ever changing positions so that how long it takes to travel between two points is seldom the same—or convenient for our characters. The need to enter a planet’s atmosphere affects the structure of our ship, but world builders will be most interested in the internal organization and the effect we can make this have on people and story.

Chapter 10—Creating Time and History

History can enrich a world and provide us with cultural clashes, famous items, and world figures to which our stories and characters can refer or cite as inspiration. To save time, we can create a master history file with short entries that are invented in a few minutes and which do not need long explanations. Some could be turned into stand-alone stories if we stumble upon a great idea. Historic entries can be created at any time and can include events involving the gods, technology, supernatural, wars, the rise and fall of sovereign powers, artifacts, and famous missions by groups or individuals.

We also need a universal way to measure time because each sovereign power might have its own calendar, making the correlation of events across kingdoms harder. The merits of keeping timeframes similar to Earth’s are discussed; this includes the reasons why minutes and hours benefit from little alteration, while the number of days, weeks, and months can experience greater variation without disrupting the audience’s sense of time.

Chapter 11—Creating Places of Interest

Even seemingly ordinary locations can acquire significance due to scale, features, or people associated with them. These include monuments, graves, catacombs and hidden passages, and unusual buildings, whether built in stone, flying in the air, or floating on water like Venice.  Ruins offer places for treasure to be found or horrors unleashed, including magical or technological items. Event sites and shipwrecks also give inhabitants places to reference, seek, or avoid, and can be where items of our invention originated.

Bonus Chapter 12—Drawing Maps

While drawing maps is optional in world building, they can help us visualize where everything’s taking place, and if done well, can even be included in published works. Drawing skill isn’t really needed, as modern map making programs allow us to place pre-existing shapes onto a map and move them around. Continent maps help us decide on the location and quality of land features like mountains, forests, and deserts so that we create a realistic ecosystem. The location of settlements, rivers, and bodies of water will also impact the stories and lives of characters we create. We can also draw settlement, dungeon, and ship maps to solidify our decisions and find new inspiration in our layouts.

Buy Now!
Nov 132017
 

The makers of Campaign Cartographer and other map-making programs I use invited me to write a guest post on their site, ProFantasy.com. It went live Monday and can be read at this link.

The article discusses subjects covered in Creating Places (The Art of World Building, #2), including how a continent’s hemisphere, prevailing winds, and mountain ranges causes rain shadows, which affect where vegetation and deserts lie.

There’s also a little quiz at the end to see how well you retained the lesson! Check it out and leave a comment on their site if you’d like to see more.

These guys have been very cool to me. How cool? They donated the three programs to the left for the giveaway I’m running for the next three weeks. Stop by their site and see what they have to offer!

Nov 132017
 

A top-down approach to inventing a species means viewing a species at a high level and working our way into details. We might decide on a sea-dwelling species and then face more detailed questions, like whether they have gills or can survive out of water. Can they walk on land? Are they seen often or rarely?

The bottom-up approach means creating details first and then slowly integrating them into a unified whole. Maybe we first decide on a species with sharp claws, a barbed tail, and which is rumored to carry people off at night while seldom being seen, and there’s almost no trace of where it went. From this and other details, perhaps we decide this species is water-dwelling and the claws and tail are used for catching fish. The reason people disappear is that they’re taken underwater and drowned, or perhaps held captive in underwater caves that have oxygen pockets, and since our species quickly enters the water from docks, there’s no trail to follow. This big picture is suggested by details we created first.

Nov 132017
 

In celebration of the release of Creating Places (The Art of World Building, #2) I’m doing a massive giveaway of world building tools, training, and advice! All you need to do is enter and get a chance to win $200 worth of stuff!

It gets better: once you enter, you’ll get an email with a link just for you. Send that to your world building friends, and if they click it and enter the contest, you’ll get an additional three chances to win! How cool is that?

What can you win?

