Success only flourishes in perseverance -- ceaseless, restless perseverance.
--Baron Manfred Von Richtofen

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Writing Speculative Fiction: Part V--World Building

I'm going to do a series of posts on speculative fiction for a class I'll be teaching at an upcoming writing conference. Hope you all will find some value here!

I think we can safely define speculative fiction as fiction about the world as it isn't. As it might be. Not the world as it is. That makes world building so crucial. You want to create a setting that is believable, consistent, and so richly detailed that your readers will feel like they are actually there.

You need to know the geography, the history, the culture, the customs, the rules that govern the technology or the magic. The symbols that speak to the people you have created. The way the air feels. The way it smells. The way the light falls. In other words, you need to create every detail for yourself so you know the world as well as you know the world you live in.

There are many different ways to go about creating your world. Draw maps, draw pictures, create models, write down descriptions... Really, anything you can think of. My favorite method is to daydream about the world, all the irrelevant bits that won't go into the story, until I feel like I know the place well enough. Use your imagination and have fun. This can be one of the most enjoyable parts of writing speculative fiction.

A word of caution, though. Readers don't need or want all the details that you have created. In fact, too much description of the world gets boring pretty fast. You have to pick and choose which details to include. Those which will drive the story along. Those which give the reader enough of a taste of the world that they'll be able to fill in the gaps with their own imaginations. Little details go a long way.

Really, I think world building is a large part of the appeal of speculative fiction. It's wonderful to be able to dwell for a while in a new or far-off place, or even somewhere close to our own world, but just different enough to give us a whole new perspective.

What are your favorite world building tricks?

Up next: Part VI--Conclusion

Read: Part I--What is Speculative Fiction
Read Part II--Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy
Read Part III--Rules for Writing Speculative Fiction
Read Part IV--Exposition


Charmaine Clancy said...

All those times my teachers told me to stop day-dreaming in class - and I was really world building. :)

Wagging Tales

Kurt Kammeyer said...

I had to draw detailed maps of my imaginary world, Edom, so I could keep track of where everything and everyone was. Then I divided it up into various ethnic regions, and tailored the language of my characters to match. That way, you can always "recognize" someone from Kentak, or Akameria, or the Guren Empire, say.

Terry W. Ervin II said...

My trick is to ponder the ramifications of future technologies, advancements, governmental strucures, etc. Cause and effect, including ripples into otherwise unanticipated areas of not only how characters and story will be affected, but society, habitats, families, religion, etc.

Nisa said...

There are tricks to it? I don't know. I just sit down and daydream and it kind of just comes together around the characters. I like what some people do with mirroring existing cultures, too, but my favorite is when there's no noticeable connection to reality and yet the world still feels real.

Brenda Sills said...

Angie! I love your superlative, speculative posts! They have wonderful info while being perfectly concise. Thanks!

I was so happy to see you at LTUE! What an extraordinary person you are! And how fun it was to chat with you!
& A Humongous WAHOO for your book coming out soon! :D

Carolyn V said...

I just imagine it like a movie. Totally makes my world come to life. ;)

Angie said...

Yes, Charmaine. Daydreaming is a good thing! Kurt, that's awesome! Terry,you do a great job of it.

Thanks for your thoughts, everyone!

Laura Josephsen said...

I love uncovering the little details as I world-build--but as you said, not all of them go in the book. I think the challenge is to introduce the world in as natural a way as possible, so that it feels perfectly normal to be there, even if it's not normal by our standards.

Really enjoying this series you're doing. :D