World building for fiction – when is enough, enough?

As I mentioned in the previous post, I’m compiling a new page on this site which I call the Intergalactic Guidebook.  I decided a little while ago that it would be fun to create some kind of encyclopaedia of The Lilean Chronicles.  In it I would write a kind of mini wiki all about the worlds and peoples we meet in the series.  This is going to be a herculean task, as I’m finding out but it’s fun to do and I don’t mind it taking a while.  I’m uploading each page when it’s complete and will blog when there’s a new page for you all to peruse.

It’s called world building or rather in my case, galaxy building and I actually did this when I wrote the books.  I built the words, the galaxy as I wrote each volume of the series.  What I’m doing now is putting all that information together in one place, but I’m finding that something interesting is happening as I’m putting it all together.

I know the worlds contained within The Lilean Chronicles very well.  I spent a year writing with my characters and I know all about their worlds, their culture etc so writing it all down again for the guidebook is not hard.  What I’m finding though, is that I’m actually writing stuff I never wrote in the books.  There are things in the guidebook that you won’t read about in the series at all.  The back stories in the guidebook are way more comprehensive and complete than the information in the novels is.  This got me to wondering why I’m feeling the urge to go so much further with these back stories, when some of the information isn’t in the books.

The answer is simple really.  I love doing it.  World building is such huge fun and it’s a total pleasure to invent a whole world, a race of people, their beliefs and culture, even their diseases and sports.   I also feel that the fuller the back story is, the more believable the novel becomes.  When you can find out everything about the world a character comes from, it helps you identify with them more closely and understand them more deeply.  Besides, it’s interesting shit to read..!

So how much is too much?  Should I go so far as to include geological information about the composition of the land masses?  Should I document the changes to air purity over the past thousand years and cross reference this with a graph showing the increase in population perhaps?  Maybe I need to include a political history, complete with list of the last 10 years worth of import and export figures?

No, I think not.  For one thing, it would bore me rigid to write and therefore, probably bore readers too and secondly, it teeters on the edge of OCD.  Readers have enough imagination and sense to know that stuff isn’t necessary for a work of fiction.  Yes it would make it totally comprehensive but it wouldn’t add anything to the story as a whole.

I’d love to one day publish the Intergalactic Guidebook as an actual book to accompany the series but it would involve massive amounts of artwork and I don’t have the money to pay my hugely talented art guys enough to cover the time they would need to devote to such a project.  Who knows what the future holds though; I may win the lotto one day and then I’ll be emailing them..!

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