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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Building worlds

   
Author Topic: Building worlds
Grumpy old guy
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I have a few ideas for some science fiction stories, even a serial of stories about one character, but I need a world to set these stories in. A fantasy world I can build pretty easily, with history, culture etc. But for this endeavour, I need help. I don't want to 'build' a dystopian world, I want his to be my vision of planet Earth over the span of the next few hundred years. Then I can set stories along that time line as they come to me. Perhaps even a dystopian one where society falls apart -- and the reasons why.

So, do any of you know of any good resources for 'explaining' to me how to go about this task. I thought I'd ask here first rather than some ubiquitous search engine. The last time I did that search I ended up with a whole lot of gaming developer info, but not much for writers.

Phil.

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Grumpy old guy
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Apropos of 'searching the web', I found this website on the methods used for a 'serious' attempt at predicting the future:

A Finnish website: uiah.fi

Which is not what I'm really after. I guess it's taking a hard look at current trends in 'key' areas of the world's society, finances, government, technology, military, etc. etc. etc. and extrapolating them into one 'hypothetical' future. With that as the backdrop, I can write as many stories as I want and they will all have a consistent skeleton upon which to build.

Time is not an issue. I could spend a few years developing this 'new Earth' while I sketch out various story scenarios.

Phil.

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LDWriter2
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Someone will probably respond to this better but there are world building books.

The problem is that I know of one but it's on the tip of my tongue and I can't remember who did it. I can see the cover in my mind even.

Look in you local bookstore or online book sellers for books on writing. I know there is at least one with World building in the title but there could be others with a chapter that covers it. It's probably a good idea to read more than one writer on the subject.

Probably by the time I come back tomorrow one to six people will have listed some books by title and author's name.

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extrinsic
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What sort of world do you want to live in? Define that and then make it anything but. What are the social trends that irk you? The technologies that impact that? Society is both a reflection of and a driver of technological and cultural development. Trends in current events include multiculturalism, which detractors say results in hidebound, single minded, in-group mass culture, popularity-pageantry monoculture. Diversity makes for more vigorous existence, interesting existence ripe for new worlds, societies, cultures, and technologies. The Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times.

As usable land becomes more crowded by disparate uses, people will increasingly urbanize, living in high rise city-state buildings. Ochita Tower will be a competitor with Memnon Building for dominance, etc. Arable land will be put to ever more agribusiness intensity. The continental shelfs will become aqua and energy farms. Near future energy economy will become increasingly hydrogen based then fusion based. Culture and technology societies will clash but be dependent on one another, not to mention competing with society societies. For example.

Theme though is a core principle for what kind of world you want. One where society is alienating and hostile? Where the gods are bug eyed monsters with high technology and indifferent to human existence except for exploitation? Where government is, what? Religion, what? Family, what? Many narratives are about family or personal relationships. Vocational-based narratives are not as numerous. There's room for more. The personal journey quest is a shape that unversally appeals and has not been done to death. Social commentary? Writers are subversive. Get on something's case, ride it hard, and put it away wet. A big issue in the contemporary world is the fractured nature of society, comment on that. Individual fractured identity is also problematic and comment worthy.

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MAP
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I believe a world-building should come from the story. What kind of society, technology, and scientific advances does your story need to be told? Once you've determind some parameters you logically think of how the world could have evolved into the world you need for story.

Honestly, society could go in a million directions from where we are now, so pick the direction that best fits your story and then fill in the details.

At least that is what I do.

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Grumpy old guy
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The thing that got me going on this subject was a news report on the radio (I'm certain some people remember what that is) about the social impacts of the social networking phenomenon and the amount of time some young people spend on-line. This dovetailed into some overheard conversations by young adults about how they hated having to deal with people.

"Shopping on line is sooo much easier, you don't have to deal with people that way." To quote one actual conversation.

I can extrapolate that to the point where people are technological hermits, plugged in and wired onto 'The Network', afraid to actually meet and interact with other human beings. Plot lines abound and questions simply come:

What's the worst crime that could be committed in such a society? Murder? Hacking? Spreading computer viruses? De-friending someone?

