Friday, July 27, 2007

World-Building 101


Something Xandra said in her latest blog got me to thinking...I know...just about everything gets me to thinking. But when she mentioned world-building and the minute detail she goes into when creating her worlds, I have to admit my ears pricked up slightly. You see, tonight I spent the evening while watching KiKi's Delivery Service with my hubby, writing up the "bible" for my new series. I don't usually go to such lengths as most details are carried around in my big fat head. I will write down place names and honorifics and such things, but I wouldn't really call that a "bible" it's more of a guide to keep my continuity straight. However, since my new series deals with dimensional travel, I figured I'd better start writing it all down so I have a reasonable timeline and know what's going to happen in what time period and in what dimension. Unlike most of my series, which have taken place in fantasy worlds, this one has one foot in our world and one foot in another. While the basis of my brave new world isn't unique, I think the spin I'm putting on it will be. And I hope my first attempts are kick-ass. (Just ask Jenn, she's read the opening to the novella that will hopefully kick off the series.) Anyhoo, I really needed to write it down.

I have to admit a great love affair for vivid world-building. That's why the Valdmar series by Mercedes Lackey transported me right into her world and let me leave this one behind. Everytime I read the exploits of her Heralds of Valdmar, I could imagine so vividly every detail of the world. I wanted to be a Herald. (And I read the novels in my late twenties to early thirties..ehehehhehe) Same with the Deverry series by Katherine Kerr. The believability is in the small details...the minutia of the world. Another great world is the Darkover series by Marion Zimmer Bradley. And of course the world of Pern by Anne McCaffery. What these women did with their world-builidng should be disected and studied by every writer wanting to indulge in sci-fi and fantasy. Remarkable, gripping and transporting, as well as inspiring.

I try very hard at the outset of a sci-fi/futuristic/fantasy project to invision what the world is like. What are the political systems? Are the neighboring countries friendly or hostile? (I usually make them hostile - makes for a more interesting read) Next, what is the class system, or is there one? Is there a clear aristocracy or upper class? What kind of climate is the country in, the terrain? What are the seasons like and what do they call them? What is their cheif religion? Is it one, or many Gods? Is the religion tied directly to the political system...and who is in charge of it? How are the people educated? What are the cheif revenue makers for the country? Then I begin to form the cultural systems and customs. I have to admit that sometimes all these question feed through my head as I pants a story. Only if it's a novella. I openly admit that for Dragon Tamer *pictured above* I really only knew about three things going in. 1). Darion worked in a Hatching Ground in a rural setting. 2) Serrah was a federal agent who'd seen most of their world a few times over. 3) It was a world of higher technology than we have, but not unrecognizable. For longer more involved works such as the dimensional series, I'll write up something. Even something one or two pages long will sometimes help.

And my hats off to Xandra for the intricate notes she makes. You go, girl!! I think the more you know about your world going in, the more convincing you can make it for the reader. It helps to submerge them in the waters of your alien shore or to make them feel like an honored guest at your characters' royal wedding the more they know about their surroundings.

What are some of the methods you use to make bring your worlds to life? I'd like to hear.

-Kat

2 comments:

Xandra Gregory said...

Aww, Kat...keep your hat on, LOL. My worldbuilding isn't as helpful as you'd think--it still leaves huge gaps in character building. In those notepads and post-its and files, I have stuff as intricate as native dishes, but then important things like how people get around are left up in the air until halfway through a draft.

I think the more I write, the less I know. Or the more I know I don't yet know. Or the percentage of what I know gets smaller compared to the main body of all there is to know. Or--

My brain just had a charlie-horse.

MK Mancos/Kathleen Scott said...

Hehehehhehee.... Sorry about the cerebral charlie horse. That can't feel good. I think knowing how characters get around for me is organic to the genre I'm writing. Sci-fi or futuristic are going to be more high-tech than we have here. Fantasy could be anything from horses to ostriches to elephants. It all depends. I think leaving some of the notes loose can help more than harm, because it gives you freedom to discover the world as you write. Though knowing a great deal about your world takes you, well, um...worlds in the right direction.

-Kat