Inventing Quicksand: How to Know You’re Overboard?

If a thing is worth doing, it is worth overdoing.

If you are a writer querying a fantasy manuscript I can almost guarantee you have seen the phrase ‘rich world building’ in at least a dozen agent profiles or manuscript wish lists.

So here’s where my CPTSD kicks in – “What the * do they mean by that?” Ok, likely this sentiment isn’t confined to my poor overworked little brain. In the interest of avoiding my current task I have plonked myself down to wrestle with this question for a few minutes.

Point of fact, I doubt anyone has a really good answer other than, I’ll know it when I see it. There might be attempts to give a ‘like so-and-so’s work’ type of answer. But, although saying like Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” or R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” Westeros, or (all hail the king) Tolkien’s “Middle Earth.” (Narnia, Oz, Earthsea, or the Grishaverse, the Elderlings realm, Pern, Xanth. )
You get the picture. There is no ‘like’ this place as described by this author.

I know that sounds counter intuitive, but hold on a second.

I once read a book many years ago that was set in Middle Earth, only, it wasn’t. There were Hobbits, (half-heights), Ents (walking woods), a generic helping of swords and magic, and a character that I could swear was Thom Bombadil in drag.

The whole thing read rather like a second-hand retelling of a minor character from Middle Earth having a very bad day, while larger events with much more import were happening off-screen.

So, when I hear “My world is like {this major author’s}” I kinda brace myself for disappointment.

Because, fantasy writing, isn’t that all about getting your imaginary playmates out of your head and onto the page? (The 100 Acres Woods and Never, Never Land) All that wonderful rich day dreaming finally being shared with others. That is what I think of when I see the phrase “rich world building”.

(Gor, Riverworld, The Dreaming, the Eloi and Morlocks, Lilliput. Plus, there is a whole host of new ‘wizarding world’ and magic schools out there, there must have been a bulk discount on educational building permits recently.)

All joking aside, I love my world building, and here we get to the meat of the matter. How much world building is enough? And how much is too much?
Too much? I hear you gasp, there’s likely a pearl clutch along with that response.

Yeah, too much. First of all, I guess the question is “Is too much even possible?”

For some folks I would guess the answer is no, bring it all on. And I can roll with that, except for one little thing.

All the bookkeeping. I am quite literally walking my way through sixteen pages, covered front and back, with teeny-tiny little notes pertaining to the world where my novel takes place.

This essay is my way of a break before I have to go back to the slog. Oi.

Sixteen pages. That’s good, but absurd, too, in a way. I’ve invented languages, four–so far. Although only three are truly distinct languages, the fourth is a patois. Anyway, you get the idea.

When do you know when you have gone overboard on world building? When you start classifying the various genera of flora? (check) When you have a medical system? (check) When you have swear words for three distinct cultures? (check) And the patois? (check) And a few for the Church, but the priests would never admit to it. (check)

Seriously, how much is too much? I’ve got relics, and geography, and folktales, and oodles more. I do believe I might have gone a wee bit past enough.

On that note I am going to pack up my questions and return to the task before me, which is to write a comprehensive compendium of all these world details.
*Sigh, the glossary will likely need to wait until next week.

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