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Note, this might be off-topic and belong on World Building SE?

I have always been far more interested in building the world my stories take place in than the stories themselves. I will spend large amounts of planning the geography so small pockets of interesting species can live secluded, how the trade between countries work, what the impact of mushroom forests could have on wildlife, how airships can be used in warfare, and so on. After writing a chapter or two, I get bored and abandon the project.

Are there manuscripts people have written that are simply an encyclopedia or history book of a fictional world, and are there some kind of guidelines that would help me write one? I always thought this is how Lord of the Rings was written; an interest in language and how races would interact.

Another question, would writing a fictional world's history book and maps even be practical?

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    I believe this belongs here - it is more a question about writing and writer's block than worldbuilding. – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron May 22 '15 at 23:05
  • @TommyMyron Agreed, this is more about planning and structure than it is about actual worldbuilding. – Goodbye Stack Exchange May 23 '15 at 3:46
  • What you're saying is you're like a fashion designer who, with all the love in the world, creates a cabinet of wonderful clothes for his kid, but when the kid is slowly growing, you abandon the child altogether. I mean, why would you do that? – LearneR Aug 16 '19 at 12:51
  • I suggest this clearly belongs to World Building SE. Whatever tale anyone tells has two elements: the subject and the writing. Your Question seems to be interested solely in the subject, which seems to place it very clearly. – Robbie Goodwin Jul 25 at 0:13
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LotR does in fact have such a book (I believe it is the Silmarillion). However, that book could only be published because the Hobbit/LotR books came first. In short, there would be no interest in it without LotR in the first place. This is why an encyclopedia or history book of a fictional land will not work on its own. It may get published, but the interest simply won't be there.

LotR was indeed backed by massive worldbuilding. It helped that the author was a linguist, enabling him to make authentic-sounding languages. In its most basic form, however, LotR was a story.

In order to write a story in your world, you may look into getting over writer's block, some of which deals with getting bored. There is an excellent question about that here. My answer on that question, which I would also recommend for you, can be found here.

When it comes down to it, you need to design a theme first. A theme is the idea or thing you are writing about - what it is that you are trying to show the reader. Once you have that theme, you can build a world designed to show it, and then build a story designed to use your world to show your theme. If your theme is truly something you are greatly interested in, you won't get bored of writing about it.

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    Remember though that the Silmarillion was written (mostly) before LOTR and the Hobbit. It was only the worldbuilding which created such a rich story, and only the story allowed the Silmarilion to be published. – ArtickokeAndAnchovyPizzaMonica Jul 22 at 10:03
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I would suspect that you may be having a specific problem with storytelling (which is not quite the same thing as writing.)

I myself do a lot of worldbuilding for fictional purposes, and your description:

"I will spend large amounts of planning the geography so small pockets of interesting species can live secluded, how the trade between countries work, what the impact of mushroom forests could have on wildlife, how airships can be used in warfare, and so on"

feels very familiar.

For what it's worth, I think that worldbuilding and storytelling are very different headspaces. They use different facets of the creative mind, and my suspicion is that not too many of us are good at doing both at the same time. (In college, when I was simultaneously majoring in Physics and Art, I ended up having to trade semesters off rather than do a blended curriculum. I experienced strong mutual interference: my art sucked and my math/physics were way harder when I was trying to do that.)

When you say

"After writing a chapter or two I get bored and abandon the project"

it makes me think that you have a hard time telling stories when you're still in your worldbuilding mind.

Don't know if it will work, but you might want to consider this:

  • Build your world.

  • Solemnly pinky swear to yourself that the world is no longer subject to edits, at least for the time being.

  • Tell stories set in that world. If necessary, pretend you're writing fanfic about someone else's world.

Don't bail out too soon. It's likely going to suck for a while until you get good enough at storytelling to make your stories about your built worlds good enough to fit your worldbuilding. (My experience: I'm still a marginal storyteller and a very good worldbuilder. I keep telling stories...)

If, after long earnest shrewd effort, you can't get your storytelling up to scratch, maybe you should find a collaborator who's a damn good storyteller but who doesn't do worldbuilding very well. :-) Hey - it could happen, and it might work out.

Good luck!

