My strong suit isn’t worldbuilding. I don’t mean that I don’t imagine my world and see it with awe and wonder, I mean that what I see in my head doesn’t always make it to the page like it should. So I thought, why not attend a forum and make weak things strong.
Enter Howard Tayler, author of the online comic Schlock Mercenary, and all decked out in steampunk attire. Think chef’s coat, but black with metal buttons on top, and big shoes that look like they came straight from the costuming department of Flash Gordon. Maybe this is how Howard always dresses, but I thought it especially appropriate for a forum on worldbuilding via a scifi guy.
WHEN IT COMES TO WORLDBUILDING
Resist the temptation to worldbuild for worldbuilding’s sake. A dragon that is in the background that doesn’t do anything doesn’t need to be there. Don’t describe scenes that will have little bearing on your story. What the character sees should tell the reader either something about that character or something about the story. What would your character notice? And what descriptions can you use to help create your story?
Ask yourself, what kind of a story do I want to tell? Build your world around that answer.
A HORSE IS A HORSE
There are things that you’ll do when you worldbuild that you shouldn’t. You’ll take the things that you are familiar with and put them in exactly as you’re familiar with them. Take for example horses. If you’re writing a fantasy story, odds are horses will show up sooner or later. But let me ask you this question. Does your horse behave like a horse or like a motorcycle?
Because most of us aren’t around horses we tend to treat horses in our stories like motorcycles. It’s an object that gets us from point A to point B. We ride it from one location and park it, like a motorcycle and carry on. But that’s not how people typically treated horses back in the day. They were companions, they were been given names, and treated more like another person than an object.
SCIENCE IN STORY
We want to be as consistent as possible. We want it to be internally consistent. The reader is forming opinions as you’re writing. If you change from the “writer’s conference” to the “David Copperfield magic show” it doesn’t work. Keep your story’s world consistent with your story.
When you’re writing scifi, you’re going to have to deal with science and the way it works with your world. But even if you’re writing urban fantasy, like Harry Potter urban fantasy (I was thinking of you at this time, Kate) you still have to use it. When you are worldbuilding you have to leverage the best of the both worlds. Like making magic work with science.
What is Brandon Sanderson’s first law of magic? The ability of the protagonist to solve a problem with magic is directly proportional to the reader’s understanding of magic. Let’s use Lord of the Rings as an example. What are the rules for Frodo’s ring? The ring must be destroyed, but the problem is everyone who wears the ring gets corrupted and ultimately won’t destroy the ring. So how do you get the ring destroyed in a way that works with the rules of your story? You don’t have to throw the ring in, but the ring has to get thrown in. (That’s why Gollum destroying the ring ultimately makes sense).