  1. Three of the best programs from ProFantasy, allowing you to draw maps of land features, cities, and dungeons!
  2. A world building course by David Farland/Dave Wolverton!
  3. A bunch of world building ebooks, including mine!
  4. And even if you don’t win, all contestants get a free copy of THE EVER FIEND!

You can forward the contest to anyone who does world building and improve your own chances.

Nov 122017
 

For those of you waiting for the audio book of Creating Places, I’ve begun the recording and hope to finish and release before 2017 expires.

Why the delay?

I need the book fully edited and proofread before I can begin, and this took longer than intended. I had already scheduled the release of the eBook/print editions and there’s no way to delay those for the audio book without causing issues from the likes of Amazon, who frowns on such things.

I’m working on this as fast as I can for you.

Nov 102017
 

Ed GreenwoodI just received another endorsement from Ed Greenwood, creator of The Forgotten Realms® and dozens of other imaginary worlds:

With CREATING PLACES, Randy Ellefson has penned a sequel to his CREATING LIFE that walks story creators through worldbuilding along an entertaining road that runs everywhere, making sure nothing is missed. Plentiful examples are provided, and a veteran worldbuilder can find just as much fun and comprehensive reminders in these pages as a novice. Some books are nice to have, and a rare few are “must haves.” Like Ellefson’s preceding book, CREATING PLACES is one of that rare breed: an essential reference work. Unlike most references, this one is fun to read. Not to mention a goad and spark for the imagination!

 

Nov 082017
 

Podcast Episode 3

Episode 3: How Many Worlds To Build?

Listen as host Randy Ellefson explores how many worlds you should create over the course of your career. Is it better to build a world for each project or one world for all stories? You could end up building 20 worlds, which is a lot of work. When is it better to just create one world and keep reusing it? What are the pros and cons of each approach?

Listen, Subscribe, and Review this episode of The Art of World Building Podcast on iTunes, Podbean, Stitcher, or Google Play Music!

In This Episode You’ll Learn:
  • The pros and cons of building many worlds
  • The pros and cons of building one detailed world for repeated use
  • How to decide which approach to take and when
  • How to find the time to create worlds
Coda

Thanks so much for listening this week. Want to subscribe to The Art of World Building Podcast? Have some feedback you’d like to share? A review would be greatly appreciated!

Episode 3 Transcript
Intro

Hello and welcome to The Art of World Building Podcast, episode number three. Today’s topic is how many worlds to build over the course of our career. Is it better to build one extensive world we use for 20 stories, or is it better to build 20 worlds for 20 stories? This material and more is discussed in Chapter 1 of Creating Life, volume 1 in The Art of World Building book series.

Do you want practical advice on how to build better worlds faster and have more fun doing it? The Art of World Building book series, website, blog, and podcast will make your worlds beat the competition. This is your host, Randy Ellefson, and I have 30 years of world building advice, tips, and tricks to share. Follow along now at artofworldbuilding.com.

One World Per Story – Advantages

What I want to talk about now is how many worlds we should build over the course of our career. World building can often take an enormous amount of time. Speeding up this process is one of the goals of this podcast series and The Art of World Building books. But does it make more sense to create one world that we’re going to use for the next 20 years, or does it make sense to keep creating a new world each time we’re going to create a new story? After 20 stories, we would have created 20 worlds. That seems like an awful lot and something that’s going to burn us out on world building. One of my recommendations is to do a mix of these two. Talk about why in just a minute.

Let’s first take a look at the idea of creating one world for one story. This does have some advantages. For starters, it takes a lot less time to do this. We also don’t have to think through so many items. We’re only going to create whatever we need for that story, not an entire ecosystem for example. We’re also not going to be tied to that world indefinitely, so if we make a mistake there is something that just doesn’t seem like it’s a good idea, well that’s okay because we’re only using that for one story. And then we’re going to move on.

If we have an idea that’s a little bit more “out there,” and maybe we shouldn’t take that risk for the next 20 years because our audience might not like that, then just creating a world for one story, where we do something stranger, it seems like a better place to do this. Because if it doesn’t work, well we’ve already moved on.

