marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

a range of worlds

World-building can be an interesting thing.

At one end, there's a world where the author can tell you the relative imports of tin and exports of wine, and (we hope) manages to either leave it out, make it interesting, or put in the mouth of a character to establish what a trade-obsessed bore he is.   History, politics, economics, have all been worked out in convincing detail.

At the other, there's a world where most major characters are playing cards, or Anthropomorphic Personifications of such concepts as Sloth, Mathematics, Sight, Words, etc.  Or magic or monsters can pop up at any point. Which cheerfully takes most world-building principles and throws them out the window.  Who could develop the economics of a world where there are number mines, where they dig out 5s and 3s and 2s and all the rest of the numbers -- and a lot of diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and other worthless stones they just have to throw away?  Who would want to?

Most worlds lie somewhere in between because both of them had their advantages.  Worlds with a lot of worldbuilding are more consistent.  They make it easier to plot because the things are delimited, and you can prevent characters from doing things without making it look like an arbitrary excuse, and because .  Some themes, many in economics, or politics, or social structure, only really work in a reasonably plausible world; Oz worked as a place of wonders and even as a home for eccentricity and uniqueness, but when we start getting into Ozian economics -- where everyone works, the ruler collects it all for her warehouses, and then it gets distributed -- things get implausible (especially since there had been money in the early Oz books, and it just vanished, retroactively).

Worlds with little world-building can have more wild and wonderful things popping up to enliven life.  They can be a lot more fun.  In some respects a touch of this is needed to keep the world plausible, because real life is full of odd things, which are hard to pepper your world-building with.  But there's always the danger of an episodic plot, of one bright sparkly thing after another, and some themes just don't work.  It's hard to imagine, say, the politics of a world where people can draw pictures and then vanish into them as real worlds.

Harmonizing can be fun.  In The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien was going for wild.  Remember why Thorin and company had to take refuge in the cave?  Giants were playing catch with boulders outside.  First, and last, time we saw giants in Middle-Earth.  He had a real issue harmonizing Gandalf's stated motive in The Hobbit with the sagacious wizard of The Lord of the Rings.  He managed to pull it off, I think, but The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are an uneasy fix because they really are in different subgenres at least.

What sort of trade-offs between wild and solidly built do you see, and which ones are wise and which -- ill-advised?

part of
Tags: bittercon, characterization, exposition, local color, plotting, politics, sensawunda, setting (whole story), theme, whimsy, world-building: economics, world-building: general, world-building: metaphysics, world-building: social structure

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