Whilst scrolling through one of the writing organisations I subscribe to, I came across a workshop on world building with Terry Dowling, one of Australia’s acclaimed speculative fiction writers. Although I don’t write in this genre I am very much interested in world-building, and certainly this genre is one where the intricacies are very evident. The workshop unfortunately was in NSW so I could not attend but it got me thinking.
Speculative Fiction (science fiction and fantasy) is an exacting taskmaster when it comes to world-building. It demands feasibility and asks the author to be specifically creative to that that genre. Believability has to exist so we are sufficiently chilled; terrified, transported to whenever we turn the page. A believable world will feed the character connection. We will see, feel, touch, taste and hear and satisfy our human senses even when the characters before us are inhuman. What makes it work? What gives the alternate reality credibility not just in speculative fiction but in all genres?
For me, it is the consistency of the world created and it is the little touches we can relate to. Creative is good but consistent keeps it from falling apart. None of it can occur without the author managing great feats of logic that are then applied to the way that world, functions. We don’t want illusions shattered by even the most trivial detail. We also need to have some trappings of the real world as part of the created world. Readers need to be able to relate to give the setting credence just as they need to relate to make a connection to the characters.
In romance for instance, as much as the emphasis is on the couple, the surrounds have to be taken into account as well. This refers to more than the physical setting. To me, what makes the romance real, are the people in it that somehow are connected to the lovers. Many romances predominantly focus on the couple, and their interaction. I have no argument with this at all but the books that stay with me are those that replicate real life. Real life is not lived in isolation. My couple have family, have friends and even acquaintances. Sometimes my extras have an active role that is apparent, sometimes their role is peripheral. I wanted to mimic life. Life dictates others have a say in what we do. We are dominos in waiting. Am I right in my thinking?
Straight away, I ask myself, why did I decide to write? It is time-consuming (or devouring might be a better way to describe it), confusing and painful. So often there is lack of feedback. Do you then write book number two when it is uncertain number one will succeed? It certainly doesn’t prevent book number three and four floating in my head which increases the pressure. Each one when finally written will test the consistency theory because the world-building is expanding to include new, past and future characters. Readers will be sure to find any discrepancy so maybe instead of writing I should be hiding under the bed.
I read a recent post which was fascinating in itself, but that also helped me make sense of things. The author, Fae Rowen compares writing to glass-blowing. The extraordinary thing is that my daughter-in-law asked me just the other day what my father did. She didn’t know as he died long before she came on the scene. He was a glass blower. Fae’s post really resonated. Here is a short excerpt:
Next I moved to a metal table where I had arranged the small bits of color into a large rectangle. I rolled the glass oval through the middle of the mostly emerald green with a sprinkling of cobalt blue, then rolled back, angling to catch the leftover color on the top and bottom of the glass before it cooled.
Doesn’t it sound a complicated process, even in that small piece of description? Yet despite this, I personally found it an enthralling analogy to writing. It felt fluid. Reading, even that small section, swept me along in a flow similar to the words on a page. Can something feel flowing? I know flowing can be seen. Does it matter? The point is that I reacted strongly and it brought home something very basic and simple. You don’t take up glass blowing unless you’re serious. You don’t spend endless hours at a computer unless you mean business.
I was speaking to an author friend on the weekend who reminded me of why I was in this. Yes, the whole thing is maddening. It is also a spectacular passion. The pain results in a creation of something unique to you. Whether an audience sees it or not, the creation exists – a whole new world. If you are in this for the long haul you have forever to perfect your craft and keep building that world, or even create a whole new one. What can be better?
Thank you for reminding me why it takes so long to write a novel! It requires you to create whole new worlds. Complicated, indeed.
It is but so much more as well.
This resonated with me. The world of words, even in my field, is a struggle. Trying to find the words to connect with your audience, to entice them to take a chance on you, to instill a piece of your personality that somehow resonates….it’s so tricky…and I’m only talking about advertising services. But even in this there is a need to build a strong picture of the world of my business. Two minutes before I read this I wrote down 2 words for myself to stay focused on my direction – 1. consistency 2. connection. Two things you do very well Barb, particularly in your first novel. Looking forward to the second. x
I love how you get what I am trying to say. It doesn’t matter what you write creating a strong picture is very important. In advertising I think it’s vital for creating trust and I think this is something you do well. Thank you for your kind words.
Nice piece, Barbara. Though I think glass-blowing in some ways would be harder (you can’t unsprinkle colour!), though in some ways easier (it won’t take 2,000hrs to make a single piece). I completely agree with the consistency and connection comments.
I was thinking about the importance of plausibility, too, then decided it’s an off-shoot of consistency. If a character acts implausibly, it’s a failure of consistency with their personality and past actions; if a “thing” in the world is implausible, it’s a similar inconsistency tied to that world’s history or to human nature or whatever. (I found the Divergent movie to feel a bit that way to me: I couldn’t imagine a way that human society would have headed into such a bizarre structure in the first place.)
Thank you for reading my post. I like that you brought up plausibility. It is an off-shoot of consistency but it also makes its own statement. Plausible makes it easier to believe the fiction even when it’s way out in left field. It brings it back to what we know.