Tuesday, July 25, 2006

World Building

How do you build a world?

That’s a question I get asked a lot as a writer of science fiction, fantasy and paranormal romance. All right – I’m paraphrasing. Usually people actually say, “Where do you come up with all this stuff?”

I’d like to say it just pops into my head fully formed and I write like the wind until I have about 100,000 words down on paper. Then I whisk it off to my editor who weeps with gratitude. But I’d be exaggerating.


It’s more like 90,000 words.

Anyway. I like to think when people ask me this question, rather than impugning my sanity, they’re actually asking how I create the worlds I like to play in [and of course how do I craft my plots, but that’s the subject of a different blog.]

For purposes of this article, let’s say they want to know how I build a world. There are some steps I follow – not too closely – but as a basic guideline.

I start with a map. Literally. Sometimes it’s just a quick sketch of the place my characters are going to inhabit. It could encompass an area as small as a medieval village, or as large as a galaxy. I’ve never mapped a whole universe, but considering what I spend on paper, you’d think I had once or twice.

Once I have a basic idea of where things are, I think about the rules of the place. Does magick exist? Werewolves, vampires? Is this world at war? Is it the future or the past? Futuristic or primitive [noting that the future can be primitive also as in Conjured in Flames]. Am I going to be messing with laws of nature or physics? Can my characters fly? Do they travel through time or pop in and out from another reality? How do I plan to explain that? How much disbelief will I be asking my readers to suspend?

After I have some of the rules in place, I go for the artifacts and gadgets. Do I need to invent anything for my characters to use that I can’t pick up at Wal*Mart? I need to know how they work, whether I’m giving my characters a potion that will hopefully calm their out of control lust for one another [Wolfsbane: Aspect of the Wolf] or a microscopic translator device they can swallow with a glass of water [Hunter’s Moon]. I don’t need to draw schematics of these objects, but I need to be able to explain them since my readers, and my characters might be a little bit curious.

Finally when I have the world, the rules, the gadgets in place, I decide how my characters will deal with everything I’ve created. Will they consider a robe fashioned from sea weed [More Than A Fantasy] to be amazing or commonplace? Will they bat an eyelash at an orchid whose scent can be used to help control their minds? [Bonfire of the Vampires] Will they believe the souls of two ancient lovers can be trapped in an alabaster jar? [The Soul Jar]

Now that I have a world and I know how it works, what my characters will find there and how they will deal with it, if I’m lucky, I have most of my plot worked out, too. From there, as I begin to write, the world I’ve created becomes more colorful. I notice little details that I might not have thought about in the beginning and I weave them into the story. The end result, several thousand dazzling words later if I’m lucky, is a world that readers will want to visit again and again. I

How do you build a world? In other words, where do you come up with your stuff?


Stella Price said...

World build. Im old at at it. Writing Eververse books i was lucky, everything came at Audra and I pretty much fully formed. The town, the races, the extra planes of existance...

So i guess we got lucky...

Angela Verdenius said...

wow, I work totally different! Music inspires me, so my ideas usually come to me while I'm driving with the music turned up. I get a freeze-frame kind of thing, and I jot the idea down. Then I daydream it for a few days, writing down ideas as I go. Finally, once I'm ready to atcually write the story, I will sit and work out the main characters, planets, names, etc.

I have a basic plot outline to keep me focused. This may change a little as I go.

I always have paper and pen on the desk to jot down nmes, new characters, new ideas, things to fix later, etc.

Yep, I'm a jotter writer LOL


Bernadette Gardner and Jennifer Colgan said...

Hi Stella and Angela! I jot too, and I daydream usually before I jot. Character names are a whole other issue - we should do a post on coming up with names!

Lynda K. Scott said...

I generally world build based on some unique characteristic in one of my characters. For example, in Heartstone, the Gawan provided most of the world building and the conflict. In Altered Destiny, the alien Qui'arel inspired the alternate time line. And in Rider, the nanobiotic life form known as a Rider created the world.

I have to admit, I love world building {g}