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Worldbuilding For Fantasy Fans And Authors

Well, it’s been a long three+ years to get to here. Or it will have been in two days when this book finally comes out. As I discuss in the opening chapter, it was back in 2017 when I was in SPFBO and thought I should really hone into this whole worldbuilding thing people complimented me on. It would be easy, thought past-Matt, and I would be an expert on the subject in a matter of weeks.

SMASH CUT: Three years and many tears later as the author still sits alone in his room thinking about imaginary worlds. But, you know, imaginary worlds with an internal logic and believable sense of vermiculite. Three years later, it still fascinates me how we want our made-up worlds to mesh with the world in which we know. We call this genre fantasy, but it’s not just flights of fancy. There is an intellectual rigor and focused sense of intent that goes into making the worlds we love so much in the genre.

No, I’m not drunk. I just decided to sit down and write for the first time without any plan other than the subject of this post, which is my personal feelings as this release looms. And honestly, this is probably the first bit of creative writing I’ve done in over a year. Yep, I just checked and it was early July when I finished up book four in Sol’s Harvest, which means I’ve only been working on nonfiction when I could write since then. If you don’t remember (or read this blog at all), I had a hard year with some health issues, but they seem to be gone now (knock on wood). I have been symptom-free for over a month now, and my doctor tells me it’s time for my body to heal. Hurray.

But this post is supposed to be about the book. I spoke of intellectual rigor and focused sense of intent that goes with worldbuilding, but the same is true in writing nonfiction. This was a first for me (although I have written quite a few nonfiction posts about screenwriting techniques, now that I think about it), and I must say, it is quite difficult to NOT be able to adjust the details of the story to effect what you want. With fiction, when you have a notion that makes sense in terms of the story, you’re free to rejigger any of the details you need to make the flow seamless. Not so with nonfiction, where you can’t just ignore facts when they don’t agree with your theory (this isn’t politics, after all). You have to follow the facts and find the patterns between then rather than filing off the edges and cramming them together to fit your theory.

That’s pretty much a whole paragraph dedicated the fact that I will not write another nonfiction series again (although I still have one more book of worldbuilding prompts I want to put out before the end of this year). I’m glad I did it, much in the same way some women are glad they went through childbirth once and then decide that was quite enough.

But wow, did I learn some things. Like how worldbuilding has been a core component of the modern fantasy genre pretty much since Tolkien inadvertently fashioned it in his own image. I may lose my fantasy fan card, but I’ve never actually be a fan of his writing (the movie adaptations were amazing though). His books were always slow, overburdened with information, and not streamlined to tell a single throughline in the least. They are objectively messy. But damn did that man know his worldbuilding. And although that understanding had to be intuitive like any great artist, he also applied that intellectual rigor to it and analyzed his art. He was the one who coined the terms Primary and Secondary Worlds that we worldbuilders still use to this day. He also was the first to realize how we use our understanding of the primary world (reality) to assess our enjoyment of the secondary worlds. This is a MASSIVELY important observation, which I think is a core component of worldbuilding, which in turn is a key component of the fantasy genre.

How the hell did I end up talking about Tolkien again? Oh yeah, because you can’t talk about fantasy worldbuilding without talking about Tolkien (if I ever have a podcast, it will be called “Talkin’ Tolkien” even if it has nothing to do with him).

Anyways, this nonfiction series was supposed to be my attempt to really get my writing right. I have unfortunately flailed about at this novel writing endeavor for the last few years, figuring out what I should do only by trial-and-erroring my way through every mistake I shouldn’t have made. But I’ve learned loads over the last few years, many lessons I intended to apply to this series. Stuff like a rapid release, leveraging newsletters, Facebook ads, ARCS, and the like. Life had a way of ensuring this didn’t come off at all like I planned (hello getting asked to write a movie three years after giving up on my dream of ever writing a movie), and I think I’ve only done maybe fifty percent of what I set out to do to promote this book. But, unlike Sol’s Harvest, I think I’ve finally written a series people might want to read. Yes, they are a very small and specific niche of people who want to abstractly discuss worldbuilding rather than having a how-to system of being told what to do. But those people are certainly out there. I know because I’ve been studying and learning from them for the last several years.

Now I only hope I can reach them. <insert Cartman’s impersonation of Edward James Olmos here>

I’m two days out from launch and feeling pretty down. Some of that probably has to do with the fact I know of eight typos that made it through to the finished copy (damn you Amazon for locking the preorder copy into place four days in advance!). I’ll have them fixed within a matter of hours after the book goes live in two days, but it still kind of stings. Especially since one of those typos is Wookie(e), which I probably should have known from my steady diet of all things Star Wars since I could stand up.

But—you know what—nearly 500 review copies were snatched up within about eight cumulative hours, so that says there’s at least some market for this. Albeit free. I just hope they put up with some typos. And like infographics. Since I’ve sort of written myself into a corner I have no idea how to extricate myself from (that’s why you should always write with an outline, children), I’m just going to fade out with a collection of infographics (not graphs) I put together for the book. Plus one of my favorite infographics of all time thrown in for fun.


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MD Presley is a screenwriter, blogger and occasional novelist… which basically means he’s a layabout.  He has written two books on fantasy worldbuilding, and teaches worldbuilding techniques, tricks, and tips at Forging Fantasy Realms once a week on YouTube. 

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