World Building: the Start of Something
Where do ideas come from? How are worlds created? What is this elusive element that sparks a story? What is at the heart of world building?
What little I have learned suggests these are personal questions; the answers differing from one individual to the next. Though I have not a vast resume of credentials I have taken my first tentative steps along the path of world creation.
My first complete story of any length is set in the city of Darattin located half-way along the Undat River in the Valley. The story started with three desires that grew and shifted over time. It is almost comical to reflect back on earlier passages, many of which have been cut or heavily edited. At times I am left wondering if anything of the original idea remains.
Of course, the question then becomes, what was the original idea? Searching through the haze of memory I can recall three primary goals I held when I began this project: to create an exotic landscape, to include the rebirth of magic and incorporate my interest in rocks.
For a setting that was unfamiliar, I chose Egypt as my environment model. What could be so different from my own home of deciduous trees, rolling farm fields and four distinct seasons? A deep blue river snakes through my lush green valley. The green is largely planted fields, fed by irrigation canals. Rain is a rare concept, something that happens in the mountains to the south. Beyond the Valley walls are the scrublands and great sand deserts – harsh environs that few can survive. The people of the Valley are led by a single ruler, a god-king. Only recently have they been united beneath one figure and there remains tension between to the two great provinces of Kuras and Gazurn.
Magic is the more interesting of creatures when developing fantasy worlds. For me, several questions had to be answered: What is the nature of magic? What would cause magic to vanish from the lands? How can magic return and why now?
I wanted to ground my magic in rocks – geomancy. This was not to be the only style of magic in my world; geomancy was to be the form that dominated my story. What were the limitations? What were the explanations for magic? One of my favourite scenes was written between the main character and the spirit of a dead geomancer relating magic to dreaming. There were three levels: recognition, acceptance and manipulation. You must first recognize you are dreaming. Second, you must accept you are dreaming. Then you can manipulate your dream. Magic worked along similar lines: of recognizing magic in the world around you, acceptance/understanding of the magic and finally manipulation. This in turn led to the manifestation of magic: divination, small works (speeding up natural processes) and large works (creation). Most magic revolves around divination.
Since magic for me was to be inherent in the environment I did not have it disappearing from the world. Rather it was the peoples understanding and skill that was lost over time. This related to the conflict between northern Kuras and southern Gazurn. So rediscovery of magic was the discovery of ancient texts, those few pieces that had survived destruction when the northerners had conquered the south.
While the foundations of environment and magic had been present in the first written scenes, there is little doubt that much has changed over the subsequent revisions. Not only has the world become clearer and more defined, my own understanding of these two concepts has continued to develop. The greatest changes have occurred to characters and plot. It took a long time to tease out the story I was going to tell in this world. What started out as a fetch quest has evolved into something completely different. Yet, in its most simple and basic form the original ideas are present: an exotic location, the rediscovery of magic and most importantly, rocks.