Wednesday, November 27, 2013

# Guest Blog # NaNoWriMo

World Building for Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writers

Part of a special month-long event featuring writing tips and NaNoWriMo strategies from guest writers and fellow NaNo participants. Today's post is from A. Wrighton, who was kind enough to let me reprint an article she wrote on her own blog in March of 2013.

The cool part about Sci Fi/Fantasy is that there are not a lot of rules when it comes to writing in the genre. We get to play with magic, space, and the unknown. Reality is flexible and ours to mold. It’s what some people might call “winning.” But that doesn’t mean there are no rules at all.

Some of the most quintessential rules in Sci Fi/Fantasy writing have to do with World Building. And they’re pretty much set in stone. If a writer should choose not to follow the rules of World Building, their story will lack believability, candor, and umpf. You can have the most well-rounded and well-written characters in the world, but if you opted out of World Building Rules… it’s going to flop. I’d bet you homemade cookies for life on it.

What is World Building anyway? Asked the historical/romance/literary writer.
It’s about creating a world – complete with government, clothing, plants, animals, food, drink, housing, weapons, languages, cultures, etc. etc. – that the story occurs in. And, for the most part, a lot of what you create as you World Build will never make it into your books in more than a simple sentence or two because that is all it takes to build credibility with your reader. Most other genres already have their world built for them – it takes place on Earth, with humans, at a certain time period that is already established and known. No surprises.

With Sci Fi/Fantasy – all bets are off. And so, here I offer some of my insight into how to World Build for Science Fiction and Fantasy stories.

Generating Your World Idea
You really need to have some sort of concept or idea before you dive into the very involved and time-consuming process of World Building. Otherwise, you waste your time and I know that time is valuable. That being said, make sure the idea you need to build a world for is fully developed. Orson Scott Card calls it “ripened.” I don’t like to liken my writing to fruit, but that example works well. Really well.

Summation: Have a well-formed concept that you are ready to elaborate and work on before starting.

Find an Anchor
I don’t mean a spaceship or tall ship either. I mean find a grounding.
I am of the firm belief that to achieve complete believability, a writer has to anchor their story to humanity and Earth in some small or big way. Are there stories that don’t do this? Yes. But they are harder to read and believe – they are harder to follow. Don’t make your reader work, they should be enjoying your writing not working with it.

It’s easy to go crazy with World Building but you need to realize there is a fine line between amazing hand-crafted worlds, and confusing worlds full of too much to let the story shine through. Anchoring with humanity and Earth means that the World you build has some foundation in Earth and humanity.

·         Gravity is almost always one of the rules that are anchored. Yes, you actually have to think about gravity and other phsyics/theories, especially if you are writing a space-based science fiction story.
·         Cultures and governments are usually anchored too, look at the Senate in Star Wars. It’s a Senate. It’s anchored on Earth’s Senate but twisted to fit the World of Star Wars.

·         Animals, plants, food, and drinks often transfer (with some modification which I’ll mention below). Why? Because you don’t want to burden your reader with too much work. Reading is a pleasurable experience and the more work they do, the less pleasure they have. A lot of fantasy novels anchor in medieval/renaissance Earth – with their ale, meal, breads, horses, and roses. Sci Fi novels can anchor drinks like beer, vodka, etc. etc. You can still morph and mold these anchors into your own world, but you need a grounded base.
Establish Rules of the Road Based on whether you are Sci Fi or Fantasy – you need to establish Rules. Rules are givens that are accepted as laws.

For example, on Earth, we accept that a Rule exists for gravity. Gravity keeps things right side up, so to speak. We also accept that the further away from the Earth’s atmosphere, the less gravity there is – which is why at a certain elevation, gravity weakens. Why do we know this? Because it is a Rule of Earth.
Your world needs rules too.

What kind? Here’s a short list just off the top of my head…
Sci Fi: Starflight, Hyperspace, Robotics, Cryogenics, Genetic Alterations, & Time Travel
Fantasy: Magic, magic, magic.
No one is going to believe your world exists unless there are limitations placed upon it.

How long does starflight take? How have your starships conquered hyperspace? What are the side effects of space travel? hyperspace travel? Can humans have robotic parts? How do those parts work? Can we alter genes? Can we time travel and participate? or just watch? What happens if we change something while time travelling? What is the cost of magic to the user? Blood? Hair? Youth? How does it feel to be injured by the magic? Who can the magic affect/injure/heal? Who can use magic? Why?

All of those questions must be answered and presented, in some fashion or another, in your work. You can opt for a lengthy paragraph or you can opt for a one sentence example in passing.

Example: The use of the fire spells tired her and made her skin wither and crack from the lack of moisture. She slathered on some salve and went about her business as usual. At least this time, the dryness wasn’t that bad – it only affected her hands – next time, it would be different.
Fail to establish, know, and educate on the Rules of the World and your believability and credibility will flop.

