I see this all the time and its beginning to irk me.  There are lots of forums where writers can share info, thoughts, ideas, etc.  Inevitably a large number want to share the first few pages of their work in progress, get some critiques from folks on their direction and writing style.  Since I write fantasy and science fiction, I tend to check those out more, and almost to the last one fantasy writers like to create this “Big Huge New World!” with “Cool, Neat, Unusual Names for Every Race!”  Their characters have “Wild, Awesome, Interesting, Made up Names!” and the lands they populate are “Unique, Incredible, Never Before Heard, Weirdly Spelled Words!”

For the love of all that’s holy, please stop.  Please.  Just stop doing it.  You are not a special flower who has suddenly recreated the realm of fantasy writing with your bizarre, unpronounceable and silly sounding words.  You’re just doing what everyone else did a million times over, and I don’t give a shit if the character is named “Chlbazianeto” or “Tim.”  Seriously.  Stop building this intricate, complex worlds that are just like every other intricate, complex fantasy worlds, and write your characters.  Write a damn story that is worth reading.

Here’s what you should do:  dump your world building entirely.  Dump it.  Forget all those stupid names and the little DnD map you made when you ran that three year long adventure with your friends that you now want to make the basis for a “revolutionary” (see:  second paragraph) new series of books that will end up on HBO and make you so much money that Bill Gates will want to ask you for a loan.  Ditch it.  Pretend it doesn’t exist, you can come back to it later.

Take your main character.  Inhabit their minds.  Think through them.  Who are they, why do they do what they do, what is their goal, how does that change over time?  Take tiny pieces of you, things you love and things you’ve experienced, and layer them on.  Give them a totally dumb common boring name like John or Mary.  Now write a story.  Avoid using your world!  Bad world, bad!  Just write the story and leave the names of places blank.  It’s not “The village of Wexwilla in the Poopwater Tavern,” it’s “a tavern.”  It’s not “In the country of zZilafia”, it’s “the land.”  Focus on the character and their experiences, put all that other shit behind you.

When you’re done writing your story, go back and see how much of that world building stuff you need.  How much of it still makes sense.  Do those silly names really matter any more?  Look at George R R Martin for examples of how its done right.  Names like Arya and Tyrell and Stannis and Jon; kingdoms like “The Kingdom of the North” (yeah, that’s what its called), or the Iron Islands; city-states like Pentos and Mereen.  None of these sound all that “out” there.  They are derived from words that are in current languages.

I know we all love high fantasy, and we all want to write our own stories in our own worlds, not repeat what’s come before.  But there are dozens and dozens of these types of series out there, from the classics like Tolkien and Howard to the modern like Martin and Sanderson.  If what you are doing is building a world, then you are missing the point of good writing, which is building characters we love and can relate to.  Build the world AROUND the story… but build the story first and the world will shake itself out as you do.  Yes, you might have to pause and reason something out – why DOES magic work that way? – but you won’t be stuck with a race of Centaurs called the “Dramedotons” and a character named “Toolista”.  Yes, I made all those names up, but I’ve seen way sillier than that.

Writing is hard.  Don’t make it harder by boxing yourself into a corner with your intricate, detailed, and – ultimately – silly world building.  Say something new, don’t reinvent the wheel.

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