For the last few years I have been using the term ‘World Building’ incorrectly. I always took it to mean the Tolkien-like appendixes and appendices that some authors chose to but in the front and backs of their books, often with maps and diagrams and schematics and character histories that had little to nothing to do with the story at hand, and which I often found exhausting.
However, my fellow author JJ King has recently educated me that this is not the case: World Building can simply be the slow process of letting the reader know what can and cannot happen in your world, a set of rules that you write by and provide information on on an as-needed basis, ideally.
I say that I used the term ‘World Building’ incorrectly because I only associated it with the sort of pedantic info-dumps I try to never do, but apparently this is just bad or expositive World Building. Good World Building can happen organically an naturally, giving small snippets of the larger world in book after book… much like I did with the Engen Universe. I was embarrassed to learn that such a pivotal term had escaped my vernacular, but such is life, we all have our knowledge gaps.
Since then I have spent months ruminating on all the wrong-answers I have given regarding World Building in my previous Writing Panel experiences. After some serious thought, I think I’ve come up with the ideal World Building scenario for those who have an exhaustive world and cast of characters in their heads without knowing where to start – and it works for any genre!
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For some stories you’re going to spend a TON of time doing research and answering questions that seem less important than your plot: and sometimes not a single bit of that information is going to make it into the final draft. But doing the research is helpful. It can ground your idea, make you sure of your choices, and give you confidence to move forward with a strange concept.
Or, if you’re like me, you find research fun, and eventually have to remind yourself that you need to stop researching and actually write the story.
For my characters’ powers, I’d originally planned on five Elements : Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spark (later renamed Electricity). I wanted the first four because I’m super original, and also because they’re literally the four elements of western culture. I included Spark because – if Dr. Frankenstein taught me anything – it’s that you need a ‘spark’ to create life.
Then I started wondering how my characters would get these powers. Mutation? Gamma radiation? Mutant insect bite? Could there be a mutant beaver* biting people, giving them the power of water? And if so, what kind of animal would give fire? Fire ants? Fireflies? Dragons?
Continue reading WorldBuilding Step #2: Create Life!
It was early in the year 2000, and I was standing in my aunt’s kitchen, trying to destroy the world. No, I wasn’t having a premonition about all the terrible things that would happen in 2016, I was trying to come up with a new world to write about.
See, I had friends who were writers, and they were writing about these crazy, complicated futures, with technology and people with amazing powers. Meanwhile, I was writing about assassins in present day. As much as I liked the story I was writing, I also wanted to write about people with cool powers, so I decided to push myself to come up with an interesting new world. Not an alien world, but an Earth that was different from the one we had now.
For some reason (I forget why), I wanted to avoid big cities. If I was destroying the world, maybe I could do it in a way that smashed the land into bits, and the biggest pieces left over were the size of small cities. Then these islands could be grouped together based on proximity, and joined by overseas highways, and people could travel between them!
But it would be difficult to build up all these new cities if the entire world had been smashed to pieces, so maybe I should keep one large bit intact. Then, once the remaining people had recovered from the huge war that had decimated their world, they would have the resources to go out and build up the islands for habitation.
Yes… this could work…
Continue reading WorldBuilding Step #1: Destroy the World!