My Writing Process: Alternate Worlds

So a few months ago when I was at Hal Con 2011, a very nice person in one of my writing panels asked me: “Once you’ve created an alternate world, how do you work those details into your story?”

I apologized and told her I really couldn’t answer. I prefer to write things that take place in a version of our reality where some strange things can happen… “urban horror” it’s been called. Regardless of the title, all my stuff takes place in present day Earth.

I felt bad that I really wasn’t qualified to answer the question, but I wasn’t about to make something up either, so I went to the horse’s mouth to get the answer.

Kenneth Tam is an accomplished Canadian author of over twenty science-fiction alternate history novels. His best-known works include The Equations Novels and the Defense Command series. He is the son of fellow Canadian author Jacqui Tam. He is a graduate student at Wilfrid Laurier University, in Waterloo, Ontario. Kenneth has been an author guest at the Polaris Science Fiction Convention for seven consecutive years,and a guest at the Sci-Fi on the Rock convention for its first three years and a major guest (and my partner in writing panels) at the first Hal Con.

He seemed like the guy to ask. 😉

So I did. He says:

Seems to me the most important aspect of layering the details of a different world into a story is just trial and error. Too many details too fast and you’ll drown the fish, so to speak. Too little and people won’t be able to follow.

So isolate the most important facts that are essential to your story and make sure they’re layered in early, along with some less-important facts to disguise the important ones (in case you’re afraid of telegraphing your plot).

As to how, avoid stilted expository dialogue. Don’t be afraid to tell your readers what they need to know as the narrator. Again, just a matter of trial and error to figure out how much is tolerable, and how much is too much.

That seems like a smart answer. I agree completely.

If that aspiring writer was listening, I hope that helped.

Look Beneath the Surface,
Matthew LeDrew

4 thoughts on “My Writing Process: Alternate Worlds”

  1. Ken’s right in that much of writing, and everything, is trial and error. He went through many software revisions before becoming the writing machine he is today.

    The guy pounds out hundreds of thousands of words, per year, and he’s phenomenal. Nothing seems forced, redundant or bland. He’s a great writer and a very good resource — like yourself — for aspiring storytellers


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