Ads

Pages: [1]
  Print  
Author Topic: What are some genre rules and good writing tips for creating Settings?  (Read 272 times)
Straight Outta Johto
Giff
*


View Profile
« on: April 24, 2017, 02:47:58 PM »

Ok first off, let me clarify by what I mean by "genre". I'm sure Steerpike is going to laugh at me for this base definition, but basically Genre is a distinctive style and ruleset for specific forms of writing. Novels, playwrights, technical manuals, and newspaper articles all have their own rules and structures that make them what they are. My question is, what are the genre rules for settings? What is and isn't important when presenting a fantasy or Science Fiction setting?
Logged


Giff
*


View Profile
« Reply #1 on: April 24, 2017, 03:24:59 PM »

There can be structure when presenting a work of fiction, but there's nothing to say there -should- be one. My opinion is that what you want your audience to feel will dictate the needs of your structure.

Usually, making the major themes stand out might be your desired primary goal. You can be blunt and unimaginative and just throw them out there as a list right off the bat. That's not such a bad thing to do. Then there are more creative ways, like descriptions or narration in which those elements you're trying to have stand out will be alluded to with the help of carefully thought out words. Or not so carefully thought out, but still this is a bit more creative. Then there can be a mix of the two.

To let your audience know what inspired you to come up with this can really be helpful, too.

A map generally helps your audience get in the mood, I feel. Also, they won't be overwhelmed by the west-this east-that as they'll be able to directly pinpoint where it is the story you're telling is taking place. Images that aren't maps, but instead show living beings and landscapes can be of help as well.

Other than that, when I read I prefer to have the information carefully sorted out and well presented. For example, if I put four city descriptions one after the others, then narrate scenes and stories, then give a description of another city and then give a list of monsters followed by another city, it just feels all over the place. That also means somebody who is really interested in how the cities in your setting would look like, but isn't interested in monsters and plots doesn't have to go through all the material to find what he really enjoys.

I hope this helps a bit?
Logged


Administrator
Gelatinous Cube
*


View Profile
« Reply #2 on: April 24, 2017, 04:39:48 PM »

For me, the most important thing when reading about a setting is to be able to get the feel of the place. There is no single correct way to do this, but I find that evocative pieces of short fiction mixed in with the gazetteer-like details is good. I also recommend focusing on what the setting is like now, and what your primary audience is likely to experience-- e.g., if it's primarily a setting for gaming, give some hooks for interesting potential player characters.

Sometimes, settings start with the cosmology or history or whatever, but I don't think starting at the beginning is usually the right approach. What's going on now is going to be more interesting and useful to readers than the distant past.
Logged


Spawn of Ungoliant
Flumph
*


View Profile WWW
« Reply #3 on: April 24, 2017, 05:52:17 PM »

LoA

I'm sure Steerpike is going to laugh at me for this base definition, but basically Genre is a distinctive style and ruleset for specific forms of writing.

That's a very decent definition.

I second sparkletwist's suggestion about gazeteers and that starting with lengthy history, cosmology, or timelines is not a good way to begin when presenting your material, even if those things are very important to the actual setting.

I think the first thing to establish is how big an area you're dealing with for the setting. Are we going to be speaking primarily of a city, country, continent, planet, plane, or multiverse? Different setting books begin at different levels, or mix and match them. For example, the Planescape book In the Cage - google it and you'll turn up a PDF - focuses on one city, even though there's a massive multiverse sprawling around it, and some of the first information we actually get are write-ups on the local flora and fauna, weather, and information on how to get around, before moving into district descriptions. The related book The Planescape Campaign Setting (again, google for a PDF floating around the interwebs) starts way more zoomed-out, but focuses not on planar history or even the layout of the planes but on scale and tone. Both begin with brief, in-universe text, as if a guide were speaking to you.

I think focusing on really compelling or unusual images can be useful. Weave's setting Echo offers a good example. It has things like this:

Weave

Amidst the overgrown carcasses of warmachines that blend so seamlessly with the landscape around it, across fields whose craters and debris can almost be viewed as hills and valleys, the world looks almost at peace amongst its own ruin. But there is a tension in the air, like that of a spring wound too tight.