If we are new to world building, this might be a good approach because we have a lot to learn. We’re going to make mistakes and why make a mistake that we get stuck with? I’ve been working on the same planet called Llurien for 30 years, and I can tell you I have repeatedly gone back over what I’ve created and eliminated ideas that were just kinda stupid, to be honest. I mean, I started when I was 16 or 17. At that age, you’re going to have some stupid ideas. It just comes with the territory.

I’ve had to do a certain amount of cleaning up. And sometimes the ideas that I’m removing have good parts and bad parts and I’m trying to salvage something that was good while getting rid of the bad part. Sometimes this just creates an unnecessary amount of work. Maybe it would’ve been smarter to just starting over with a new planet altogether after about two or three years.

If we are also not sure how much we are into world building, then this can be a good way to kind of dip your toe in the water, just like in the summer when you get to a cold pool and you’re not sure if you just want to jump right in. You can just stick your foot in and say, “Okay I don’t like doing this.” You have to find out whether this is something that you really want to spend a lot of time and energy on before you plan to do this for however many years.

One World Per Story – Disadvantages

As with everything, doing one world for one story also has its disadvantages. If we don’t do a lot of detail, then this can sometimes become apparent. The result might appear to be an underdeveloped world. It also might be less interesting. We might find ourselves using any of the standard species and races, for example, like elves and dwarves that you find in fantasy. Now if you’re okay with that, then that’s fine, but if you really wanted to do something more than that, well, you’re now kind of stuck between trying not to do a lot of world building but also trying to do something new. And if anything you create doesn’t have a lot of thought behind it, then I might come across as a poorly conceived idea.

Another problem with this approach is that if we keep creating a world for each story, then we might start creating worlds that are very similar to each other just because we start running out of ideas. Creative people don’t typically want to repeat themselves, so if your first world had certain things in it, you probably don’t want to include them the second world, even if they might’ve been a good idea. And then this process starts where, each time you create a world, everything that we include in that world, we don’t use subsequently in another world and it’s almost like putting ourselves in a noose. The possibilities for us keep getting smaller and smaller and smaller every time we create a world. And that’s not ideal.

More Resources

Let’s take a quick break here and talk about where you can get more useful world building resources. Artofworldbuilding.com has most of what you need. This includes links to more podcasts like this one. You can also find more information on all three volumes of The Art of World Building series. Much of the content of those books is available on the website for free.

And the thing that you might find most useful is that by signing up for the newsletter, you can download the free templates that are included with each volume of The Art of World Building series, whether you have bought the books or not. All you need to do is join the newsletter. You can do this by going to artofworldbuilding.com/newsletter. Sign up today and you will get your free templates, and you will never miss an update about what is happening in the great world of world building.

One World For Many Stories – Advantages

So if we’re not going to create one world for each story, what’s our other option? Well, the big one is to create one world with the intention of telling many, many stories on that world. This also has its advantages. One of them is that we are only creating one world and that way we are not going to be repeating ourselves. We have the freedom to just keep inventing and connecting ideas that we have just created was something that we have already created. This is one of the things that I love about creating Llurien for so many years. You know, I might’ve created something initially 10 years ago and now I think of something new that has nothing to do with it, but after another year or two, I suddenly see a connection, a way of bringing these together. And the result is an additional layer of realism.

Another issue is that I create the planet for its own sake. I don’t create anything to tell a specific story, and the result, I feel, is that the world just feels more real. As I said a minute ago, one of the problems with creating a world for just the story that you’re telling is that a lack of depth sort of makes things feel a little bit shallow and a little bit empty. And maybe just not that realistic.

If we decide to create our own species or races, we can really do a deep dive into this and create something that’s very different. This can be a draw for the fiction that we create (the audience) because we’ve got a world that no one else has. If you use elves and dwarves, well everyone and their brother is doing that. There’s nothing new about this anymore. You can put your own spin on them but in the end, it still kind of run-of-the-mill fantasy.

