Tuesday, August 23, 2011

As Real As You Can Fake It

As C.J. mentioned Monday, this week we are talking about how we create the fictional worlds of our books and short stories.

Most of us are, no doubt, jaded by the fantastic world we see in the movie versions of books like Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter.

One must also remember that the creation of the worlds in those classics took years. In some cases, authors like J.R.R. Tolkien died while still fleshing out their new worlds.

My worlds are not quite that extensive.  Why? Because they don’t need to be. There was only one J.R.R. Tolkien, only one C.S. Lewis. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel.

Fortunately, I don’t have to and neither do you.

I form my fictional lands from what I have or see around me. A childhood visit to Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket can be the inspiration for an island of a fantasy age for Damsels of Distress.

For Land of the Blind, the lead character, Devereaux Marshall Fox, operates in a futuristic world, but one not more than a century or two beyond this current age. Therefore, I need only to bone up with an issue or two of Popular Science to get the juices flowing and come up with potential new technology for the future.

And I also use what I view. I see Tom Cruise uses special gloves to physically move items around a three-dimensional computer screen. Then, I see a prototype of that computer where users use interactive technology to move things around a flat screen. The computer can be displayed on any surface with a holographic fully functioning keyboard beamed onto any hard surface. Amazing stuff that I need only advance a few years for my world – say, in the form of a cell phone that can do all that.

I see a spy magazine advertising glasses with miniature cameras attached so the wearer can have both hands free. With a little imagination, those glasses can become view screens for computer information like map directions.

And why stay on Earth. Pay attention to the news. They found ancient waterways on Mars. So, imagine what Mars might have looked like with canals and oceans. Transfer those thoughts to a completely new world.

We all took science in school. We all know or have heard about novas, supernovas, black holes, quasars, red giants, pulsars. We might not have paid attention but we heard of them. Use that stuff. Make that journey through space much more realistic, so that when you do introduce something totally made up, it will seem natural.

Think of the Wormhole from Star Trek. That theory is so out there, it literally only exists in the minds of sc ience fiction writers. Scientists can barely get past the theory of dark energy and cold fusion. But, by using the foundations of basic science, writers can create wormholes to travel across entire galaxies in mere hours instead of years and, voila, readers and viewers think wormholes really do exist.

And, most importantly, remember the two most important aspects of your fictional world.

One, it must be survivable.

Create something so inhospitable that your characters have no chance of survival and watch the readers chuck the book or erase it from the Kindle. Your characters must be able to adapt and survive

And two – the most important feature –YOU have to like it. Seems like a no-brainer, but if you create a world that repulses you, you’re not going to revisit it to create your stories. It will be like one of those houses you see on Hoarders. After one visit, the likelihood of you stepping across the threshold again is somewhere between slim and none.

But, if you create it and feel comfortable with it, you’ll visit it again and again.

And, so will your readers.


  1. World building is fascinating. There's so much you have to flesh out. I definitely appreciate and marvel at the fantastic new worlds science fiction and fantasy authors create.

  2. Absolutely fantastic blog!!! Glad I found it! Love it!!!

    Lola x

  3. Thank you, Laura and Lola. Yes, world building can be fascinating if you put some thought to it. I have to show bias toward science fiction because we have to create fantastic worlds that have to be made plausible and believable to the average reader.