As wonderfully enchanting as Kiirajanna is to me, I must confess that I didn't build the whole world before I began writing.
I know, I know. I just heard thousands of fiction writing professors screaming through the fabric of the force. "You must build the world before you can write in it!" they must be saying.
And you know what? Now it's even more fun to fill in the blank areas.
Why do I say that and taunt the professors so? Frankly, because it's true.
I never did enjoy the world building exercise much. I mean, creating an entirely self-contained, entirely internally-consistent, world is--well, it's work. It's difficult. It's scary, in the "oh, if I put an arid grassland next to a lake they'll make me look stupid" kind of way.
Who's the they from the previous paragraph? I have no idea. I think we all have a little they inside of us, though--someone who may or may not even exist yet we're trying to please and scared to death of if our talent/craft/art falls short. Right?
Anyway, enough psychosis talk for now. Bottom line: I didn't used to enjoy the process of building a fantasy world. Now, I do. What changed?
I took up the reins of fiction author. I said, "Yes, I can." That's what changed.
I remember when it happened. The table-top gaming group I played D&D with needed a short diversion and so I offered to create the module that had been in my mind for a while. It was a story of a triangle of passion, of dark betrayal and darker murder, of--well, you get the drift. The game module involved a cursed manor with lots of undead ruled over by a powerful death knight.
I wrote it, and then I presented it, keeping in mind that these were my good friends who wouldn't laugh at me no matter how much I deserved it. But they didn't laugh. They actually enjoyed it. In fact, they really enjoyed a couple of story points that I hadn't expected to be more than mere distractions.
Okay--maybe I can do this, I thought. Then--yes, I can do this, I knew.
Fast forward to now, and I'll put an arid grassland next to a glacier-fed lake if I want to. Granted, I'll also think long and hard about why it's there, and present some sort of evidence of the same based in the story at hand. That inner literary teacher is still alive and well, just as I imagine he was for all the now-famous great authors.
I can picture a young author building his world for an epic fantasy, and that literary teacher quizzing him:
"That mountain there doesn't match the others. How'd it get there, Robert?"
"The MC, Louis Kinslayer Theraflu, made it."
"Theraflu is such a horrible name for an MC. And what do you mean he made it?"
"He was overtaken with madness and killed his family; at that point he pulled in enough magical energy to kill himself and, in doing so, made the mountain."
"Out of what?"
"Who cares? He made it out of magic and grief and stuff."
"Okay, fine, but Theraflu still stinks as a character name."
Those dang internal teachers, right?
Still, one thing I've learned is that it's the story that drives the landscape, not the other way around. And that being said, if it's the story that drives the landscape rather than vice versa, what do you get when you don't have all of the story yet you go building the landscape?
That's right. A mess.
A mess is what you get. At least, that's what I get. I tried it once. I designed the world of Cataclysm thoroughly before I started writing, and it ended up being entirely wrong as the story progressed. So when I sat to write Elf Queen, I didn't bother. I knew the first book's story, and I built that much of the world. I know the next to last book's story. I'm pretty sure I know the last book's story, though I'm not presenting that statement without the usual disclaimer of "my brain reserves the right to change the entire thing with no notice to the writing hands."
Now that the first book is written, though, I am pretty certain I know the intermediate parts, which means that now I have the whole thing. That, in turn, means that now I am able to design the rest of the world to suit the story.
Yay! So now, let there be mountains, and ice sheets, and tropical rain forests, and deserts, and fishing villages, and--well, and so on. It's a lot of fun, this is.
Happy world building!