Easily one of my favourite parts about writing speculative fiction is world building.
And I’m not talking about “setting,” though of course the two are connected. I’m talking about the development of the entire background reality that the story takes place in. I’m talking the rules of the world, the geography and history and mythology and religion and society and culture and everything else.
Almost by definition, speculative fiction doesn’t take place in our world As We Know It — even spec-fic stories that take place on Earth will have something about them that’s different or interesting. Heck, even non-genre “literary fiction” has this to some extent — as my Writing for TV prof said, even in a show that’s not sci-fi or fantasy, there are Rules of the World that the show follows, and I think this is true of all writing.
And those Rules are things you need to, as a writer, have a complete understanding of before you can create your story. If things work a certain way in your world, your characters have an understanding of that, and it affects how the characters would act.
It’s also important not just to know the Rules of the world, but to have some idea of all that background setting as well. That too will affect how people in your story act. And it might not be something that you tell the reader — you don’t need to explain all the Rules and the setting to them. But if you know the Rules and the setting, it will come out in your writing, in your characters, and your reader will get some measure of understanding of it themselves. Knowing these things lets your world really Come Alive, and feel real — it lets the reader become fully immersed in your tale.
For my new novel project, Shadow of Death, I’m setting it in a completely fictional fantasy world. I first created this world, oh, probably twelve years ago, for use in Dungeons and Dragons. It’s gone through innumerable changes over the years, and I’m making some more cosmetic changes to it for this project. But every iteration has added something to the world that’s been kept, and over the years it’s become something quite real in my mind.
I haven’t worked on it in awhile, but when I was thinking about this new novel, I started getting back into it. There are so many things I love creating — imagining whole cultures and religions, creating political situations, designing maps, detailing thousands of years of history. I love taking real-world mythologies and playing with them, changing them, combining them, reworking them into something familiar and yet entirely new.
It’s like playing with Lego as a kid. (Ooo, there would be a good blog topic.)
There’s so much that’s gone into this world already, and so much more I want to do with it. Over the next little while, as I work on it, I think I’d like to talk some more about some specifics — let you into my world building process. It’s quite the ride.
…if you’re a total history/religion/geography/fantasy/mythology geek like me.