Creating Believable Worlds
I began my writing career as a straight SF/F author way back in the dawn of time. And as a part time teacher of fiction writing techniques, I offered classes in World Building from time to time. One of the first questions my students asked most often was: Where and how do you get such realistic worlds?
It all starts with a kernel of an idea but, and for SF/F this is a very important but, you have to take into account what life would be like under different situations whether it be a different planet or in space or a different time. So first you’ll need to decide Where and When your story takes place.
Let’s talk location first. Will the story be on Earth or a planet very similar to Earth? Or will it be based on a planet hostile to life as we know it? If it’s on a planet, will the story be set under water? Or perhaps in the clouds? Moving even higher, will it be on a space ship or a space station? In SF/F, a writer has a wide venue of locations limited only by imagination and the ability to create believable worlds.
A believable world has to have substance. Why is it like? What sort of atmosphere (if it isn’t Earth...or perhaps even if it is!) will it have? Climate conditions are important. Is the planet in an Ice Age? Is it a hot, dry, desert? A humid jungle? Or a pleasant (for us) temperate climate? Will there be seas and oceans? Mountain ranges? If it isn’t Earth, how is it different from Earth?
What kinds of raw materials will it have? Will it have vast forests? Valuable minerals? Ores?
What kind of ecology? Think about the plants, the animals, the possible intelligent life. Animals, even intelligent ones, are part of nature’s food chain. Where does everything fall? How does it fit in with the physical reality you’ve chosen?
If there is intelligent life, consider how the physical planet around them has made them what they are. How do they interact with their world? How do they live on the planet? How are they physically different from us?
Don’t think that just because you’ve answered these questions and created a new world straight from your imagination, that you’re done. You’ll need to research a few (or a lot) of these questions in order to create the physicality of this new world. You’ll need to make sure that the plants and animals you’ve created can logically live there and that will take time.
All right. I can hear you already. No, it isn’t necessary to put all these details into your story. Your book will be about the characters but you, the author, will need to know precisely how these people fit in the world you’ve created. Once you know this, you can confidently write about these people on this world filling in the details as needed. You’ll create a colorful, vibrant world that will make your reader either glad they don’t live there...or sorry that it doesn’t truly exist.
That is, after all, what a writer does.