Worldbuilding Tips from Patrick Rothfuss

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Worldbuilding Tips from Patrick Rothfuss

Post by dios4vida » March 12th, 2013, 11:55 am

Every year the University of Arizona holds a Festival of Books which is a haven of bookworms and author signings and workshops and every manner of literary utopia a writer/reader could dream of. It's one of my most favorite things on earth.

My wonderful husband absolutely thrilled me to pieces when he took me into town this weekend and sat with me through a fantasy/sci-fi worldbuilding panel (which as you may know is a HUGE weakness of mine) with none other than PATRICK ROTHFUSS! (Those who have never read The Name of the Wind, go get a copy. Now. Read it. You can thank me later.) Also on the panel were David Brin, Sam Sykes, and Sharon Skinner.

At the request of my IRL friend beethovenfan, I've distilled some of my notes into something that's (hopefully) coherent. I hope it's as helpful to you as it has been to me.

-Worldbuilding is all about how the culture affects the character. That's where it's really interesting, is to see how that society helps or, better yet, hinders a character's development or actions. If the character doesn't fit perfectly into the societal mold, then great! No one fits in. If they're perfectly ingratiated with society, you're robbing a lot of potential conflict.

-Good worldbuilding often starts with character. If you know a character has a certain quirk, or way of thinking, ask yourself what made that come to being. Why do they believe that way? It will tell you a lot about the world they grew up in, which helps you to build that world and showcase it around the characters.

-Fantasy, by its very nature, is excessive. Which means, in worldbuilding, you can do as much as you want--as long as it informs the reader to what's important to the world and characters. Sometimes digression and flourish is beautiful. If it works and makes sense, then go for it. There's no recipe for the right balance of worldbuilding v. character v. plot, etc. All that matters is what fits your story and your writing style.

-If you start with good characters and a good story hook, then the reader is interested and the tidbits of worldbuilding you reveal will fascinate and excite and it'll be a much better payoff than front-loading the story with "everything the reader must know of the world".

-Worldbuilding as plot--a good world will help generate plot and complications.

Tips for how to know what details to put in to enrich the story:

-Think of what's important to your character. Stick with the details your character would think about. BUT--the character can also hint at something they take for granted (a bit of the worldbuilding you've done) and fascinate the reader and make them want more.

-Ask yourself "If the reader was sitting on my character's shoulder, what would they really need to know?"

And now, my favorite tip from the entire panel:

Build your world around what you love! Don't try to rebuild Tolkien's world if you aren't a linguist. His languages enrich his world because that's what he loved. So take what you love, use your geekiness and your passions to color your world. Do what brings you joy!

I hope all of that made sense. Feel free to ask if I didn't get a point across.

Anyone have anything to add?
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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Re: Worldbuilding Tips from Patrick Rothfuss

Post by polymath » March 12th, 2013, 6:03 pm

A great summary of the finer aesthetics of setting's milieu: the cultural texture of a setting. In other words, setting's central features are time, place, and situation. Is the time now? Yesteryear? Futuristic? These are the When questions a telling detail or two, perhaps three answer through implied meaning. Describe a rotting picket fence around a rundown cottage. Bam. Implying the era is yesteryear and time has moved through the setting. As far as milieu, not much is given but another time marker with cultural signficance would answer the How and maybe Why questions.

Place is, of course, Where. Location can be absolute or relative. The above referenced cottage if described as a Bermuda style Federal period sets it firmly into a seaside location, relative. Absolute might describe it as on Nantucket Sound. How and Why and What the cottage has rundown might describe an event, like foreclosure during the financial crises of the Ought 2000s.

Who develops through viewpoint character attitude toward the setting. Bad mood, angry, sentimental, etc., and expands the milieu by describing the setting's cultural context and texture with attitude. Say the viewpoint character perceives the cottage sentimentally, recollecting pleasant pastimes spent there on vacations, and sad that the place is no longer open, condemned, in fact.

Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How, ask and artfully answer these questions, and settings and milieus become antagonistic, causal, and tense (tension) in the senses of empathy and curiosity.

Do not give settings and milieus short-shrift. They ground readers in a narrative's moment, location, and circumstances: time, place, and situation and cultural context and texture. Context is the Who, When, and Where. Texture is the What, Why, and How, though the six standard Double-U questions overlap and interact. And gradual development of settings and milieus in the moment of sensory stimuli can take an entire narrative to be fully realized. Give only what matters in the moment to the viewpoint character, who responds to them in the moment, but pre-position context and texture to build upon as the action unfolds.
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Re: Worldbuilding Tips from Patrick Rothfuss

Post by Mark.W.Carson » March 13th, 2013, 10:22 am

I was wandering in a deserted wasteland until I read The Name Of The Wind. I bought it because it is the same "type" of book I am trying to write, in as much as not the voice, nor the style, but the approach is what I was after. He's a good writer and can teach a great deal.

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Re: Worldbuilding Tips from Patrick Rothfuss

Post by Beethovenfan » March 15th, 2013, 9:41 pm

Thanks Brenda! Sounds like you got a lot of great stuff. Totally jealous! I that kind of infusion to get me going again. *sigh* Oh well, I'll come around.
"Don't only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine."
~ Ludwig van Beethoven

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