What would happen if there was a power outage?

Who would collect the rubbish, maintain the network and keep the power on?

Would people even be able to communicate if they could no longer recognise the body-language cues that accompany conversation?

This is why I want to spend time developing a coherent background for such stories. While stories are ultimately about the journey of people for the most part, I find an appealing rationale to having the journey of a society as a thread that can tie my SF stories together.

Phil.

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MattLeo
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It seems from your last post that you're on the right track: pick an idea or two and work them out, adding detail as you build the story.

World building is important in spec fiction, but somehow having a term for it encourages us to make "world building" into a distraction, as if the story world is something you have to build in its entirety before you write the story, and worse yet have to explain to the reader before he can read the story. I don't think it makes sense to write as a sequential process, e.g. create the universe in all its details, flesh out the characters, and then generate a plot. At least it seems to me that this is grossly labor inefficient.

There's a certain appealing a priori logic to this linear model, but in the end it's a huge time waster because there's so little guarantee that readers will ever need all those minute details. I've seen a few masterpieces of world building where the characters don't have anything meaningful to do; they just wander around doing things in an attempt to generate some semblance of plot. The author was shackled by the sunk-cost fallacy; they had so much territory developed that showing it overwhelmed the need to tell a coherent story.

I think you should continue as you are doing -- noodle a bit about the world and the characters, enough that you start to get some ideas for the story itself. Then write the story, allowing the world, characters and plotline to become coherent in parallel or perhaps iteratively. Add all that rich detail, but after you're really sure there's a use for it. What's more once you have a story that's engaged your attention your subconscious will gift you with surprising details to add to your world.

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extrinsic
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Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Robot sagas have a planet named Solaria where inhabitants interact by telepresence except for reproductive purposes.

Recent teenager driving statistics show a decline in accident incidents, attributed to teens staying home more and telecommuting instead!?

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MartinV
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A world is not something you can build overnight. Think about the most important aspects of what you want or what the story needs. Write it down, read it, then put the paper away and see if your mind will make any new connections. As you go through your day, ideas might pop to you, connected to what you saw or read in the real world.

I call this the snowball effect. A good general idea will attract smaller ideas, forming a larger entity.

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Grumpy old guy
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I hear what you're saying MattLeo, however it wasn't my intention to build a highly detailed future history for New Earth. I intended simply to follow trend lines and then 'add' some unexpected 'breakthrough' developments and then posit what effect that would have on future events.

All of this would simply supply the settings and backdrops for story ideas. But the story would be about the characters, not the 'world' they inhabit.

So, taking my example of social isolation, I could come up with a story about someone who became 'unplugged'. What difficulties would they face, how would they get back to the world they knew and the struggle with whether they would want to go back or not? The story could even be about why they became unplugged.

Btw, I'm not talking about a Matrix type of scenario. As I said at the start, I'm not looking for a dystopian sort of setting and I'll add that I'm not looking for a utopian one either. Just one grumpy old guy's extrapolation of what could be. The trivial details will not even be present in my timeline so there won't be a temptation to include them.

MartinV, that's what I do generally, but here I'm trying to do it along multiple areas of society and then try and imagine how they interact together to shape the next few years. As I said, I don't care if this takes a couple of years to do.

Phil.

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BoldWriter
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I'll tell you about what works for me when trying to 'build a world,' especially an alternate earth-type world: Take one thing out, put one thing in.

I like to approach as though I'm starting the alternate history today, then imagine how the society would continue to evolve from this point in time, but without, say, a vital resource or basic human need. It's easy to see how this is done to build a story world in almost every post-apocolyptic movie or zombie TV show.

So I think about something to take out; maybe gold. Then I think about something to put in; maybe hyper-intelligent dogs. Then I just sit and pontificate about how the world might change from today going forward if there were no more gold and if dogs could talk. What would that world look like a hundred years from now? A thousand?

I do this with my wife almost constantly, and it's amazing what kinds of really interesting stuff you'll come up with. Keep it simple, make it fun, and follow the threads of any ideas that speak to you. Fun is what's supposed to be all about, right?

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