MYC: Revising A World

Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. Last week, we continued our series on revision with Dynamic Dialogue. This week, we’re diving in to how to revise your world-building.

Building a world is a lot like building a life. There are a lot of ways to do it. For me, when I’ve got pages and pages of ideas and details, and mythology, and STUFF written about my world, it can be difficult to sort out what’s important to keep, and what’s chaff. In the moments when I begin writing my story, I try to remember that the world is like another character. It gains power in relation to other characters.

What that means is that it’s the details that are important. Not just any details, but those which tie to the heart of the people in that place—the details that matter to the characters. A few well-placed details of the world, in relationship with the characters are much more evocative than a vast array of details that aren’t bound to someone’s heart. Compare these two approaches to sharing details of a world:

Example 1: The table was scattered with oogleberries, picked from the tanglewood that hangs from the darkest edges of the cliffs of Baka. The sour purple berries weren’t ripe, and with a growl, I threw them to a banglebird sitting on the veranda.

Example 2: I sat down and popped a handful of oogleberries in my mouth, letting out a squeak as the bitter zing tensed all the muscles in my jaw. Mara had done it again. I’d lost count of how many times I had told my sister to pinch the leaves to see if they were ripe. It was like she was doing it on purpose. Groaning, I spit the berries out in my hand, resolving to make Mara eat them herself. This was just perfect. Now I would go to school with a headache and purple stains on my hand. I could forget about a good first impression. Everyone would take one look at me and think—amateur.

Taken at face value, the first paragraph has more world-building in it. It’s a broader stroke. The problem is we don’t connect with it. It has no real relationship to us. It’s when we dig deeper, and put it in relationship with the MC, and her sister, that we connect. We can learn about the banglebirds, and the cliffs, and the tanglewood as we get to them, in the context of the story, and when they matter.

That’s not to say things can’t sometimes be mentioned in passing, but those things should be a set up. If there are things in your world that need history/explanation (at some point) they should serve the story. They can serve the plot, or they can serve the internal development of the character, but they should matter.

For example, we first hear about a “bezoar” in passing, in Harry Potter’s first ever poisons lesson. We hear about it again, in the Goblet of Fire, when Harry is freaking out about how to ask Cho Chang to the ball. Bezoars come up again during potions class, in Half-Blood Prince, and then at last, Harry remembers what he’s learned about a bezoar and must find one to save his friend’s life. The details about the thing are trickled in when they’re relevant  (potions class) to move the story, as we need to know them. This works as a fantastic set up, because it’s repeated, and because it’s not swamped in a mire of other factoids. We learn more as Harry comes into relationship with the bezoar, and as it becomes important. Beware of stacking oddities and details simply to say, ‘hey look at all the stuff I know about this world’.

By revealing your world as your characters move through it, it becomes easier to figure out which details are vital and evocative, and which can be cut, or left in the pages of your pre-work for another time, or another book. It may be anti-intuitive at first (more is better, right?), but you’ll find that it’s the micro—the deeper dive over the course of the story—that will have universal appeal, and will paint the broader picture of your world.

–GABRIELLE K. BYRNE writes MG/YA fantasy in Olympia, Washington where she lives with her husband and two daughters. Gabby studied opera in Philadelphia, medieval studies in New York, literature in Scotland, and marine biology in the Pacific Northwest, but writing is the common thread that ties all her passions together. Her debut, RISE OF THE DRAGON MOON, comes out in winter, 2019 with Imprint/Macmillan. She is represented by Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management. Find her on Twitter. Her web site is here.

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MYC: Two Approaches to World Building for Science Fiction

Master Your Craft, writing craft, world buildingWelcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. Last week, we continued our series with Two Approaches to Fantasy World Building. Today we continue with world building by looking at two approaches to science fiction world building.

After reading Julie and Gabby’s post last week, we actually considered not writing this post. Really, what’s the difference between world building for fantasy and science fiction? Call the world you’ve created a newly terra-formed planet in the Andromeda galaxy, drop the magic system and add in some photon blasters and your good, right?

We found that while the basic building blocks for your world remain the same, our approaches to world building were different. We started in different places and built our characters differently, so it seemed worthwhile to do the post after all. Here’s a quick look at two approaches to science fiction world building.

