Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Help! World-Building!

In a very occasional blog series, I reach out to bloggers and yell "Help!" In this case, I had a speculative fiction idea, but the whole world-building element scared me.

"Gwen Tolios," I said, "how do you world-build?"

And she said... 


My World Building Secret - Pretending I'm Five by Gwen Tolios
  
When Annalisa asked me to do a guest post on world-building, I was so excited. Because world-building is my favorite part of the writing process. I like naming things, drawing maps, figuring out how things work.  To me, it's no different then going to a new city and hitting the streets to explore. Instead, I'm just hitting the keyboard and peering into stories.

So how do I world-build?

I ask my favorite question - why? - ten million times.

For example, in my current WIP I am running with the idea of humans being modified for space colonization instead of the planet. But this just can't happen, oh no, there has to be a reason.  So why did it happen? Is it cheaper? Faster? A science experiment?  Or maybe something a little more dramatic, such as the disastrous Moon Failure that highlighted just how risky living in artificial environments were.

The thing is, the world your story takes place in might be fictional, but it still has to function as a real one. It's real to your characters and it has to be real to your readers. And here in the real world, there is always a reason. Why aren't airships a thing anymore?  It has to do with the dramatic intersection of incidents like the Hindenburg and the improvement of airplane technology. Why did Westeros build a giant ice wall? To protect it from the White Walkers.

It's often not just one thing, one reason.  If I've learned anything in life it's how interconnected things are.  America has a problem with obesity and it's because there are lots of fast food chains. But fast food is also cheap food and it can be the only way for low income families to get a full meal. Eating right and healthy is expensive and out of reach.  So obesity is a poverty issue. Or maybe a cultural one, because America is a car culture that's also addicted to TV and the Internet. Or a social one, as social movements preach body positivity and more and more people are okay with being overweight.

Things can get messy, but that's life, and often times in your fiction that same thing has to happen.

Take the Hunger Games. Why do those Games even exist? It's a way for the government to install fear and control over the Districts. It is symbol of how a previous uprising had tried pull down the Capital, but didn't. It is a show of power. It is a distraction and entertainment for those in the Capital. It's a way to pit districts against each other. It gives the average citizen a rare chance at getting a better life.

Why is a minority treated harshly? Their country attacked this one 50 years ago, but lost, and it's the remnants of the army that live in the slums and fill the bars. Why must wizards use wands? They need its a buffer, because channeling magic through the body can be deadly. Why is do people never address gods by name? It draws their attention, which you might not want. Pick a part of your world, or even your plot, and ask why?


Dig deeper and deeper, asking questions, and before you know it you'll have a world with a history and a reason for why things are they way they are. 

Thank you so much, Gwen. I love asking myself What If...? but now I know I need to ask Why? as well.


About Gwen Tolios
Gwen Tolios hails from the American Midwest and uses her experiences abroad to shape her speculative fiction. Author of Flicker, she's currently working on YA SF story inspired by her time in Ethiopia.
Gwen blogs at Fulfilling Dreams.

20 comments:

  1. This was really interesting for me to read as I've never tried world building and am intimidated by the idea of it. Thanks for sharing your process, Gwen!

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  2. Awesome. That's the single best question in the entire writerly world--whether applied to world building, character motivations, or the theme of a story. Awesome.

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  3. Why is definitely one of the best questions you can ask! I'm a huge questions asker in my writing. Why? If this is true, what else is true? What makes ___ act that way?

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    1. Questions are always a good way to dig down deep and understand things. I'm glad you use them too!

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  4. this is an excellent post and really made me think about how much goes into building other worlds. But to some extent, even creating the proper settings for regular life - too often I don't ask why. I think I assume the reader will just know where I'm coming from. Thanks for bringing in your guest. This was a good blog "party".

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    1. Glad I got you thinking! And yes, you can use 'why' for stories set in modern day too. 50/50 though on whether that requires more research or not.

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  5. This is a great post. I'm currently writing fantasy, and I never feel like I'm handling the world-building aspect well.

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    1. Glad you like it M.J.! Hopefully this helps you.

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  6. Brilliant post that gets the mind whirring!! Thanks for taking the time to share - really useful stuff! Enjoy the rest of the week.

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    1. So glad you found this useful! *blushes*

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  7. Fantastic post. It is all about the little things connecting together to build the world. Well done.

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    1. Exactly, Christine! Things build on each other. You often have to ask 'why' three times in a row.

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  8. World building is a blast. I write a series based on humans modified for planets instead of planets terraformed. And yes, it all has to make some sort of logical sense.

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    1. World building is fun, isn't it? It's by far my favorite (and easiest) part. And hey, we had a similar idea. Great minds do think alike. ^_~

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  9. Hi everyone, thanks for popping in and checking out Gwen's post.

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  10. Great post, Gwen! And timely, as I'm working on some pre-writing right now that requires world-building.

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  11. Excellent post! World building is the most exciting part of fantasy and sci-fi (and some other speculative fiction areas). Asking questions about why, digging deeper into the story behind the written story- that's a great way to start.

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