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R. L. Copple's Blog

What’s the Name of Your World?

World building is one of the funner things a fantasy or science fiction writer (to a lesser degree) gets to do. At least from my perspective, it offers me the freedom to design the very laws of nature to create a unique experience. So I thought I would let you in on how I developed the world of The Reality Chronicles.

There are two basic types of world builders. There are those who plan out the whole world, how it operates, functions, land masses, seas, forest, mountain ranges, language of people, etc., before they ever lay a word to page. Then there are others who start out with a very minimal idea of the world, and it grows and develops as they write. In truth, very few writers are totally one way or the other. Most of us will find ourselves somewhere between those two poles. But most writers will lean to one side of the fence. Even that can change from one novel to another, depending on how dependent the plot is on how the world is designed. I would designate the two types as pre-planners and organic-planners.

I fall more into the organic world builder. I find out more about the world as the story progresses. That is true of novels like Mind Game, which is more a traditional novel plot, but even more true of the Reality Chronicles, which started out as a short story, three more short stories, another short story added to it. Then a novel sequel to those. Then a third novel. Then went back to the first book and added ten more short stories. Because of the way it grew from that one short story, the world naturally grew with it as I added more and more.

The task in doing it this way, is to keep it consistent. Adding onto it as you go, it is easy to forget some detail that what you are adding that would contradict what you’ve done before. That requires keeping a good database of what you’ve added or defined, so any proposed additions or changes can be checked against what’s gone before. But even someone who plans it all out before hand will find themselves making mid-story adjustments as characters and plots develop.

But when it comes to the Reality Chronicles series, two of the common questions I get is first, does the world have a name? And two, is it modern or medieval?

To the first question, that is no, the world as a whole doesn’t have a name. This is counter to a lot of fantasy where the whole area or world will usually be called something. For sure, people like to have names for things. But when I wrote the first short story for this world, I didn’t bother deciding whether it was in our world’s history or an alternate world. I didn’t name the town it was in. It was just about the story of a kid in a small, primitive town with a strange steam house. The story was meant to be an allegory of the Last Judgment. Figuring out the name of the town or where it was or the world it was in beyond the little bit you get in the first story wasn’t critical to the story.

But then I added on four more short stories to that one. Sisko traveled to new places and towns, which I did give names to. Those first five stories gave a bare sketch of the world and how it operated. But by the time I had finished those, I had a good idea of how magic worked in that world, that it was an alternate reality from our own Earth, and the rules of how the ring worked, mostly, and what it even represented. But there was still a lot left undefined as those five stories become my first published novella, Infinite Realities.

Including I never gave Sisko’s home town a name. That didn’t come until I wrote the full novel sequel, Transforming Realities, currently listed as Reality’s Ascent. When Sisko decides they should return to his hometown, I figured it was time to give the place a name. That’s when I gave it the name Reol. When I added the other ten short stories to Infinite Realities and Splashdown Books published it as Reality’s Dawn, I went back and added mentions of the hometown into the previous stories I’d written where appropriate, as well as using it in the newer stories. But if you read the original novella, you’ll never see the name of Sisko’s hometown.

The development of the political aspects of the world resulted in a city-state type governments. So a king in the Reality’s world is king over a city and its surrounding territory. There is no king over all the land. And whether a city had a king or not depended upon the city, and how they set up their governments. You’ll find some very much like a traditional kingship, and others more “democratically” organized. Sometimes this is mentioned, other times just assumed if it doesn’t play into the story.

Because of that, the people tend to focus upon their own world, their own towns, and don’t think in “big picture” ways. Because there is no overarching governmental structure, or developed sense of geography, no one saw a reason to give their whole world a name. At least, not one that was commonly used by most everyone. Theoretically, individual places might have a name for the whole world.

In the third book, Reality’s Fire, the world grew again. Our characters headed west, across the forest, into a less “Christian” section of the world. New cities and mountain ranges and deserts are added, and a sea, an island called Pluto, and new races including a group who live in the caves of the north called Burrowers. When Transforming Realities was first published, I came out with my first map that I had visualized as I wrote the stories of the adventures. The third book added to it.

