“Do you have an encyclopedia for your books?”
This is almost word for word the question that my brother, who is not a big fan of fiction, asked me rather out of the blue today. He then went on to expound on the question by asking about entries for character profiles, world background, history, names, and creatures. For fantasy writers in particular, this “world encyclopedia” can take the form of Bestiaries or The Monsters of “” or Inside/Exploring the World of Narnia/Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit, etc. I normally see these extras published after a series is truly established, such as between books two and three in trilogies or later on for larger series, or when the series has ended.
As for myself, I have a ton of background and the folklore for my series established and written down but I never even thought about publishing my notes in a sort of Bestiary or Encyclopedia. Now thanks to my brother’s impromptu question, I will start to seriously consider putting together something for The Therian Way at least. I also happen to be a total geek when it comes to my favorite fantasy books so I LOVE the behind-the-scenes for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia and I have many world-building (ranging from weapons to creatures) books that let me continue gathering all this information that helped to form the literary magic of the books and also for the more faithful adaptations into single books. This is especially true with Tolkien’s books because he built the world of Middle-Earth from languages to creatures and cultures and I am of the belief that you can’t really appreciate his writing genius until you read all the background material. And yes, I have read The Silmarillion and The Unfinished Tales along with The History of Middle-Earth.
Ahem, okay, let me rein in my geeky-ness.
As a pantster who only outlines as much as I need to in order to get my initial framework, I can go off on tangents in my note taking when I’m figuring out my next story because I’m building the world for my fantasy and deciding what rules apply and why. This leaves me with a LOT of background and history that I know about but it will probably never make it into its own story. Especially with Urban Fantasy, because I’m writing about an alternate timeline where specific events haven’t taken place and I don’t have a close mirror to our world when it comes to politics so I have some historical presidents, such as Washington and Lincoln, who are specifically mentioned at least in passing but there are far more fictional presidents and vice presidents…especially in the modern era. I also have events that played out differently than they did in history. All of this makes it fun for me but I can only slip so much history into these stories without messing up my pacing or slipping into longwinded speeches. But while I will occasionally venture into Historical Fantasy by going back to specific important events in the history for the world of The Therian Way and its characters, I will still have a ton of material where I, as the author, can see how all the threads connect. This material will probably never be seen by any of my readers, except some pieces I share with my brainstorming buddies, but I don’t consider that a waste. I NEED to know how the dots connect even if I’m the only one who sees some of the lines.
However, I will probably put together and release my own bestiary. I’m enough of a mythology and cryptozoology enthusiast that I always have an interesting assortment of creatures who may share nothing more than a name with a beast of legend. 😀 And even an encyclopedia for the different worlds I create might be beneficiary to my readers because if you have that, then I can, theoretically mind, worry a tad less about how I’m going to rehash the events of past books without eating into the actual plot’s momentum. Because my series have strong interconnecting arcs from book to book, there will always be some recap but an encyclopedia would allow me to avoid inserting a long recap in the front of my books. The long recap can work but I know that sometimes you just want to get on with the story. An encyclopedia can be a happy medium.
Although I would caution authors about keeping an eye on the spoilers when you write entries for key characters or legends. For example, instead of writing something that reads “Character A – A marvelous person. Saves the day against these bad guys and that monster along with this monster in Books One, Two and Three,” have an entry more along the lines of this:
Oberon – Race: Fairy. Age: ?
The King of the Fairies. Husband to Titania. Ally to Humans. Appears in Books One, Three, and Five as well as in the novellas X, Y, and Z.
In other words, use your encyclopedia as a hook, especially when it comes to characters or key creatures/monsters. It should be like the book summary. You give just enough information to grab a reader’s interest in reading upcoming books and how “Oberon” will be involved in those books after they’re already familiar with his behavior in previously read books.
Have you written or considered writing and publishing an encyclopedia/bestiary for your series? Or do you prefer to keep your encyclopedic world-building entries for your eyes only? As readers, do you like knowing how all the dots connect? Or do you like to imagine your own lines?