Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Brave New Worlds and the Saga

How do you think of stuff like that?

That is probably the number one question I get from readers. I think the answer lies in the creation of new worlds. Every story--short or long--regardless of genre needs a setting. Most of us invent the setting for various reasons. My settings are just a tad different. (Stop snorting Kelly!)

I like to play "what if." Now that's a lot of fun, but eventually you have to get down to business. There's a very simple rule about world building. I learned it from reading Jayne Ann Krentz's early sci-fi romances. No matter how strange the world and beings that occupy that world, there must be something familiar for the reader to relate to.

In one of her books, the hero had a pet rockrug. It resembled a furry bath mat and had three rows of teeth on one edge. And that could be a little off-putting. But she named him Fred. See? How could he be that strange if his name was Fred? For every oddity, she hooked it back to something familiar.

Within that framework, there are certain things that must be decided up front. What kind of monetary system does the world have? What type of technology? What type of government? Clothing? Flora and fauna? And how do males relate to females? What do the people look like? What type of buildings do they live in? What is their mode of transportation?

Those are all decisions that need to be made before the story begins. You would be surprised at how many references we make in casual conversation to current events and technology. For instance. If your monetary system is a barter system like the one in the Mystic Valley books, then you must rework any expression that refers to money. "If I had a nickel for every time he did that..." Oops. No nickels. "I'd bet my paycheck..." Oops. No paychecks. I reworked one expression--"My barter credit is on you."

How does your world tell time? If there are no clocks, then there are no minutes, seconds, hours... so you must eliminate "Just a minute (or second)." And a host of other expressions that use time references.

Once you have made the basic decisions about your brave new world, I recommend a notebook. Every time you add a new facet, put it in the notebook. Then when your editor or FLE has a question, you don't have to pull your hair out trying to locate or remember the answer. Now why did I make them all blue? Just to make my editor crazy. Little did I know she was made of sterner stuff than that.

Here I should interject another observation. If you're going to invent words, keep a running glossary. A) Your editor will probably thank you. Maybe she will... B) If your publisher decides that your books need a glossary, it won't be so difficult to whip it up at a moment's notice. C) It's easier to check the glossary to make sure you don't use the same word for two different objects.

The same thing goes for a character list. It doesn't have to be difficult or fancy. John Smith - the baker, Harold Jones - the blacksmith, Clooney Clancey - the butcher... and so on. Mix common names with unusual. Too many unusual names just make your readers cross their eyes--especially the names with jumbles of letters.

When you've organized all your information about your world, then you can begin the story. There will still be things you will encounter that you'll have to think about. For instance, in my current work in progress, I needed a dangerous critter that could kill one of my bad guys. I thought about it. Within the context of the story, it needed to be something that was scary and frightening even before it attacked. Eventually, I settled on a large carnivorous spider. Now it would take a pretty darned big spider to do much damage. So the scene was changed to allow for a LOT of the critters. Think about that snake scene in the Indiana Jones movies. See? That's scary.

Most of the work that you do for your world building won't actually appear in your story. After all, you can't spend pages describing stuff. A lot of your world building will be for you, the writer. Things that you need to know. I use maps that I've drawn so that my characters don't go to the baker by way of the scenic route. It provides consistency from book to book. If you write with a sure touch because you know exactly where you're going, then you sort of tug your reader along with you.

Then when you've finished the story, let someone read it who hasn't had any exposure to your creation. Take note of the questions they ask. Make sure that you clear up the discrepancies. If you do a good job, your readers will embrace your new world and anxiously await each new installment.


“My life has plenty of colour.” Wanker – she once had a pet goldfish called Tarquin. She had to flush him down the dunny. “What about when I saved the Kambucatan High Chieftain, Wang Chung, against the knife throwing Tibetan anarchist Yum Cha?” Emmeline could see she had piqued goldfish boy’s interest. “It all started when I was sitting in the mountains of Tibet searching for…

“… the meaning life?” Tarquin interrupted her.