By the time I added the extra ten stories to Infinite Realities to create what had eventually became Reality’s Dawn, I had already written two rough drafts of a new series in that world, which I’ve tentatively called, “The Dragons’ Dying Fields.” These stories have greatly expanded not only the geography of the world, but its history and even how that world is connected with our own, as well as other alternate realities. Knowing that as I wrote the ten new stories gave me the ability to not only help introduce characters that appeared later on, like Joel, and fill out the stories of the characters better that were only alluded to before, but I was able to foreshadow what was to come in the next two books and the future new series.

One thing that never changed, however, is the world as a whole never received a name. In the first book of the new series, I play on that as well a bit, because the characters have no concept of a country or names of anything beyond a forest or mountain range.

When it comes to the feel of the world alluded to in the second asked question, I wanted to give it enough of a historical basis that it was grounded in some type of familiar reality, but change things up a bit. Being an alternate world gave me the freedom to do that. I focused on it having a medieval feel to the world, but there are more modern things about it. Primarily, I used common English we are used to hearing, without worrying about whether it sounded too modern or not. I did limit it some in that regard, but I wanted the language to connect with the readers instead of attempting to stick to an Earth-like language during the medieval times. Being an alternate world gave me the freedom to do this, though I know some will balk at it.

However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t do any research to keep it “real” in other respects. When I had a reference to toilets, I asked, “Did they have toilets back then, and if so, how did they operate?” So I researched it, and discovered yes they did, but usually only the rich had them. Common folk had a “spot” in a secluded area and used leaves for wiping. But often toilets were nothing more than a bench with a hole cut in it, and flies buzzing all around as you did your business. Not very sanitary. Castles were often better off, where toilets were on upper floors, and the disposed of mess dropped all the way to the ground so it stayed as far away from the seat as possible.

In another story, I wanted to use a dentist. Did they have dentist back then? Yes, though they were mostly crude and involved pulling teeth out more than anything. I took some liberties that in this world in that they’d developed the ability to use tools to “tap” the cavity corruption out of the tooth (to Sisko, it felt like pounding), and packed it with a substance that would keep it from getting worse, a primitive filling material. So you see a more modern type of dentistry than what actually existed in our medieval history, though Sisko no doubt would label it as torture, not healing.

Though I hadn’t decided in the first story whether it was an alternate world or not, early on I decided it wasn’t our Earth, and even though it had a parallel history, there would be some significant divergences in progress and abilities and historical facts. Enough real history to keep the reader grounded in a world, but enough differences to say, “We’re not on Earth anymore, Todo.”

What I liked about that approach is the ability to just focus on the story, without worrying about getting a bunch of historical facts “just right.” Yet enough I could make some allusions and analogies to our world.

So that tells a lot of the story how the Reality Chronicles world developed and grew. You’ll be reading more and getting into a lot more history and worlds within Sisko’s world in the near future, when the first book of the new series comes out.

How did your world(s) develop?

About R. L. Copple
R. L. Copple enjoys a good cup of coffee and a fun story. These two realities and inspiration from the likes of Lester Del Ray, J. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, among others, caused him to write his own science fiction and fantasy stories to increase the fun in the world and to share his fresh perspective.
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7 Responses to What’s the Name of Your World?

  1. Kessie says:

    As a reader, the world of the Reality series left me disappointed. It needed much more depth than it ever got. Was it our world? Was it its own world? Was it some parallel world? Those questions were never answered. The technology was inconsistent and the government made no sense. It never gave me the feeling that this was a real place that could exist somewhere. I think the world could benefit from some real world building in future books. It’s time to give your world a name.

    My books are mostly set in real-world Phoenix, Arizona, plus lots of other worlds thrown in. I’ve visited Phoenix several times, but I’ve had to do lots of research on it to make the setting its own character. It’s something I’m still working on.