Weave

The ground is a hollow crust, riddled with cavernous sprawls that open upon impossibly deep, yawning fissures riddled with the ancient vaults and laboratories of the Eld, but the folk of the Now would not see these things as unusual having lived so long amongst ruin.

Weave

True works of nature are exceedingly rare when self-replicating bioplast trees span the landscape and automated aquifers provide irrigation on a continental scale, but while the loss of such naturalness might make the world seem a cold and lifeless place, the Eld were nothing if not determined to make adequate replacements in lieu of their exactness. Nevertheless, flora are still prone to the occasional glitch, growing branches in unnaturally precise geometric angles, or assembling themselves into half-finished structures at the dictation of errant programming. Weather machines, designed with the intention of being semi-predictable, occasionally spawn erratic storm cells that wrack the same lands at the exact same times each year. Some aquifers have lost their functionality and render parts of the landscape arid and uninhabitable, or overflow to produce swamps and wetlands.

Another good example is Rhamnousia's The Plateau which has wonderfully evocative images at the outset:

Rhamnousia

This harsh landscape is traversed by towering mountain ranges jagged like rows of broken teeth and dissected by deep, shadowy canyons and valleys where sour rivers cut through oddly-shaped pinnacles. What life that can sustain itself in this place is guaranteed to be as grim and harsh as the land itself.

Rhamnousia

The Men of the Plateau, men though they be, are a thing set apart from human. Born dark and only made darker by a lifetime of weathering, such that their elders are known to appear almost mummified, they are plagued by all matter of strange afflictions and peculiarities of form: unsightly growths and protuberances, lesions, tumors, cracked or peeling skin, patches of fungous or squamous flesh, digits too many or too few units, faintly-misshaped limbs, joints that bend at unnatural angles, genitive organs of ambiguous shape, extremes of emaciation and obesity, sinister birthmarks, and stunted tails or horns are all acceptable products of the sour light of the stars.

Rhamnousia

In great monasteries of black basalt atop auspicious heights do the many orders of monks live and worship, the walls of their temples painted with blood-curdling depictions of the particular wrathful protector-horrors to which they pay homage and offer sacrifice, the surrounding countryside echoing with strange chants that no human throat should be able to produce.

That kind of thing really grabs readers - images or scenes that imprint themselves in the mind's eye, so that the reader can picture the setting in a flash. This is a lot more effective than something like "Ten thousand years before the present age the Great Dragon Empire ruled, which then gave way to the Titan Realm in the year -4300..."
« Last Edit: April 24, 2017, 06:46:46 PM by Steerpike » Logged


Straight Outta Johto
Giff
*


View Profile
« Reply #4 on: April 27, 2017, 09:41:33 PM »

sparkletwist

For me, the most important thing when reading about a setting is to be able to get the feel of the place. There is no single correct way to do this, but I find that evocative pieces of short fiction mixed in with the gazetteer-like details is good. I also recommend focusing on what the setting is like now, and what your primary audience is likely to experience-- e.g., if it's primarily a setting for gaming, give some hooks for interesting potential player characters.

Sometimes, settings start with the cosmology or history or whatever, but I don't think starting at the beginning is usually the right approach. What's going on now is going to be more interesting and useful to readers than the distant past.

Steerpike

LoA

I'm sure Steerpike is going to laugh at me for this base definition, but basically Genre is a distinctive style and ruleset for specific forms of writing.

That's a very decent definition.

I second sparkletwist's suggestion about gazeteers and that starting with lengthy history, cosmology, or timelines is not a good way to begin when presenting your material, even if those things are very important to the actual setting.

Thanks Steerpike

I agree with the last part a lot actually. That's usually where I go completely wrong. Do you have any examples of Short-fiction and Gazettes  that would be good to learn from?