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  • This is a good way to force yourself to write in the world you created, but I think doing so is going to sacrifice a lot of the power your writing could otherwise have. This is definitely a good method, but I would reserve it for a last resort. When it comes down to it, you need to build a theme first, then build a world to show that theme, and then build a story to show that theme in your world. – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron May 23 '15 at 17:04
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    Quite true, @TommyMyron. One thing I have learned about storytelling and writing is that no formula seems to be comprehensively successful. I can only hope that the answer I gave is useful to Xos Mel - or at least, to someone who might read it. – Bill Blondeau May 23 '15 at 23:21
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I think you might be happy in game development or some other industry where different artists focus on different aspects of the whole. If I where you, I would try to search for something like "worldbuilding jobs" and whatever other search phrase you can come up with.

Here is a blog that covers game writing: http://blog.ubi.com/tag/the-write-stuff/

There is more.

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There are lots of great fictional encyclopedias and fictional history books and if you want to write one you should!

I remember lots of great books that I read as a kid that had but a whisp of narrative and instead mostly consisted of a fantastically realized world. One of my favorites was "Need A House? Call Ms. Mouse!".

Illustrated books would probably be more common than otherwise in this category. I'm thinking of books like "Castle". Lots of people would enjoy a book like that, even a much bigger one, even if it described and illustrated a fictional world.

I'd also consider World War Z to be very similar to what you're outlining in your question. It's subtitle after all is "An Oral History of the Zombie War".

I think writing new fictional encyclopedias and fictional history books are great ideas. Like "Rise and Fall of The Third Reich" but in your fictional universe!

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My best suggestion would be to rough the world-building as you write your story. This way, the world can form around your story and not the story around the world. This, of course, is not how reality would have it. All of our stories adapt around the world as life's struggles form our civilizations.

I am not saying to preclude changes to the story to fit a properly developed world but think of it as a series of slide bars that you slide back and forth until you have discovered a happy medium between storytelling and world-building. I, too, find it difficult to create a happy medium, and thus I subscribe to the idea that if I spend too long developing a specific part of the world, I likely do not need that story element, or it can be done another way.

Case in point, in a story I am writing, the Earth's ecosystem was being changed by an invasive species of plants. This was done by a species that conquered the human race but were pushed off. As my characters are too young to have an effect on the inter-planetary events early in the novel, I have them deal with the changes he world is going through and use the way they handle the changes to demonstrate the underlining anger everyone has toward the changes that no one seems to have the means to stop.

Of course, there are other storytelling elements the uncontrolled changes reflect, and thus become a repeated theme of change throughout the story. Thus the world changes my characters, and to me, that is world-building done right.

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The big thing to ask yourself is: "Do I have a story I want to tell". If the answer is yes, then grit your teeth and stick with it. There are a great many ways, discovered by many different writers, to help with writer's block. And getting bored with your story and giving up is actually a form of writer's block. Look them up and find a way that helps for you.

If what you really want to do is to build worlds, however, your options are a bit different.

You can design campaign settings for roleplaying games, for instance. If you are at all interested in playing role playing games, you can also get together with some people who would be interested in using your world for their games. Then you can let the stories "write themselves" so to speak - something that worked brilliantly for Ed Greenwood et. al. with their Forgotten Realms world. They built the world, played in it, developed it some more, kept playing and then eventually turned their games and character backstories into books and sold both books and campaign setting to Wizards of the Coast.

Another alternative is to find a co-author to collaborate with - someone who has a head full of fantasy stories in search of a world, or just someone who can help keep you focused and keep the story writing side fun and interesting. This doesn't work for everyone, but when it does it's great.

Once your books or campaign setting hits the shelves, you can publish all sorts of history books, atlasses, etc. for your world.

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You seem to be interested in creating a "parallel universe" for your story. That is, a world slightly different from the "real one."

In your shoes, I wouldn't sweat the "worldbuilding" part. You want to tell just enough about the alternate world to make your story work, but you don't need to discuss your world in excruciating detail (unless your "world" is, in essence, your story). People will assume that except for relevant details, the parallel world is much like the actual one.

Perhaps the most successful example of building an alternate world was "The Wizward of Oz" (U.S.). Dorothy found herself in a "world" similar to her own with slightly different parameters, but in a recognizably worldlike environment. Finally, the secret of the golden slippers allowed her to return to the "real" world.

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Are there manuscripts people have written that are simply an encyclopedia or history book of a fictional world

Indeed there have been. Being told a story is not what every reader yearns for.

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