I was considering a quote by RL Stine, in which he cites the best piece of writing advice he has ever received as being ‘needs more lore’. More lore. What exactly is lore, and what purpose does is serve in a story?
Dictionary.com defines lore as “the body of knowledge, especially of a traditional, anecdotal, or popular nature, on a particular subject.” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/lore)
Perhaps more relevant for our purposes, UrbanDictionary.com describes lore as “The collective history and the sum of all knowledge available about a certain fantasy or sci-fi universe” or “The story or reasoning behind occurrences”. (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=lore)
When writing horror, fantasy or any form of speculative fiction, lore provides consistency, a set of rules and standards that make your fictional universe believable. What are the specific characteristics, powers and limitations of your characters and why? What are the rules that govern your fictional world? As an example, consider the variations of vampire lore across different movie, tv and literary representations.
The lore used in a story may be adapted from existing lore, such as historical or cultural legends and tales, or the creations of other authors (as an example of adapting existing lore, consider once again the many different variations of the vampire mythology). It may also be an original mythology created by the writer, though this is a difficult and ambitious undertaking.
Lore is an essential part of world building for the speculative fiction writer. It is the very structure and rules that govern your fictional universe, its inhabitants and its monsters. When well developed, lore allows your readers to suspend disbelief and immerse themselves in the world you have created. It is an essential component of any horror or fantasy story, film, television show or game (consider games such as Resident Evil, Fear, Skyrim or Dragon Age as examples).
In Writing Monsters, Philip Athans questions ‘What makes one dragon “realistic” and another “unrealistic” when they are both entirely fictional characters?’
‘The answer is that one operates within a set of clearly defined and consistently applied rules, and the other doesn’t.’ (Philip Athans, Writing Monsters: How to Craft Believably Terrifying Creatures to Enhance Your Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction, Writer’s Digest Books, 2014)