Rebecca: I start with a technology concept. It’s not necessarily a huge concept; I don’t write space opera. Rather, I like to explore small changes in the technology available to a world, and the large ramifications they might have. Like the iPhone. I’m dating myself here, but do you remember when it came out? I have a vivid recollection of a friend showing me his phone and tipping the screen sideways and seeing the image reorient itself and thinking “Wow!” But I didn’t think I’d ever spend $600 on a phone. I certainly didn’t think that phones like that would dominate the market. That everyone would use them, not just for calls and texts but to manage their calendars and for Internet searches and navigation and games and entertainment. This is what I find interesting…the unexpected consequences.

After thinking through the tech, how it would work and most importantly what trouble it world building, writing craft, master your craftwould cause, I start thinking about characters. What types of characters would be the most interested in trying a revolutionary and possibly dangerous technology? I love writing geeks and entrepreneurs! Who would be nervous about the tech, perhaps wanted outlawed? Who might steal the tech for themselves and what would they do with it? Suddenly I’ve got the two sides of a conflict and can start thinking about plot points.

Halli: I didn’t start my sci-fi novel with the idea of writing in this genre. I had an idea for the plot – boy has a big, huge problem – and planned to write it as a middle grade contemporary story. It wasn’t until I developed this boy, and he showed me how much he loved science, that I realized the only way he would solve his problem was with some kind of crazy tech. So I let my imagination run wild.

I researched everything from emotions to matter, the brain to blasters. Then I took it to the next level, the fiction part of science fiction, to achieve the results my character wanted. Of course nothing works right the first time, which led to bigger and badder tech and inventions. The novel is contemporary, but the ideas, tech, and inventions still had an impact on the belief and political systems, and ideas and cultures of the world my characters lived in.

Rebecca, Julie, Gabby and I all have different processes for world building. There are as many different ways to create a fictitious world as there are Star Wars fans. And whichever one you choose, however detailed your world ends up, enjoy the opportunity to create an original part of the universe!

Tune in next week when we will recap all thirteen posts on prewriting. The week after, we’ll dive into drafting your manuscript!

HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. You can find her on Twitter.

 

Photo by Pam Vaughan

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes young adult science fiction with heroines much braver than she is and middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure. She’s on Twitter and her website is here.

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MYC – Two Approaches to Fantasy World Building

  Master Your CraftWelcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. Last week, we continued our series with Welcome to World Building. Today we continue to examine the humongous topic by looking at two approaches to fantasy world building.

When Gabby & I started talking fantasy world building, we figured out quickly that, while we agreed that character is central to world building, we approached the actual process very differently. Instead of trying to come up with *the* way to build fantasy worlds, we decided to share our different approaches in hopes that you can use some of our techniques in your own writing.

Julie’s Approach:

The first thing I do after I get an idea for a new world is read every comp title I can get my hands on so I know what the tropes are and can either avoid or subvert. Our Writing Cross-Culturally workshop round-up is a mini-course in how to avoid harmful tropes in world building. But I also check the genre tropes section of the TV Tropes Wiki to make sure I’m going into my world building with a good idea of what’s already out there.

Then comes the fun part–brainstorming. I brainstorm both how my story is different from what’s out there AND how it’s the same. This step often happens as part of my messy synopsis so that I can get feedback on the world from my amazing critique partners.

“Every story has already been told. Once you’ve read Anna Karenina, Bleak House, The Sound and the Fury, To Kill a Mockingbird and A Wrinkle in Time, you understand that there is really no reason to ever write another novel. Except that each writer brings to the table, if she will let herself, something that no one else in the history of time has ever had. –Anna Quindlen, Commencement Speech; Mount Holyoke College, May 23, 1999

Then I dive in to primary research. For a mythology-based world (which many of mine are), I read the original epic poems or stories looking for themes. I often take something from the original that I find sexist or racist or otherwise irritating and subvert it in my story. China Mieville’s brilliant UnLunDun is a great example of subverting the typical Chosen One trope, for example, because the Chosen One doesn’t actually end up saving the day.

