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?