Building a Fantasy World

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The fantasy genre is, by its very nature, a speculative view on our daily life.  Almost every one of these books started with a question that began “What if…”  That one question shapes the world, the culture, and the reactions of people.

As an author, it’s my job to follow that line of thinking all the way down the rabbit hole.  As an example: what if humans colonized a planet that had a native sentient species on it?  Well, humans being like they are, we’d assume we are superior (technologically, socially, physically, or some other -ly) and try to force that species to conform to our ideals of propriety.  Do they have packs of mates instead of monogamous couples?  Well, we’d show them how much better it is to do things our way.

The trick to this is to have a very cynical mind.  I actually don’t.  In person, I am the eternal optimist kind of person.  I always assume people will do the kind thing (note that I didn’t say “right”) and that differences should be celebrated.  Sadly, history proves me wrong.  So, when building a universe to write in, I head straight for the history books (or articles on the internet, but let’s not be picky).  That our past tends to be repeated just gives me an easy outline for the way a society will react to atrocities.  And let’s face it, atrocities make for good novels.

But I always start creating a book or series in the middle (mentally).  I devise a conflict – such as a species wanting to be free and equal.  From there, I work backwards to create the world.  What do I want the species to look like?  Why would they look like that?  What evolutionary reasons would there be?  So what does that say about the planet?  How would the environment affect the other side?  And the next thing you know, I have a timid alien girl applying for a unit that will most likely get her killed, only to discover that she’s “the chosen one” only because everyone else was killed off, and she’s not really suited to the job.

I also go the other way from my creative conflict point.  They want their freedom, so will rise up to get it.  How would that look?  What would the opposition do in response?  What weaponry would be used?  How would the success look, because things like this are never clean and easy?  Why is the enemy even fighting this instead of just being a nice person and giving in?

The process of making a world is all about analyzing our own beliefs about things, and using scientific theories to create them.  Then, I have to create the people, and I need to do this for each and every one of them.  Why did they end up where they are, thinking what they do?  Are the lines drawn across species, or by beliefs?  Who is the good guy?  What is the bad guy considered bad?

The more you poke at each and every idea in a book, the more interesting the world CAN become.  Many authors skip the hard stuff.  They want a specific scene or setting, and are willing to break their own reality to make it happen.  Deus ex machina, it’s called, and it ruins a lot of good books.  But sitting there, daydreaming (which I love doing) can often prevent that from happening.

But for me, there’s one part of this that’s VERY difficult.  Knowing when I’m pushing the boundaries of what my readers expect.  The most recent example is killing off a character.  Some people understand and would have been angry if it hadn’t happened.  Others know that in a war, death will happen.  Some enjoy the emotional rollercoaster.  Others are livid and refuse to finish the series because a beloved character has died.  AND everything in between.

So, when writing, I have to forget about people reading the book.  I have to limit my actual concerns about being a jerk, and dive so far into that rabbit hole that the fantasy world becomes my reality, and then stay true to its rules.  I can’t write to make others happy, I have to write based on the rules of the system I set up, otherwise, I’ve just fallen into that Deus ex machina trap.  Once you break the rules, it’s very easy to start fixing things with miracles that are out of place.

And me?  Yeah, I’m one of those nice people who really is willing to bend over backwards to make everyone happy.  It’s SO hard to do something that will be upsetting.  I always want to find the win-win solution to everything, but as an author, I can’t.  I just can’t bring my real world into my fantasy one.

So, I figure I’ll make it up with another series of books.  I mean, that’s the win-win, right?  I get to write more, people get to read more, and I won’t fall into a rut of always writing the same books with just a different skin and character names.  Yep.  I like this.

Now, I just have to wait a little longer so I can finish the series I’ve already released.  First things first, but last things are best.  I have a feeling there’s going to be a LOT of daydreaming in my future!

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