Author Christopher Paolini has been with us as a featured guest all week long, but today’s content is perhaps the most fascinating yet: the author sat down to write an exclusive blog post for Lytherus! Christopher was given any length and any topic — as all of our featured authors are — and returned with a fantastic article on his approach to world building. The article explores how he tackled building the world for Inheritance, how he’s tackling future worlds, and even includes a little hint as to what projects he may currently be working on!
On World Building
Now that I’ve finished the Inheritance cycle, and now that I’m moving on to new stories, I’ve been thinking about the craft of world building in a way that I haven’t since before I started Eragon. Of course, I spent a lot of time fleshing out the history, peoples, and cultures of Alagaësia while I was writing the series, but in a way, all those details were superficial, since they were based upon the fundamental assumptions I had made when starting out. I reexamined those assumptions when it seemed appropriate, but for plot reasons, the majority of them remained unchanged.
When beginning a new story or creating a new world, however, it’s essential to think about the underlying philosophy of your work, because that will influence the shape of everything that follows. For example, when I started the Inheritance cycle, I accepted as a given that heroes could defeat villains, determination could overcome the vagaries of chance, the world is essentially knowable and understandable, and that there are wonderful things to be seen wherever we look. In comparison, George R. R. Martin took a very different approach when constructing A Song of Ice and Fire, and it shows in every line of his books.
So. How to decide what your philosophy ought to be? Ultimately, I think that depends on how you see the world, and what you want to say about it. Then, the trick is to apply that throughout your story.
And yet . . . one of the hardest parts of world building is allowing for differences, for contradictions. As important as it is to be consistent, I believe it’s equally important to have a certain amount of variation. If every element of your story/world presents only one point of view, it can end up feeling monotonous. Or worse, preachy. The real world is full of exceptions, so why shouldn’t yours be as well?
Still, getting your brain to see things from other angles can be hard. Sometimes I think of it like a puzzle that you can only solve if you step back and try something that you normally wouldn’t. When starting out, consider every relevant possibility, even if you end up discarding most of them. The times when I find a twist or variation, it feels like something inside of my mind has physically shifted. Hard work, but always worth it.
Once you’ve decided upon your philosophy, that’s when you start in on the more traditional elements of world building: histories, names, technology, family trees, major events, and so on. I enjoy this stage, but I try not to get too caught up in it, because I could spend the rest of my life inventing arcane details that would be of little or no importance to my story. I only work out the bare minimum I need, knowing that I’ll always invent more along the way. Of course the bare minimum can be a rather large amount.
And then … and then comes the scariest part. Then I have to condense and encapsulate everything I’ve come up with into a story that people will hopefully enjoy reading. It’s an exhilarating experience, but also terrifying—a rush of head-clearing adrenaline that focuses my mind like few things do.
As you might have guessed, I’m busy constructing a setting for a story even now, the largest such setting I’ve ever attempted. It’s rather daunting, but I think it’s going to make for some awesome books. We’ll see.
Sé onr sverdar sitja hvass,
- Christopher Paolini
About the author
Mike Macauley is the founder of Lytherus.com. When not breaking news and overseeing the website, Mike can be found working on his decade-old official Inheritance Cycle community or actively discussing his passions on Twitter. Mike is the author of 'The Inheritance Almanac', published by Random House in 2010.