I also love fantasy world building that includes unexpected mash-ups. Finnish epic poems meet Star Wars. Ugly Duckling plus dragons. Goonies plus sea turtles. Building a world at the intersection of two things you love can give lots of room for creativity and help you bring that something special that Anna Quindlen is talking about in the quote above.

But that’s all pre-writing. What does the actual writing look like? You already learned last week that the ten-page info dump is a no-no and that it’s best to weave in details during scenes with forward action. Probably my most-used world building comment to my clients is: BE SPECIFIC. A platter of meat on the table is so much less evocative then roasted hell-boar basted with clarion berry jam. Even better if the main character’s father was gravely injured on a hell-boar hunt years ago or if the seeking out the clarion berries is a right-of-passage that the main character hopes to participate in soon. Then the details become a way to build character, foreshadowing what is to come, recall backstory, and, ultimately, make the world you’re creating on the page come to life.

The Girl From Everywhere has amazing fantasy world buildingSome recent books that have really vivid fantasy world building include A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano, The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, and Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo.

 

Gabby’s Approach:

I always do character interviews and development first. Then I do a sort-of world interview. At this point, I may have a general plot outline, but I know that as I develop details of the world, it will impact plot and character, and vice versa. There’s triangulation that happens between the three that takes on a life of its own. To build the world, I have a series of questions, some of which I’ve come up with myself, and others which I’ve gleaned from friends, the internet, and workshops.

I have a strong background in environmental science, so I always include details about the weather, the geology, the seasons, and the flora and fauna in my world building. These have impacts on the lives of my characters. For example, I might explore the variety of predators in this world. Is it a creature that might attack my character? Do they travel in packs, like coyotes? Will my character have lingering anxiety that it might eat her cat? I explore food sources. Are there plants that are harvested, or animals that are farmed–what are they and how are they made available?

I go for LOTS of details–everything from the culture and general beliefs or taboos of a world, to the ecosystem, to the clothing and housing. I’d say I might use about a third of this information in the book. If you’re not sure why these sorts of details might be key ingredients, just look at the role of the poisonous berries in The Hunger Games. Whether or not a character would know those berries isn’t just about the world–it’s about the way the character interacts with their world.

To me there are some details that are more emotional and evocative than others, because they’re universal heart-lines. In my mind those are housing, weather, food, and religion/mythology. These three areas inform all of the best, and most emotional parts of our lives. We share food with family (unless we don’t have one, and then we eat alone). We remember our mother’s cooking, the smells and tastes of our childhood. We believe what we’re taught, or we strain against it. A well built world exerts pressure on a character, and can exert opposing pressure in their relationships. A rainy day, with its scent of wet earth, and heavy sky might mean, and evoke, something very different for me, than it does for you.

I research as needed, as I go. Examples might be anything really: tie-ins to an existing creature or mythology, symptoms of respiratory disease, how to cook a hell-boar (nod to Julie), or I may want to know about the dragonfly life cycle to adapt it for a creature of my own. I don’t really start to think about tropes, cliches or sensitivity reading until I’ve got something pretty developed, unless I notice something that gives me pause along the way.

In terms of implementation of the world, I second Julie. SPECIFICS. Really what this is about is that you don’t find the emotional, evocative ties that bind in broad strokes. Painting the world (relaying all the work you just did) feels–well, it doesn’t feel at all. What touches the reader and ties them to your character, and to your world, is the relationship between that character and the world–it’s in the MICRO. It’s in the details. It’s in the freezing cold wind that your character is going to have to go out in to get their sister. It’s in the smell of that dessert, made with special berries that only come out once a year. It’s in the sad lonely song, sung by a man with no ear for music, that everyone knows, but hasn’t heard in years because it was outlawed. The rocks under your feet impact you. They bruise your skin. All of these things are about the world, as interpreted by the character.

Three Times Lucky has amazing fantasy world building Some books that do fantasy world building  really well are: Three Times Lucky, A Year Down Yonder, Icefall, Howl’s Moving Castle, Savvy, and Scorpio Races.

Tune in next week when we will explore world building in science fiction.

