Why Build a World? Journal Post #1

Three Realms Serials Journal Post #1

Jack Wright, December 2020

I did not like reading when I was a child.  Books were difficult, spelling and grammar homework was a struggle that often ended in tears and yelling, and books were made of those things, so I didn’t like them either.  Looking back, I can say with some degree of certainty that those circumstances were not the fault of the books (ADHD being the far more likely culprit).  I did like stories though, and my mom would read to me for which I will be forever grateful.  The book that changed things was Redwall, by Brian Jacques, and if you haven’t read it you absolutely should (it doesn’t matter how old you are).  The tropes and turns and themes you will find familiar, but they’re executed with style and skill and in the mind of a child who has not yet learned to love books, they were newly trodden paths.  One night, mom finished reading the chapter, and was heading to bed, but Jacques had left it on such a cliffhanger that I needed to know what happened next.  I asked if I could keep reading without her and was too young to notice the relief that I am certain was in her eyes.

It was something that I wanted to do, even though I didn’t quite know it yet.  Storytelling was something that was done in the woods, with friends, when the light was getting dim and we were skirting the edge of being in trouble.  Monsters and aliens and ghosts.  In late middle school a friend took a liking to Stephen King and more than once in the twilight by the creek that ran through the back of our neighborhood, we scared ourselves within an inch of our wits.  When Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring came out 2001 we went to see it as soon as we could.  It was the second most influential thing to happen to me that year, although at the age of twelve the full ramifications of the first were beyond my field of vision.  I loved that movie, and still do (although, I confess I have never made it through the book), but I was always bothered by the fact that the woods did not look like my woods.

This was the seed of an idea that would grow into The Three Realms:
Those woods don’t look like my woods.

Growing up in the Appalachian Temperate Rainforest, which I would not know was a rainforest until my early 30s, I kept trying to imagine what epic high fantasy battles would look like in whatever scenery I happened to come across.  Scrub brush and fields of pine trees in perfect rows (for farming of course, but there was something magical about near perfect lines in a forest), rocky shallow rivers and bald cliffs, hills covered in blankets of green and blue haze on distant ridges.  Of course, nearly every map in every fantasy book had the ocean on the wrong side.

In 2018, after many years of fussing about with stories and D&D Campaigns and various other projects, I decided that I was going to write a book and it was going to be a fantasy set in a world that was inspired by the world that I knew.  I did not do much research, and I rushed through it, but I did finish the novella and I even published it through Lulu.  The Friendly Necromancer’s Guide to Happy Living is not what I would consider to be a great book, mostly because I had no beta readers, or editors, and I didn’t even do a self-edit.  I published it because I wanted to say that I had published something, and I met that goal in March of 2019.

Then I noticed something.  Those woods still didn’t look like my woods.

I decided that I was going to try again, and this time I was going to do it right.  I went hard into researching the publishing industry and watching BookTube creators and listening to people talk about how to make a book, and all of the things that you needed to do to make it.  This road of research caused me a great deal of anxiety.  It didn’t seem like something that I could do.  Why tell a story?  Why write a book?  More importantly, why create a world, why fantasy?

I tried out NaNoWriMo in 2019, just a few months off of having the Novella published, I thought it would make a good springboard into making a draft of the fantasy novel I wanted to write.  I knew the page count I was aiming for based on the target demographic that I wanted to pitch to, I had an outline, and of course it was a disaster.  The book never really got anywhere, despite being perfectly laid out—to the point that I kept telling myself, “All you have to do is write!”

I set it aside again. The beginning of 2020 was rough for many reasons, but I was still sporadically doing research.  When the pandemic came in full swing, and I was stuck working from home, I decided it was an excellent opportunity to try again.  This time I would buy my own website (this website) and I would publish the story as a serial every other week and not have to worry about anyone other than myself.  This was more correct that I had been, but the plot and the story still fizzled.  Summer’s End was the name of the story, and I had some very specific goals, but in the end those woods weren’t my woods.  I put the serial on hold until I finish my master’s degree, and said I was going to clean it up and polish it and then come back.

Why build a world?

One of the things that you hear from very successful people in the writing community is that World Building is not a story.  This is true, and it is a great risk that a lot of us face in trying to get started—spinning our wheels working on details that ultimately don’t matter to the narrative, and then wondering why the book won’t get finished.  But, something occurred to me in reflecting on my latest attempt—building the world is what I wanted to do.

Building the world is what I wanted to do.

I want to see my woods on the page, the seed of a thought 19 years in the making.  I want to visit a fantasy world where the air in summer makes your skin damp, and cicadas scream from the trees, I want to have epic battles where warriors stumble over gnarled roots and struggle to keep their footing on loose stone in wide ankle-deep streams.  I want a fantasy world where the pine trees grow in straight rows because a lost race of giants planted them and then vanished.  So, that’s what I’m going to do.

The last piece of this puzzle, for me, was figuring out what to do with my main character and what the story should be about.  I scavenged some things from my previous attempts (an excellent policy is to never throw away anything good).  I want my villain to carry themes of sloth, negligence, and nostalgia, because I find that these things are dangerous and not given the attention that they deserve among villains (ambition and anger being vastly more popular).  I want the people of my world to be torn between being part of the world, and needing to control the world, for their own safety and prosperity.  Most importantly, I want the world to matter, because nature is fascinating and frequently authors events far grander than imagination can conceive of on its own.

So, in my world, there are Three Realms, Substance, Time, and Memory, and where they overlap the world is born.  Some of what you will see is magic, but some of the magic that you will see is real (if you’re willing to do a little research).  Our heroine is a magician herself, a Courtier of the Colloquium in the Fountain City of Melythis, her name is Felfet Lyns.  The magic that she studies is Corporeal Magic—the magic of the world.  Think of her as something between a young Merlin and Sir David Attenborough.   A naturalist, and see?  Now the world can be the story.

Why build a world?  Because I want to.

The Three Realms Serial will begin in Summer of 2021, assuming that I survive my Thesis Seminar Class.  In the meantime, please continue to join me for insights and updates on the world building and storytelling process for the Setting. If there’s a particular subject you’d like to hear my thoughts on, or you just want to share your own experiences with the writing process please leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @realm_wright

The very next post will answer possibly the most important question of all….BUT WHAT ABOUT DRAGONS?!

JW

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