“No, I had run out of film and I came cross this village.” Emmeline gazed into the distance as remembered it as if yesterday. “At the gateway of the village, an ancient curse had been painted on a rock. It said…”

“If a picture is worth a thousand words, then two pictures are worth ten thousand words. Whoever cast their eyes on this curse shall spend eternity seeking the Golden Carrot.”

Tarquin was confused. “The Golden Carat? What is that?”

“Carrot,” Emmeline said impatiently. “Like the vegetable. The Golden Carrot!”

“So where is this Golden Carrot?” he demanded curiously. “And what do you do with it when you have it?”
“YOU PEEL IT, of course!” She kicked at his toes. “Why else would I carry around a PEELER?”

Gamely trying to work out the puzzle behind the carrot and the peeler, Tarquin cautiously inquired, “And then what? Once you peel it, then what do you do with it?”

“Duh… Eat it?” Emmeline rolled her eyes in disgust. “Hello? Laser eyes here… I need Golden Carrots to keep my laser vision!”

“Well, can’t you eat regular carrots?” he asked. “I thought regular carrots are supposed to be good for your eyes.”

“Laser vision!” she shouted. “Do you see anyone else around here with glowing laser eyes?”

“All right, all right. So where do you find the Golden Carrots?”

“If I knew that, I wouldn’t be looking for them, would I?” Emmeline was beginning to think that Tarquin was even dumber that Zoltan. There wasn’t much hope for Tarquin. Clearly she was going to have to use her peeler on the twit. She twiddled with her peeler, twirling it in circles while she considered the best way to dispose of the idiot…

Bamm! Emmeline shook her head and stared at her surroundings. Dammit, she'd done it again. When would she learn not to press the green button? The wall with the curse towered over her, blocking her view of the soaring mountains. Tibet, again?

Don't forget to check out Amarinda's blog at where she's interviewing Jean Hart Stewart, author of the Druid series from Cerridwen Press. Then pop over to Kelly's blog at where she holding forth on "the early onset of male chauvinistic pigism in our schools". Heh. That I want to read! Blessings on your day!


  1. Hmmm...I'm not sure I am smart enough to put all that effort in Anny. But you do it so well. I especially love the maps on your website.

    BTW - I'm glad we are still in Tibet

  2. I may have to create a map of Arbor U. In book #8, I have a new dormitory and a new park which has been added, and the location of the dorm has somehow morphed its way onto another street...oops, will have to fix that!

  3. While world-building is maybe the coolest part about writing fantasy, it is definitely the toughest part to do well. Like you've said, consistency is vital. Kudos on doing a consistently excellent job!

  4. I'm definitely not cut out for sci-fi. Couldn't world build to save my life. I think I'd wind up with lame names for each new word. As it is, my fingers hover over the keyboard trying to find just the right expressions. Ugh.

    Sidebar-had a flu shot today. Crimeny my arm hurts! Lead brick on fire. Ouchy.

  5. Annie

    You are so good at creating new worlds. I can't. My stories are all set in places I have visited. In a way, I like traveling back to these places through my stories. My book To Love a Hero that will be released in January is set in Belarus, a place where I went 16 times on business trips. Writing this book had been so much fun. Although, it's a fictional romance, I was living again all my adventures. I could see, literally see, every action described in the book.

    So I admired authors like Anny who can create a new world and make us accept it.


  6. Unless your book is non-fiction, then you are doing some type of world building. You create a room? Then you are world building. How do you remember where everything is in that room? All fiction has at least minimal world building in it. That was my point. All of us do it to some extent.

    Some settings require more extensive world building than others, but all fiction requires some.

  7. I adore your world building - it blows me away.

  8. You need to create a dictionary for your world, Anny.

  9. Except for Dancer's Delight, there's a glossary in the front of each of the Mystic Valley books.