Friday, May 13, 2011

Worldbuilding: Avoiding the Generic

I was going to talk about maps and food today.  Then I decided I needed to rework the map in question.  Looking at it again, I was unhappy with it-- mostly in how it looked.  I knew I could do it cleaner and better.  So I started work on that this week, but it was too much to get done before today's post.

I've heard some writers dislike using maps because they don't want to "lock anything in" before it's time to write that.  Whatever is over the next hill is in a quantum state, undefined until someone goes to have a look.  I respect that, but it doesn't work for me.  I need to know what's over the next hill, so I know why my characters might want to go there in the first place.  More to the point, when I'm writing, I crave the solid ground of the map, to have those details at the ready for when I need them.  If those details exist, then everything comes off more real.

There is a strange tendency in fantasy worldbuilding, both on the professional and fledgling level, to be almost painfully non-specific.  Especially within cities.  Vague shops on unnamed streets.  Neighborhoods with little definition beyond rich or poor, east or west.  No personality.  No character.  No sense that the city is anything of greater depth than Generic City.  Could be anywhere.  Sometimes a little bit of name is given, but it's even worse: neighborhood names that are purely descriptive.  The wealthy part of town is the Golden Quarter.  The slums are Beggar's Row.  

Worldbuilding like that makes me feel like the writer didn't care about the world.  And if they don't, how can they expect the reader to?