Writing a Story Part 8: Worlding Building

I have lots of opinions on world building in general, but tonight I’m going to keep this relatively brief. The workdays have been long, and I don’t have a lot of brain juice for fun writing stuff tonight.

World building is fun. I’ve attended many writing conferences and most of the panels are world building in disguise. World building is more than geography or map making, though that can be part of it. World building is about the magic systems, the clothing, food, religion, and other cultural aspects of the world. World building is all about the little things that remind of us of our own lives, and the major things that prove to us that we’re visiting some place else.

The story we’re writing is set in present day California, so we get a lot of details for free. We’re writing a fantasy, though, so we’re not off the hook.

From the decisions we’ve already made, we know that there is magic in the world. We have people that can manipulate the elements. Is there any other sort of magic in this world? How widespread is the knowledge of this magic?

Looking at the show Supernatural, which is one of our inspirations, we can answer the second question first. Magic is secret in the world. That makes it much closer to our own world, where the only magic we find is the stuff in our stories. There are folks that believe in magic, certainly, and maybe they’re right to believe. Most of us are skeptical, because there is no proof of magic existing. So shall it be with the world we’re about to write.

Is there any other magic use, other than the elementalists? In this instance, I say less is more. I think it’s more interesting if there are only elementalists, and that Aristotle was one of them.

According to Aristotle, there are only 4 elements, and all things are made up of them. Fire, Air, Water, and Earth. While we will respect Aristotle and his thoughts on the subject, we’re going to say that this fictional world resembles our world, in that there are atoms and a periodic table, and science continues to function and behave as we would expect.

How about the magic system? What do we want to do about that?

We want to setup everything, and we want there to be limitations. Limitations make things more interesting, and they force both the writers and the characters to be creative and clever. So how does elemental magic work in Angela’s world?

People with the elemental talent are usually only gifted with one element, though it’s not unheard of for special people to have affinity with two. Our girl Angela doesn’t know it yet, but she’s gifted with all four elements. The first she’ll work with is fire.

Elementalists cannot create their element, but they can manipulate it and control it. Without the presence an of existing flame, a fire dancer can’t do anything.

Fire dancer. I just realized that I’ve got a bit of world building in my head which I haven’t shared yet.

In Avatar: The Last Airbender, all of the elementalists are benders. I want to shake it up a little bit. Each elementalist gets their own description. Fire Dancers. Wind Riders. Water Shapers. Earth Movers. It’s a little bit of flavor that I think will go a long way.

The affects of the elements are not suppressed when elementalists use their powers. Fire still consumes fuel and creates heat and smoke. When earth is moved, sink holes happen, and it’s noisy. Wind carries with it whatever is in the air. Water gets things wet, and can cling to surfaces and saturate into porous material.

What’s it like being an elementalist and using their power? What is the cost?

When an elementalist is using their gift, they have to concentrate. While they are concentrating, they can feel their element nearby, and they can control it the same way they control their limbs. The fire becomes an extension of the Fire Dancer.

I’m not sure there needs to be any sort of “cost” beyond that. I imagine focusing on the elements is a lot like how I have to focus on work. When I get distracted, or if I show up sick or tired, I don’t perform as well. So it is for the elementalists.

We don’t need mana bars for our story to be interesting. We just have to do the right kind of setup at the right time, and our readers will pick up what we’re putting down.

That’s enough for now. We still need to talk about our villain and our secondary character. We’ll be drafting very soon.