    The best books are the ones that take you somewhere with the author as the travel agent.

    • Rick says:

      Thanks, Kessie, for the reply. I think you have some points. I tend to be minimalistic on description, and that’s probably where that comes through for those who like to have more world building. Doesn’t mean there wasn’t any world building, but it is left as background info. And the organic way it grew also contributes to that. It probably also is in part because I don’t want a book that goes into a lot of back story and explanation about things like how a government is set up or such, unless it is important and natural to the story. That comes up as it naturally would, or it doesn’t.

      Different strokes for different folks. But a lot of world building should stay in the background until the story needs it to come out in the natural course of things. Too many people end up stuffing their story with irrelevant details about their world just because they have it and want to make use of their work. I guess I tend to lean too much at times of not divulging that until there is a reason for the reader to know it. A little sprinkled here and there can be supportive of the story as a whole.

      That said, I’m too far along with a whole series to give the world a name now. I have a reason they don’t have a name for it, and it wouldn’t fit the world. It would be too contradictory to suddenly come up with a name for the whole world in the second series of the world. And, I don’t see they really have a need to call it anything.

      However, and I just realized this, in the first book of the new series, as I mentioned, there is a lot more history of the world that is divulged, referring back to a time when a certain group ruled the whole area. It would be possible to add in a name for the world from ancient times that was lost with the breakdown of society into the city-state governments they have now.

      But I would have to give that some thought, whether it could even fit into what I’ve created up to this point, and whether I really want to do that or not.

      • Kessie says:

        Worldbuilding is for you, not for the reader. Most of what you come up with stays in the background. But it enriches your world in a very deep way. All you have to do is ask questions.

        For instance, is this our world or a fantasy world? If it’s a fantasy world, how do they have the Bible and knowledge of Jesus? Because that means that they have the same history as far as Israel is concerned, as well as the Reformation where Martin Luther assembled the Bible as we know it today. Is this world perhaps a far-distant future, after an apocalypse has shattered the known world and thrown it back to medieval times? You could toy with lost technology (like guns) if that’s the case.

        The world seems composed of a bunch of disconnected towns. Do the towns communicate? Does one community ever go to war against another?

        There are wizards and magic. But how is magic treated? Is it feared? Is it prized? Do wizards do things like make crops grow or call water out of the ground (you know, useful things)? Do bad wizards curse towns, livestock, crops? Do wizards collaborate, or do they keep to themselves (or possibly war among themselves)? What’s the fallout from a magic battle?

        God seems like a genie in a bottle, the ultimate wish-fulfillment. And He seems pretty free with his miracles, to the point of letting Sisko come back and get his wife pregnant just before she dies to go be with him (which seemed pretty hard on Josh). Why is there only, like, one other miracle worker (Joel)? You’d think the wizard community would form alliances with the miracle community just to swap favors. Or they’d try to wipe each other out (since God seems to kind of change His mind about how much death is allowed).

        Is Sisko going to keep coming back, a la Obi-Wan Kenobi?

        Your answers to those sorts of questions will immensely enrich your world.

        • Rick says:

          Yes, my point. World building is for the author to tell the story more than for the reader. Some of those questions were answered in my mind as the stories progressed. Others didn’t have a need to be…yet. Difference between someone who plans it all out before writing and someone who builds more as they go.

          But the point being, because it isn’t immediately evident to the reader whether those questions have an answer or not, doesn’t mean they don’t.

  2. ladysaotome says:

    A well-developed world where everything works can add so much depth to a story. But I don’t think every story requires the same amount of development. It depends on the story, the situation, and so on. Which is probably why most world building seems to fall into organic lines, I’d guess. Personally, I think if someone wanted to get very serious & in-depth about their world building, a class or some research into anthropology would go a long way. Culture fascinates me so, personally, it’s important to me that if the world is unique, there needs to be culture differences, too.

    Hmm, books I have read that had interesting worlds are the Graceling/Fire books by Kristin Cashore, the Dragonkeeper Chronicles by Donita K Paul, & the Moorehawk trilogy by Celine Kiernan (which was so well done that I am still confused by how much was based on historical reality and how much was her imagination).

