I have a tendency to get stuck in my characters’ thoughts and actions so often that I forget to see through their eyes. The world in which a character lives – whether fictional or historical – has a broadening or shrinking effect on the way readers see that world. The author can use both to his or her advantage. As narrator, we decide where we want our readers looking, but we also want to give them a sense of the background – a fuller picture of what world they’ve arrived at for the duration of the story.
I’ve said this in so many words before, but in similar posts I’ve stopped at trying to capture the broader importance of world building for fantasy. That only goes so far, and it would be a tad ironic to ask you to think only about world building through the lens of one of my wide gestures.
So let’s talk specifics.
Art. Unless you’re an artist, this usually gets overlooked. I, for one, have spent so much time trying to create a believable, utilitarian medieval city in Brisha that I sometimes forget about art. Yes, architecture is part of this package and is usually one of the first things a person notices when entering any city, be it Baltimore or Brisha.
Architecture also demands attention for fantasy authors who build cities (China Mieville is one of the best city architects I’ve ever encountered in literature), but it’s sometimes hard for fantasy authors to dial their attention down from the grandiose to what hangs on the walls. Who are the famous painters of the age, and what does their art tell us about that country/city/empire?
It takes knowledge of history to organize your own believable accounts. Artists have always been one of the most important parts of Earth’s history and cultures, and there are many things about Earth that fantasy worlds mirror. Steven Erikson is especially good at including the artist (as well as the historian), and it adds lots of texture to his Malazan Empire.
In a recent interview, he said that “…there are themes that are running through the trilogy which relate to how civilizations destroy themselves, and one of the themes I’m advancing is that the various forms of art have to be destroyed first — the meaning of art, if you will…you often see how art in the past is a reflection of the health of a particular civilization.”
And that civilization – your civilization – can benefit from the power of art over it because you can do almost anything with that in mind.