And I don’t mean to sound negative about fantasy. I love elves and dwarves as much as the next guy, but as a creator I don’t find it terribly interesting. And as a reader I kind of think, “Well, there’s nothing new about this to me, regardless of what spin somebody puts on it. I already know what to expect.” Now there is a comfort to knowing what to expect, but at the same time, there’s a little bit of risk in not doing anything original. And the worst result of that is just doing something that is a cliché.

If your world becomes really popular, not only will that be a draw for the audience, but if you become super lucky, like a George Lucas for Star Wars, or George RR Martin for Game of Thrones, you might even be able to get away with doing merchandising. Now of course that’s kind of a pipe dream. How many people get to have action figures made of the world that they’re created? But you know, anything is possible. On the other hand, if you’re using all the standard species and races, well that’s probably not going to happen.

Patreon Support

For those of you who support crowdfunding, I am on the patreon site and would appreciate any support you can lend. Think about whether you’re benefiting from this podcast or the art of world building blog and website, and consider supporting the effort to spread the word far and wide. Your support could help a budding world builders create an awesome world that you become a huge fan of. This podcast and related items are my way of giving back to the fantasy, scifi, movie, and gaming industries that I love so much. You can give back too by helping to fund this effort. When the next Tolkien or George R.R. Martin shows up, you can tell yourself, “I helped him do that!”

Your support can be just $1 a month to the cause. Higher levels of support get you increasingly cool things, such as PDF transcripts of this podcast, free mp3s (including unreleased music), free eBooks and short stories, book marks, and even signed copies of books and CDs of my music. Many of these are unavailable to the public.

Just go to art of world building dot com slash patreon. You can also just go to the home page and click the big icon for it . Please note that patreon is spelled a little weird. It’s p-a-t-r-e-o-n. Support great world building today!

One World For Many Stories – Disadvantages

The single biggest disadvantage to creating one world for many stories is the sheer amount of time that you to be spending doing. Fortunately, you are listening to a podcast that is based on a three-volume series of books that is designed to speed that process along considerably. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I have thought pretty much everything that – well, I have thought through everything within the series or I couldn’t have written it – but I can give you a huge head start on doing this deep dive into a single setting.

Now if you’re a game designer, you don’t have to worry about this next issue, but storytellers are famous for wanting to tell stories but finding excuse after excuse to not do so. And world building can become one of these. We can spend so much time doing this that we never tell a story. And this is much more likely to occur if you are going to create one setting that you intend to use for many years because you going to tell yourself, “Well, you know, I’m gonna write all these stories here.” Maybe you’re just going to sit around world building instead.

One of the concerns about spending a lot of time on a single setting is also that, what if nobody likes what you’ve written? You know, you’ve got a world that you heavily invested a lot of time in and nobody likes it. Well, again, that’s one of the reasons for this series.

Now another issue that you used to have to face but maybe don’t anymore is that you can spend many years working on a setting only to never get a publishing deal. But today, self-publishing is all the rage. There is actually an entire industry that has sprung up around self-publishing and it’s relatively easy to do. There are a bunch of other skills that you need to pick up, but since it is a possibility, at the very least, at the end of the day, you know that you can get your work out there.

On the surface, creating one setting per book may involve less effort at the time, but if we have to create a dozen worlds over the years, is that more or less work then one more detailed, reusable setting? You may want to consider a hybrid approach. And what that means is that you create one world that’s intended to be used for many stories and you spend a lot of time on this. And even while you’re doing that, you might create another world that’s just to tell a specific story. And in those instances, you might just want to do something that’s a little bit more “out there.” Take your chances with the settings that are only going to be used for one-story, while something that’s a little bit more mainstream is the world that you’re going to be using for a long time.