Steerpike

I think the first thing to establish is how big an area you're dealing with for the setting. Are we going to be speaking primarily of a city, country, continent, planet, plane, or multiverse? Different setting books begin at different levels, or mix and match them. For example, the Planescape book In the Cage - google it and you'll turn up a PDF - focuses on one city, even though there's a massive multiverse sprawling around it, and some of the first information we actually get are write-ups on the local flora and fauna, weather, and information on how to get around, before moving into district descriptions. The related book The Planescape Campaign Setting (again, google for a PDF floating around the interwebs) starts way more zoomed-out, but focuses not on planar history or even the layout of the planes but on scale and tone. Both begin with brief, in-universe text, as if a guide were speaking to you.

I think focusing on really compelling or unusual images can be useful. Weave's setting Echo offers a good example. It has things like this:

I actually quite like planescape. I wish it had 3.5 support.

So there's a question in this statement. What size and scope do you recommend for a beginner? I feel my settings are lacking, and I want to go back to square one and start relearning some of this stuff.
Logged


Digital wizard
Moderator
Yrthak
*


View Profile WWW
« Reply #5 on: April 27, 2017, 09:58:08 PM »

LoA

sparkletwist

For me, the most important thing when reading about a setting is to be able to get the feel of the place. There is no single correct way to do this, but I find that evocative pieces of short fiction mixed in with the gazetteer-like details is good. I also recommend focusing on what the setting is like now, and what your primary audience is likely to experience-- e.g., if it's primarily a setting for gaming, give some hooks for interesting potential player characters.

Sometimes, settings start with the cosmology or history or whatever, but I don't think starting at the beginning is usually the right approach. What's going on now is going to be more interesting and useful to readers than the distant past.

Steerpike

LoA

I'm sure Steerpike is going to laugh at me for this base definition, but basically Genre is a distinctive style and ruleset for specific forms of writing.

That's a very decent definition.

I second sparkletwist's suggestion about gazeteers and that starting with lengthy history, cosmology, or timelines is not a good way to begin when presenting your material, even if those things are very important to the actual setting.

Thanks Steerpike

I agree with the last part a lot actually. That's usually where I go completely wrong. Do you have any examples of Short-fiction and Gazettes  that would be good to learn from?

Steerpike

I think the first thing to establish is how big an area you're dealing with for the setting. Are we going to be speaking primarily of a city, country, continent, planet, plane, or multiverse? Different setting books begin at different levels, or mix and match them. For example, the Planescape book In the Cage - google it and you'll turn up a PDF - focuses on one city, even though there's a massive multiverse sprawling around it, and some of the first information we actually get are write-ups on the local flora and fauna, weather, and information on how to get around, before moving into district descriptions. The related book The Planescape Campaign Setting (again, google for a PDF floating around the interwebs) starts way more zoomed-out, but focuses not on planar history or even the layout of the planes but on scale and tone. Both begin with brief, in-universe text, as if a guide were speaking to you.

I think focusing on really compelling or unusual images can be useful. Weave's setting Echo offers a good example. It has things like this:

I actually quite like planescape. I wish it had 3.5 support.

So there's a question in this statement. What size and scope do you recommend for a beginner? I feel my settings are lacking, and I want to go back to square one and start relearning some of this stuff.

I think a lot of this just comes down to practice combined with exposing yourself to other works - read settings and/or books by different authors or in different genres, and keep doing what you're doing. You've got a lot of interesting ideas you've already posted, and it's okay if you ever get stuck with one and leave it for a while - I've got three settings that are all more-or-less on temporary hiatus, and maybe a half-dozen more that'll never get worked on again. If you were to ask other people about their stuff, they could probably rattle off several that they aren't satisfied with at the end of the day. That often works out in your favor, though, as it improves your understanding of your strengths and weaknesses as a designer.

Something you might want to try is establishing a standard template of sorts for a certain facet of your setting - whether it's spellcasting guilds, unique monsters, recent events, whole worlds, spacecraft, or something else that fits the setting - then iron out what information that template contains, and focus on writing yourself a handful of them. Once you've got those done, you should have a better idea of what the tone of your setting is, and what the important stuff to players and/or readers will be. Make sure to keep it concise; if you can't express everything you want to say about the item in a few paragraphs and a short list of highlights, it may be too much to begin with (but you can keep those other details in mind for later).

