Episode 116: Where you at Part 2 – that Fantasy/Sci-Fi World Building thing

On October 9, 2020, Kasie and Rex continued the prior week’s discussion on setting with this deeper dive into the fantasy and science fiction genres. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

Setting Part 2: Worldbuilding in Fantasy and Science Fiction

Agenda

  • Join our community on Patreon
  • Last week we talked about setting
  • What is Worldbuilding?
  • How to do it
Photo by Tom Leishman on Pexels.com

Segment 1

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Our #wschat questions that prepped us for this:

  • Q1: Worldbuilding is the process of explaining the rules, politics, and reality of the fantasy world you’re writing in. What’s the hardest part?
  • Q2: When you read “worldbuilding” does it fill you with anxiety? Some writers plan this sort of thing, other pants it. Which type are you?
  • Q3: Is worldbuilding just for fantasy? or do memoir, realism, and poetry all need it too? If so, how so?
  • Q4: What are the crucial details you need to know about a new world? Or the world a story is taking place in? Longitude and latitude? political climate? weather?

#wschat happens every Tuesday from 6 until 7 p.m. EDT and has 6 questions that usually lead toward this week’s conversation. Questions 5 & 6 are always about your favorite things and your work in progress, not always topic-specific.

Here’s the “setting” recap from last week:

What is setting?

Setting is the place and time your in which your story occurs. It answers two key questions: when? And where? (literary terms link)

So this week we thought we’d focus on those special novels where the author has to invent the where and the when. Fantasy fiction and SciFi are two of our favorite genres and we’re going to have some fun with this.

So let’s start with what is “worldbuilding” and what are the crucial things you need to know?

Segment 2

We go first to Fiction University and this link with some worldbuilding 101. The foundation, says Janice Hardy, is answering basic questions that affect both character and plot.

  • Climate
    • Is it cold? Are these people hard for having survived a harsh climate? This is about more than what they wear, it’s about lifestyle, mentality, and ability to cope.
    • Does it rain? Is it sunny? This can affect complexion, smells, and the durability of materials.
  • Agriculture
    • What grows? What do people eat? Is food abundant or scarce? 
  • Plants & animals
    • The food habits will affect attitudes towards plants and animals but so will religion and companionship — what do people keep as pets?
  • Economy, industry, and resources
    • How do people earn a living? Who is in charge? How are the collective services like schools and roads paid for? 
  • Entertainment
    • Is there a sporting mentality? An arts and expression — music and dance approach? Do they value beauty or mock it?
  • Education
    • Who has it? How much do they know? Who controls it?
  • Religion
    • What higher power rules the morality of the population? What do they believe in? Are they superstitious? How old are their legends? What great victories were won or wars lost in preservation of their faith?
  • Art & architecture
    • Back to the question of beauty — or is it about functionality? What materials are available to build with? Who funds the architecture? How do artists get paid?

Segment 3

So how do you do it?

In today’s evidence that writers can writer about anything and not all of it’s useful, here’s a list of 10 tips for worldbuilding to make you say, “duh.”

  1. Establish the type of world you want — dystopian? Magical? Earth? Alternate planet?
  2. Where to start? Whatever you’re most excited about. Is it the language? The politics? The religion? Start with the idea you’re most engaged with and build out from there.
  3. List the rules and laws (maybe use the list above?) — make them so you know what they are
  4. Describe it — a writing exercise as if you were tour guide
  5. Define the culture(s) — what do people believe in? What do they value? 
  6. Define the language — how do they communicate?
  7. Identify the history — what happened? When? How were they discovered? Did they evolve? Were they conquered? By whom? Were the enslaved? Did they do the enslaving?
  8. Use existing works to inspire you — other authors who do this well, what do you like? How can you emulate them?
  9. Describe how characters develop — this is the education, family, profession, self-image conversation from above (before); what factors influence the values and achievements of the characters? What ages do they achieve milestones? What are those milestones?
  10. Plan with caution — so I think this bullet actually means that while you need to know everything about this world, the reader only needs to know what’s relevant to the story. So make sure you get those details in there but don’t bog the story down with worldbuilding details.

Additional advice from this blog:

  • Give your world contrasts — who are the opposing cultures? The risks involved in the beauty?
  • Spend time on convincing names — vocabulary matters in realism and believability
  • Avoid large-scale descriptions — these can be good for planning, but sub them out for specific details that are indicative of the large-scale stuff (think Katniss selling game to Peeta’s father — she always gets the animal in the eye — this tells us she’s accurate and she knows the value of the kill; it also tells us she’s a bootlegger, selling contraband, and that a legitimate businessman – the baker – trusts her enough to buy from her)
  • Use sensory details to deliver the world as your character sees it, not as you – the creator – sees it

Extras:

Nest smaller settings within larger ones — not just the hyper-developed Tokyo-like future-world of Cinder, but also the marketplace in which she’s a merchant, and the repair shop in which she works.

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