Deciding

If you’re not sure how to decide, well then one question you should ask yourself is, “How serious are you about being a storyteller or a game designer? Is this something that you intend to do for many years?” If so, you might be doing yourself a favor to create the one world that you can spend more effort and make it more unique, and where that world becomes a bigger draw for your fans.

If you’re not sure if you’ll enjoy world building, or you’ve never done it before, then it’s probably not a good idea to bite off more than you can chew. You might want to just start off with something smaller and see how it goes.

 

Subscribe

So let’s talk about how to subscribe to this podcast. A podcast is a free, downloadable audio show that enables you to learn while you’re on the go. To subscribe to my podcast for free, you’ll need an app to listen to the show from.

For iPhone, iPad, and iPod listeners, grab your phone or device and go to the iTunes Store and search for The Art of World Building. This will help you to download the free podcast app, which is produced by Apple, and then subscribe to the show from within that app. Every time I produce a new episode, you’ll get it downloaded right onto your device.

For Android listeners, you can download the Stitcher radio app, which is free, and search for The Art of World Building.

This only needs to be done once and at that point, you will never miss an episode.

How to Find Time

Now I do have one anecdote to share with you. I never set out to spend 30 years and counting working on the world of Llurien. As a teenager, I was just kind of goofing around. When I was in college, I didn’t really have the time to write fiction so it was just a hobby of mine, that I just kept having ideas for this world, and I kept writing them down. And sometimes I would to spend a few hours writing something, and I might not have even look at that for a couple years before I ran across the file.

Later in the series, we’ll talk about how to keep your files organized so you don’t just keep losing everything, but at different times, life intrudes and you don’t have the time to write. That’s a good time to be working on a setting, whether the world is going to be used for a long time, or even something strange you’re only going to use for one story.

As someone who needs to do world building as part of your hobby or career, it’s a good way to reclaim lost time. And it’s also a good way to kind of run with an idea once you’ve had it, and worry about it later, how you’re going to use it or where you are going to use it. It’s not a bad thing to just have an idea, write it down, have fun with it, and then tweak it later. No idea comes up fully formed at the time.

Review

if you’re enjoying the podcast, please rate and review the show at artofworldbuilding.com/review. Reviews really are critical to encouraging more people to listen to a show haven’t heard of before, and it can also help the show rank better, allowing more people to discover it. Again that URL is artofworldbuilding.com/review.

Wrap Up

You should also have a sense of just how creative you are. Do you think you have what it takes to create many worlds? Or do you feel like this is kind of a stretch and you don’t even have ideas for one world? In that latter case, you might want to just focus on a single world. And I think that we can do to make that process more manageable. Will be talking more about that as this podcast progresses.

Right now we’re still covering chapter 1, “Why Build a World?” from volume 1, Creating Life, and there are a few more sections of the volume that I’m not going to talk about today. One of these is a discussion of the problem that can happen if we create a setting and then publish a trilogy of novels, for example, and then try to use that setting for stories that have nothing to do with that trilogy. This is something that is discussed more in the book itself, but I’m not going to cover it in the podcast.

Another subject in the book is the issue of being too close to the world building that we’re doing and finding ourselves tempted to jam a whole bunch of information into the story because we are too close to what we’ve been creating. The problem with doing this is that we are taking the reader away from the flow of the story and the action and just kind of hitting them over the head with a bunch of exposition. This is not a good idea. And one of the things that the book talks about our ways to go around this problem.

The final section in Chapter 1 talks about our influences and how much we are going to let them actually influence us. When we’re trying to do something original, we may restrict ourselves from anything that we’ve seen before. But we can do too far with that kind of self-imposed restriction. The book just calls our attention to this kind of thing and make sure that we have true freedom to create something great.

Closing

All of this show’s music is actually courtesy of yours truly, as I’m also a musician. We’re going to close out today’s show with a song from my album The Firebard, called “Still at Large.” You can hear more songs at RandyEllefson.com. Check out artofworldbuilding.com for free templates to help with your world building. And please rate and review the show in iTunes. Thanks for listening!