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MYC: Welcome to World Building

  Master Your Craft Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. Last week, we continued our series with Setting as a Character. For the next few weeks, we will be talking about the humongous and intimidating topic of world building. Today we start by looking at the topic as a whole and how it can be applied to contemporary stories.

At it’s most basic, world building is fun, the height of creativity. Close your eyes and imagine a society as strange and decadent as Panem, the capital in The Hunger Games, or place as real and (to some) familiar as a middle school basketball court. Let your imagination run wild, or keep things simple and true. What will serve as the best backdrop for your characters and action?

  • When is the story happening? Past, present, or future?
  • Where? Small-town, America or a galaxy far, far away?
  • What resources do your characters have at their disposal? Money? Magic? Advanced weapons? Or nothing but their own muscle and ingenuity?
  • What do your characters believe and how does that square or contrast with the beliefs of the society around them?

So why is world-building intimidating? Because if you allow yourself to dream up something spectacular and then take the ten or twenty pages to outline your masterpiece of a world, every critique partner will tell you to delete it and get your plot moving. The hard thing about creating a world isn’t dreaming it up, it’s dropping bits and pieces everywhere in your story, not serving it up in one big chunk.

Let’s look at building the world for a story. There are so many potential areas to consider,  it’s helpful to have a checklist:

  • Geography– environment, terrain, weather, rural/urban setting, natural resources
  • Politics– types/roles of governments, stability, power, laws
  • Society– population, city/town size, diversity, gender/family roles, education, language, architecture, naming conventions
  • Economics– finances, socioeconomic status, cost of living, unemployment, import/export
  • Belief Systems– religion, spirituality, practices, freedom, tolerance
  • Ideas/Cultures– values, dress, arts, heroes, communication, leisure time
  • Technology– types, availability, usage

So how can you avoid the ten-page info-dump? Here are a few hints about slipping your world into the story.

  • Character’s actions
  • Social context
  • Physical descriptions
  • Language/Emotions
  • Names
  • Sensory descriptions – smells, sounds, texture
  • Dialogue

Let’s look, again, at The Hunger Games.

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.
From The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

In the first paragraph of the book, we learn that Katniss’s family is poor (bare mattress), and we’ll know by the end of the second page that her whole district is. We learn that Prim is important to Katniss. We don’t know what the reaping is, but we know it’s bad and will keep reading to find out more. The trick that Suzanne Collins pulls off so well, is to keep the action moving while you pull the reader about your world. To show the world it in everything the characters see, feel and think.

It is easy to pick out the world building bits in fantasy, science fiction and historical fiction, but what about contemporary stories? On one hand, writers of contemporaries get it easy. The world of their story is the world of the reader, so it’s all out there. That allows some short cuts. On the other hand, ours is a big world. Where does this story take place within it?

Let’s look at the first page of The Crossover by Kwame Alexander.

Dribbling

At the top of the key, I’m
MOVING & GROOVING,
POPping and ROCKING
Why you BUMPING?
Why you LOCKING?
Man, take this THUMPING.
Be careful though,
‘cause now I’m CRUNKing
CrissCROSSING,
FLOSSING
flipping
and my dipping will leave you
S
L
I
P
P
I
N
on the floor, while I
SWOOP
 in
to the finish with a fierce finger roll…
Straight in the hole:
Swoooooooooooosh.
from The Crossover by Kwame Alexander*

The constant movement, slang and trash talk sets the world quickly. A sports game. Did you guess we were on a basketball court before the swoosh? In this world, the young player knows he’s good and wants his opponent to know it too. You may not know much about the character yet, but I bet you’re not imagining this gym is in some fancy prep school. This world building is all done while he’s taking the ball to the net.

Tune in next week when we will explore world building in fantasy. You can also find more information on world building here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4nVDoojTrs
http://nkjemisin.com/2015/08/worldbuilding-101
http://io9.gizmodo.com/7-deadly-sins-of-worldbuilding-998817537

*Apologies to Mr. Alexander. I could not get the formatting of his words nearly as cool as it is in print. See the published novel for the full effect!

HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. You can find her on Twitter.

 

Photo by Pam Vaughan

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure and young adult science fiction with heroines much braver than she is. She’s on Twitter and her website is here.