    • Rick says:

      Thanks for the input, Lady. Yes, culture can play a large part of the world one builds. The trick is to not make it so different that the reader feels disconnected, but different enough that it has its own flavor apart from our own. There’s plenty of room in between those two extremes to create something unique.

  3. Rick says:

    I wanted to clarify something. I debated making a separate post, but figured it fit here better as a follow up.

    Kessie, you said, “God seems like a genie in a bottle, the ultimate wish-fulfillment.”

    I understand where you are coming from, but I’d like to point out a couple of things.

    One, in reality, we do tend to see God as randomly and capriciously granting some request, but not others. Sometimes He comes across as the “ultimate wish-fulfillment” person. So much so, we have whole theologies built around the idea that if you simply have enough faith, God will do whatever you ask. I’m not saying I agree with that, but rather it is more the fact that we aren’t privy to God’s reasons why He does things as He does.

    Why did Jesus heal the paralytic at the Sheep’s Pool, and not all the other people with problems who were also waiting there? We can guess, but the fact of the matter is, He chose to heal that one person, but not everyone else.

    Why did Jesus raise the widow of Nain’s son from the dead and not all He encountered? We don’t know. Again, we can speculate, but theologically, there isn’t a good reason why He randomly chose some, but not others to heal or raise from the dead.

    And what Elisha did with his “prophet power,” to call on bears to kill some young people who were calling him names, doesn’t sound like something God would do, and certainly comes across as God being a wish-fulfillment person.

    So, one, I think that to a certain extent represents our reality, as most of the time the story is in first person. So I don’t have the omniscient perspective to delve into why or why not God is allowing certain things.

    Two, there are rules that their power operates by. God gives them the power, and they either use it well, or abuse it (which some might say Elisha did with his). And the abuse comes at a cost to the user, which is made clear, and is allegorical of any talent or ability we are given by God (see parable of the talents). Misuse of what God gives us can corrupt us.

    So, for example, the case you cite where Gabrielle brings Sisko back from Paradise to be with her for a couple of days…God gave her the power of the steam house, which is to reveal reality. As she was thinking about the fact that Josh and Sisko had that link, it dawned on her that one of the reasons Josh was having such an attraction to her in his mentally damaged condition was because of that link, and that he was exhibiting signs of Sisko’s feelings love for her through Josh. So, to find out if it were true, she spoke the statement that he was really Sisko, and Sisko appeared. If it weren’t true, nothing would have happened.

    What happened in that instance is purely because she received the power of the steam house to reveal reality, and the reality was that Sisko was “present” in Josh at that moment. Within the rules of that world and how that power operated in Gabrielle, it makes perfect sense. God would have had to intervene in that instance to stop what was happening from happening. But the presumed reason He didn’t (actually, the reason, but the characters themselves can only guess, but the all-knowing author does’t have to) is because in book two, they didn’t have opportunity to say their goodbyes properly.

    Most all the incidents that happen in the books related to the ring or other miracles and wizards, operate by a set of rules. They are given a power, and how they use that power is the issue, more than God granting wishes. One of the main themes through these stories is the fact that we are given resources to use, and we either use them in alignment with God’s will or we don’t. And when we don’t, it has consequences on our spiritual life and eternal destination.

    And it is that last part that is the true tension through the stories. We know Sisko can heal the person he is praying for (usually), but what we don’t know is how he will fare in relation to defeating pride and keeping his relationship with God in good standing.

    Hope that makes better sense of it. I know, some might like that more spelled out than I did. I do put in enough hints without going into info dump mode that would be out of place in the story. But that goes back to the point of this article. Some like long passages of description and backstory and don’t mind info dumps to get all the cultural detail of a world. Others find it boring. In most YA books, you work that into the story line with hints and such, and anywhere it would naturally fit, without slowing the story down to explain things.

    How well I did that is, of course, another story. :)

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