Sticky Questions

We've talked about a series of topics, all within the concept of building a fictional world. What questions do you start with, what questions follow up with, who do you involve in the process. I've been pretty vague so far because worldbuilding, like painting, is an artform that you can't really do "wrong," but there are ways to do it well.

Since I started writing the second draft of my novel, I've started to ask myself very specific questions:

Who lives here? What kind of government do they have? Do they have religions, and if so, where did they come from? How do they supply themselves with food? Do they build cities and if so, out of what?

At some point, I realized that there are a lot of things I can't just pull out of a hat. As mentioned before in Stage 2, there are some things that can and should be informed by reality, such as sociology (the study of groups of people and how they act together), politics, logistics and geography.

So the other day, I was mocking up yet another map of my world (or at least the continent this particular book is concerned with) and I realized a couple things.

* First, that the capital city needed to be on a trade route, and its location at the base of the mountains didn't make nearly as much sense as one on the coast, with access to the ships that might bring goods from the northern continent.

* Second, that although I was establishing a population of large flying predators on an island, I hadn't established a way for them to feed themselves. Without a renewable food source, they would overfish the ocean around their island, then either be forced to leave or starve to death.

So, to make a long story extremely short... there was a lot of math that day. Lots and lots of math, and comparisons of current charts and weather maps and research into climate zones.

The end result is WAY more detail than my audience ever need know, but also an intimate knowledge of what kind of weather conditions prevail in different parts of the continent, general population levels, primary diet of local peoples, and a rough idea of how long it would take a trade ship on the open ocean to reach the dragons' island from the main eastern port, which is not technically controlled by the human king.

So here comes the sticky question: How much of this is actually necessary?

The answer is probably: very little. That said, I don't think the extra detail will go to waste when the story is in full swing. After all, it's not like the real world suffers from an excess of detail. It's just keeping it all straight that makes the difference.

As I've long believed: Balance is the key, but Consistency is the lock that keeps it all in place.

What about you, Inklings? How detailed are your fictional worlds, or if you don't make them yourself, how much detail do you like to see in the books you read?

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