Know World History
Not just our world history, as that may serve as an anchor for some sort of conflict/war in your story, but your world’s history.
Does that mean I have to know how the Kings got to be Kings and how the Alien Senator is able to represent Earth in the Intergalactic Senate?
Does that mean you have to expound every last detail?
No, and I don’t recommend it. But if you don’t know your world, why should a reader trust in it?
Make a timeline, write in a journal, take notes, or whatever your method is but explain the HOW of your world. Every world has a history – even the foreign/magical ones.
Look at Narnia for example. That is one of the most intensely thought out histories of an author-built world I have read. Secretly, or not so anymore, I still check wardrobes for access points. I have since stopped checking paintings…

A Language by Any Other Name
Ah, yes! The fun part! When you write Sci Fi/Fantasy, you can create species of human or aliens or beasts that can speak and do speak their own languages. But, this comes with a few warnings.

·         When you create your world, realize that no matter what language your lead characters speak (Horse, Dragon, Wizard, Ancient Alien), their story is written in English because you write in English and your readers read English (or Spanish, or French, etc.)

·         Creating an entire language is hard. Tolkien did it because he was a genius at linguistics. Others have done it because they devoted hours of study to Latin and other languages. Don’t tempt fate if you don’t have that kind of background. You don’t need a whole new language. You can just explain that they are speaking in a different language and/or use Pavlovian tricks to train your reader to know when characters are speaking in a foreign language.
Example: Dref rubbed his antennae and sighed. He looked at his mother and spoke to her in their native Huvlovian tongue, the only way he knew how – while whining.
Example: “Who are you and what in the Devil’s name have you done?” He asked. She shrugged. His strange words were harsh and heavily accented. She had no idea what he was saying but she knew it was nothing pleasant. “I don’t understand,” she stammered, “can you understand me?”
·         Feel free to add in a few foreign words, but with one maxim in mind. This maxim is borrowed from Orson Scott Card, too. 

New Words Only with New Meaning
What? I can’t create a new word for horse?
Well, you can, but that goes back to the overly complicated and cluttered feeling your story might get.
Now, if this animal is similar to a horse, but eats meat and has pointy teeth and wings – I’d name it something new. Whorlek, perhaps?
What this maxim implies is that you need to choose your words wisely – the new ones. You can’t name everything in the world because then you’d spend dozens of pages explaining what they mean and how they look and what they are. Which, circles back to anchoring. Anchor in Earth, and you don’t have to explain what a cigarette or horse looks/feels/smells like (unless paramount to the story) unless it is radically different from Earth’s version. If it is, consider renaming it or giving it a nickname in a language of your World.

Push the Boundaries
Do it. Push the boundaries of convention and imagination. That’s why you write in these genres anyway! But do it responsibly. Do it so that your reader can enjoy your characters and their stories. Do it so that readers can understand the setting and rules of your World. Do it, but always be consistent in delivery. Explain anything out of the ordinary – or if the Rules of the World somehow change.

World Building is often overlooked until the writer is elbows deep in their first draft. Don’t leave world building to a rushed solution. Craft your world with the love and devotion you put into the words of your story. Know what your characters eat, drink, where they live, what they wear, how they travel. Know why there are two suns or three moons and what their effects are on the world.
Know your world, or doom it to apocalyptic failure.
Craft your world, or doom your story to the unread pile.

Note to the Writers
This is by no means a complete list. There’s just so much to explain and talk about. But, this is a little bit of insight into the core basics. Who taught me? My professors during my BA and MFA and all my reading on the craft of writing by the likes of Orson Scott Card and others. Is my education in World Building complete?

Not hardly, but I like to think that between my training and writing, I have picked up a few sound tips I can pass along to others.

I hope this helps!

About the author
A. Wrighton has been imagining flights of wild fancy since before she could figure out how to tie her shoes. Her love of writing, creating, and imagination has led her through a life full of crazy and amazing adventures. If you ask her, she’ll probably say there isn’t much about her that’s normal, and that is why she found her calling in literary romps.

By A. Wrighton:

Dragons and Runics Part I


At first, a collective power in the Seven Soleran Kingdoms made sense. United under the Council, they thought it would be the end of years of war and death. 

When the Council ordered the systematic murder of those capable of wielding magic - Runics - as reparation for their role in the Soleran loss of the Great War, no one thought twice of the order.

Except a few Dragonics - prestigious dragon riders - who defied the damning orders and instead demanded justice. But, their call for defiance came too late. 


Now, those against the Council's oppressive reign have long since been outcast to the fringes of society - their numbers and will dwindling. Alaister Paine, Commander of the Rogue Dragonics - an elite force of Resistance Dragon Riders - leads the quest for freedom and justice with little hope of success. 

On the eve of a political victory for the Council, Paine deciphers one of his predecessor's logs revealing that one Runic - a woman of untold magic - was hidden from the Council's grasp.

Find the Runic, and the Rogues will finally be able to enact a legendary prophecy meant to free Solera and bring justice back to its people.

Trouble is… they are not the only ones searching for the last Soleran Runic.

1 comment:

  1. Great advice, A! I especially like the tips on making sure worlds/lore are anchored to something readers can relate to in reality. Thanks for stopping by to share this!


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