I tried doing that once with Fractal Galaxy, and I created a solar system template - have a look and see if this kind of approach works for you: Fractal Galaxy System Template
« Last Edit: April 27, 2017, 10:02:10 PM by Hoers » Logged


The Captain of Crunch
Gelatinous Cube
*


View Profile WWW
« Reply #6 on: April 28, 2017, 01:18:28 PM »

Since you asked a bit about Fantasy and Science Fiction, I'll share some of my thoughts on the difference. Those differences should, in my opinion, influence how you design and present a setting. Again, Steerpike may have some more nuanced thoughts.

For me, Fantasy is about the journey of the hero. Whatever the trappings of the setting, be it magical wizards or fantastic space opera technology, fantasy is about the heroes and the challenges they overcome. Science Fiction, on the other hand, is about our reaction to The Other. Whether The Other is aliens, super technology, androids, or a gateway to another world, Science Fiction is about how the introduction of this new thing affects people and the world. The two genres, along with Horror, are part of Speculative Fiction, as I was taught.

How does that impact a game setting? Well, in my opinion, game settings really lend themselves more to Fantasy. Star Wars games are most definitely fantasy, even though they're couched in sci fi trappings. Urban Arcana, though, could be presented more as sci fi, depending on the framing of your stories.

Beyond that, there's subgenres and that gets out of my area of knowledge.
Logged

Endless Horizons: Action and adventure set in a grand world ripe for exploration.

Proud recipient of the Silver Tortoise Award for extra Krunchyness.

Spawn of Ungoliant
Flumph
*


View Profile WWW
« Reply #7 on: April 28, 2017, 01:41:27 PM »

LoA

I actually quite like planescape. I wish it had 3.5 support.

I ran a Pathfinder Planescape game for a long time - I don't think it really needed much support. Pathfinder has such a huge range of races and monsters that almost anything in Planescape was either already-statted or very easily adapted. The only part that needed tweaking were Faction abilities, which various people have posted version of for 3.5. Otherwise I just used the 2nd edition setting information. It ran pretty smoothly for the most part.

LoA

So there's a question in this statement. What size and scope do you recommend for a beginner? I feel my settings are lacking, and I want to go back to square one and start relearning some of this stuff.

I think relatively small and detailed to begin with is a fine way to begin. You can build in hints of a larger world within a single city/town/region or whatever. So if you were doing, like, Panorah, while your timeline of ages is useful, maybe focus on like a single area, a "Redwall Abbey" or "Salamandastron" sort of scale, detailing what things actually look like on the ground level. If the Day of Fire was so cataclysmic, are we basically in post-apocalypse mode? What does that look like? Abandoned towns? Weasel raider gangs? Warlords taking over keeps? Is there still farming, or is everyone just starving because ash-clouds have killed all of the crops?

LoA

Do you have any examples of Short-fiction and Gazettes  that would be good to learn from?

On this site, Polycarp's Clockwork Jungle has a very well-written series of descriptions of various regions in a readable, accessible gazeteer style, and sparkletwist's Frontier illustrates the short fiction approach well.

Off the site I would recommend blogs like Against the Wicked City for strong, detail-oriented world-building. Really, though, google those Planescape books, you can find them for free just floating around, and they're some of the best roleplaying books ever made, certainly among the best things TSR ever put out.
Logged


that's much better
Flail Snail
*


View Profile
« Reply #8 on: May 14, 2017, 02:10:29 PM »

The answer depends heavily on what you intend to do with the setting. NPCs, relationship maps, floor plans, geography, time lines (both of the past and what will happen unless the PCs alter things) are crucial in home games. A lot of that might be fuzzier in supplements for published games to leave room for the GM to work.

Fiction is a different beast entirely. Here I think setup/payoff and narrative structure become huge concerns in ways that aren't possible or desirable in a lot of games. And you can go back and edit the early story to serve the later bits in all kinds of nonlinear ways. Unless you're doing something serialized in small increments, like a webcomic.
Logged

Beejazz's Homebrew System
 Beejazz's Homebrew Discussion

Quote

I don't believe in it anyway.
What?
England.
Just a conspiracy of cartographers, then?

Pages: [1]
  Print  
 
Jump to: