World Building Basics

Whenever a writer creates a story, no matter if it is romance, thriller, science-fiction, fantasy, or even historical nonfiction, they engage in world building. For some genres, the world is 80% to 90% already fixed in place. After all, if the author produces a thriller about an out-of-control president trying to become dictator in 2017 America, most of the “world” is already known and accepted by the readers. The writer doesn’t worry about what the outer buildings look like, how the city/state/country operates, or even what currency is used.

However, the author still must build a “world” in terms of the president’s inner sanctum, his personal taste in clothing, his support people, and what objects, rooms, or architectures have deeper meaning in this novel. For instance, does the White House really have a Kennedy Rumpus Room (as in Mars Attacks) or a secret tunnel for sneaking out? I love watching the old show, West Wing, but figure the workrooms of the White House probably don’t really look like the show’s depiction, which were created for easy filming.

indoor fairy house side view

World building on a small craft scale. My fairy garden.

The world-building phenomenon doesn’t stop with the written word. Any avid role-playing gamer, video game developer, or even architect understands the importance of planning the big picture and the many details that go into a given place and time.

Incredulity in the Setting

Of course, the farther the story stretches away from reality and the here-and-now, the more the author must create the setting. Historical texts, science fiction, and fantasy all must include a clear and defined world that not only engages the reader but also makes sense. Sometimes making sense is the hardest part.

Readers and TV/movie viewers all have a disbelief point (called my bullshit line) where they inherently know something in a setting doesn’t work. For instance, using poultry for financial exchanges may work in a fantasy novel, but trading chickens for ship parts looks stupid in science fiction. Plus, carrying baby chicks around in space suits while experiencing zero-g is difficult and silly. The movie, Life, (reviewed in a previous blog) is a great example of crossing the bullshit line.

Common Rules of World Building

The disbelief point comes from breaking concrete rules of all worlds. Bypass those rules and the story becomes stupid/silly/terrible very quickly. Here are a few overarching principles that should never be crossed or ignored.

Science

Science is true and usually unbreakable everywhere and every when. Therefore, living things should die/freeze in space, people can’t fly without assistance, and bullets, gasoline, poisons, and magic should all work in predictable ways. This includes NOT standing near a pool of gasoline and igniting a match unless you want to lose all your body hair. The vapor is more ignitable than the pool.

Common Sense

People must wear clothes that make sense. Going around naked causes sunburns. Wearing diaphanous material in a winter wonderland is dumb even indoors. Heating costs and buildings always leak. People must also eat food and drink water daily, so going for days without any sustenance should create horrible effects.

Magic

Magic must make sense for the situation. It should have an effort cost and not act like a gun with a never-ending supply of bullets (a fault of many television shows). Don’t use it for the answer to everything. Magic should also follow scientific principles. For instance, if you put a cream pie into a “bag of constant falling,” you will decapitate yourself (or someone else) when you open the bag again since the cream pie is going at a tremendous speed. This idea came from a Dungeons and Dragons adventure with physicists (fun folks who like to get creative with their weaponry).

High Tech

Although I agree with the idea that high tech advancements become indistinguishable from magic to a primitive race, high tech must also make sense. One machine doesn’t do it all. Personally, I don’t believe in the machine-turns-to-god idea. High tech should also have a cost for using it and a possibility of breakdown.

Consistency of the Story

Any established rule of the story’s world must not be broken later, at least not without a tremendous cost. If an angry mob storms the palace because of a class system of cruelty and poverty, one man giving a speech isn’t going to stop the bloodshed. Stopping to sleep in ancient ruins should include nasty things like bugs, snakes, or mice in the overgrown areas. They don’t have to attack the characters, but the place isn’t going to be a pristine wonderland either.

Conclusion

This blog only represents the highlights of a deep and complex part of writing great stories. World building is both fascinating and daunting in its depths but critically important in that the writer must understand of the grand ideas and minutiae details of his or her world. In the coming weeks, I’ll post a number of blogs on world-building specifics along with some thoughts based on my own novels. Please feel free to add your input, ideas, or stories of the complexities of your worlds.

 

 

Trailer Park Fae Brings Disease into Fairydom

Although Lilith Saintcrow is a leader in the urban fantasy genre, writing under several names, Trailer Park Fae was my first experience with her work. I enjoyed reading this book, which is unusual because I’m not partial to fairy stories. I was entranced immediately by the quality of the writing. It engulfed me with sensory details, making it easy for me to lose myself in our world and the different fairy kingdoms. The prose flows beautifully and I felt immediately engaged with the complex characters.

Trailer FaeSaintcrow’s fantasy realm overlays and connects easily with the humans’ grittier reality. However, the people are oblivious to the sidhe in their ranks. The fae use them as tools or victims always to the detriment or death of the humans. This makes the fae mostly horrible, an idea that might not be popular with some readers. Whether the monster is a space alien, demon spawn, or Summer Queen, we like to think that humanity could defeat or at least break even at some point. This novel does not harbor those illusions. The two protagonists are half human at least, which is the only reason why they survive their interactions with the other worlders.

The story dives into three plots interweaving three different characters. First, Jeremiah Gallow, half-fae and ex-guard of the Summer Palace, is fighting off suicidal depression after the death of his human wife. He has turned his back on the sidhe, wanting only to be left alone. Unfortunately, he drops into the middle of a complex conspiracy dealing with a plague on the sidhe and the fight between the kingdoms to control the cure.

Next enters Robin Ragged, an unwilling messenger of the Summer Queen. Robin becomes the key to controlling the plague that is decimating Unwinter’s realm. Gallow meets her by accident when she tries to outrun the King’s henchmen. She resembles Gallow’s wife, which sets off a protectiveness and curiosity in him. This sets up emotional tension between the two characters and provides the impetus for both to work together.

The third character is Puck Goodfellow, a free fae unattached to any court and seeking to make trouble in both. He stands outside most of the action, serving as the role of conductor to orchestrating the chaos. His hidden agenda and desires are not revealed until toward the end of the novel.

Although I enjoyed the lovely narrative, the descriptions sometimes ran on too long, obscuring meaning rather than clarifying a vision. Some of the phrasing and words were unfamiliar to me as well, which I put down to the fact that I don’t know the genre. Usually the meaning of certain unusual words can be picked up through the text, but that was not the case here. A glossary would have helped.

The ending, although surprising, still felt incomplete. The story of Goodfellow resolves but the others are left open for the obvious sequel. I’m a fan of series but feel that each book should stand alone. More resolution for the primary characters would have been nice.

In conclusion, if you like evil fairy-oriented urban fantasy, you’ll enjoy this book. However, readers new to the genre might get a little lost with this novel being their first choice.