Hello, and welcome to this edition of Everything Sci-Fi.
World Building - Part 1
Roll up for the mystery tour...
The magical mystery tour is waiting to take you away...
Waiting to take you away...
Waiting to take you away...
Everyone knows this very popular Beatles tune. Tell me, what comes to mind when you listen to this piece of music? Where does this magical mystery tour take you? Do it right now. Close your eyes and think about where you’d like to be. What do you think about, where do you go when you listen to this song in your mind?
As a writer, it’s my job to take you on a magical mystery tour of my mind. Sure, writers of song and books have the same goal in mind; we take you on a journey. However, there is a big difference between song writers and science fiction writers. Song writers have about three minutes to paint the story. Authors have an entire book to take you through. There are several places to go, and people to see. It’s how well we convey our world into words. What we imagine within our own minds, and putting that down into words; that’s the tricky part.
First of all, what is world building? According to Wikipedia, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worldbuilding), world building is the process of constructing an imaginary world, sometimes associated with a whole fictional universe. The resulting world may be called a constructed world.
The term "world building" was made popular by science fiction writers in the 1970s, and is what every writer must do when writing books. Even if your story is on Earth, and not on some alien, ammonia breathing, reptilian skinned or bug creature world, you need to build a world where your characters play.
So, how does someone build a new world? Better yet, how is that conveyed to the reader without causing him to be lulled to sleep with infinite details?
It takes planning. Decide on the physical characteristics, environmental aspects, and current technologies such as climate. It’s important to keep in mind, climates change with locations. Try to change it up where appropriate. Remember to include different cultures and how they interact. Keep in mind, their social and governmental traits. Such as what types of commerce supports these infrastructures? This level of planning is called ‘top down’ where you have intricate details on the different societies.
There is another approach to world building that’s called ‘bottom up’. What this means is that the author is more centered on a much smaller scale of development. Build it as you go. This can work as long as you are a master at creating things on the fly. Some authors can get away with smaller detail and then expanding as the characters move to new areas in his world.
However, the risks of creating inconsistencies are more prevalent here, than in the first. The best of both worlds (pardon the pun), is to combine both top down and bottom up approaches. It’s more work, but you can be assured that there won’t be issues with inconsistencies.
I have built several worlds for my characters, and I tend to use top down method. When starting a new project, or when there’s a new setting in my book, the first thing I do is start forming the world on paper. How I see it and then taking good notes is essential. I use spreadsheets and word docs on all my books. I rely on all my notes when I’m writing. I can look back and see what I did for a particular ecology and culture. When I refresh my mind on how they behave in society, and how each character interacts, I can be assured to reduce the risk of those pesky inconsistencies.
World building doesn’t stop at environmental climates. Nor does it stop at the buildings they inhabit. We have to build our world full of bright and shiny characters that will fill hearts with emotions. It’s just as important to map out every character; very important. Track their traits, feelings, and emotions. What type of person are they? What makes them tick, and what pushes their buttons? What are their common sayings, or habits? Do they play well with others?
It’s also a great idea when you are world building to build a time line. What events happen? When said events take place? By whom, or for what purpose? Keeping a time table for events is essential for some books. Especially if you’re doing anything regarding time travel, such as my Time Squared books, which are based on paradoxes.
The light went on when I found myself rifling through pages and pages within my books looking for one particular event. I eventually found it, but it would have been so much easier if I had kept a time line of events.
I learned by my mistakes. It’s so much easier opening one document where everything is laid out in a neat and organized way. I can’t tell you how much time was wasted by having to research my own work.
You get the idea. It’s complicated...it’s painstaking...but it’s necessary.
Next time, I’ll be going into the nitti-gritty of world building...
I hope you enjoyed my column today, and we’ll see you next time on “Everything Sci-Fi”.
From the author's chair,
Brian K. Larson