Monday, May 12, 2014

World Building Part I

I write primarily fantasy. Second world fantasy. What does that mean? Well from what I can gather, and curse me for not taking some time to find an accurate and succinct definition to put up, it is any fantasy that takes place in another world that isn't our own. Now, it's a gray area distinction at best and we certainly can get muddled a bit over what it actually means, but I was thinking what it means today and if it really has to mean as we understand it. As a fantasy writer, one of the primary focuses of my writing, as loathe I am to say it, is worldbuilding.

It's easy to say "build the world as you build the story," but it's really not. Not if you want to create an effective and memorable world for your story to happen in. And since history and legend and myth are so important to fantasy as a genre, it's almost impossible to ignore world building.

I working a couple of angles here when it comes to world building, let me explain the first one and I'll go from there. I had an idea pop into my head. This happens all the time, especially in the most inconvenient places, so it wasn't anything unusual. Often they are fleeting ideas that come in partial bursts and get me interested enough to listen. Only the ones most noteworthy make it to the page of my writer's notebook, where I'll jot down the gist of what I was thinking to look back later to see if there was actually something there. Dozens of these pages litter the last four years worth of notebooks and few make beyond that, but they are there. Well, the idea that popped into my head this weekend was noteworthy enough and the thought led to another one that reminded me of something else. (Look, writer's brains work differently than everyone else's.) Let me explain.

A few months back (it may have been longer, I'm a little hazy on the specifics and I'm hoping the original person will see this and comment on it), someone on Twitter or Facebook or the blogsphere posited the question "Can anyone name a contemporary story that takes place in a secondary world?" (To be fair, I'm paraphrasing this because I don't remember how it was exactly phrased.) My answer at the time was Caprica and the Twelve Colonies of Kobol in the Battlestar: Galactica reboot. It was the best example I could think of, but even that could come into some debate as eventually the remaining colonists come to Earth and have heard of Earth (even though it's a legend), so it wasn't a perfect answer.

So, I started thinking about this as I thought about my new idea. It was a contemporary idea. It took place in a world I knew and I initially thought of making it a straight contemporary story. But that was boring to me and that wasn't exactly the book that I wanted to write. I knew that I didn't want it to take place on Earth. I wanted it to take place on a secondary world, like Middle Earth (stow the prehistoric Earth talk) or Westeros but with recognizable, modern technology. (Sort of.) But I didn't want it to be a lost colony/Firefly set up. I'm using that idea already and I'll talk about that in another post. So I wracked my brain trying to think of examples from literature and pop culture. Here's the list I came up with:
  • Sanderson's Alloy of Law: a pseudo-Western taking place in his Mistborn world.
  • Streets of Fire: a movie from the 80s set in an ambiguous, unnamed city with elements of the 50s and the 80s.
  • Caprica: the prequel to BSG was obviously set in a "second world" and combined the style of the 1950s with a new millennium tech level.
  • Abercrombie's Red Country: essentially a Western set in his First Law world. 
  • Kings: The short lived NBC show about a contemporary royal family. 
 Can any of you think of others?

What would a second world non-fantasy need? What should be my guidelines as I move forward on this project? When I actually start assembling this world for my story, I will share my thoughts, but I'm open to suggestions.

Up Next: World Building Part 2: Spackling: Fixing A Broken World.

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