There's been a lot of talk about milieu and world building around here lately. It got me wondering, what do you guys like to do to build worlds?
I've got a superhero world I'm working on, and I'm writing a bunch of short stories about the world to flesh it out. The short stories are basically prewriting for a novel (though they're also, hopefully, good stories in their own right). It's a good way for me to explore/invent all the various social classes and institutions of this world.
I create a narrative universe based on the exigents of the intended meaning of the narrative: method, message, intent; events, settings, characters, complications and conflicts, etc.
For science fiction, awe and wonder appeals, fear and pity appeals too, meaningfulness appeals most of all. What does a useable tachyon realm mean for human interest, as example. Maybe faster-than-light travel into understanding the mysteries and living the adventures of the cosmos. Tachyon dimensions by themselves, though, feel tacky to me: trite, outworn, cliché. I invented another n-dimensional space based on the same theories that propose the tachyon realm. More than faster-than-light travel and such, a whole universe of fresh human interest appeal potentials opened up.
For fantasy, I favor a new approach to fairy tales; that is, folklore that portrays the human condition and less so informs, cautions, lectures, preaches, corrects, castigates, controls behavior. For all my creative writing, this means the reality imitation requires morally ambiguous characters. Somewhat wicked heroes contest with somewhat noble villains, for example. The villains need no great powers to complicate heroes' ordinary powers and lives this way. The clash of conflicted moral values' tension raising more than enough drama appeal from clashing noble or wicked means and ends, even for middle grade's otherwise mostly black and white moral value system.
Middle graders are as proportioned noble and wicked as any age, only less discete about realizing the many shades of gray older and older adults may.
For horror, I borrow from spiritual and cultural system motifs, from their readymade meanings and innovate new meanings from them. Take what may be accepted as a gift, add a curse to it, say a green thumb, part of the thumb is black for the hero or heroine. For the villain, the gift might be using green thumbs for landscape domination, the "black thumb" of the villain. Beware the black thumb, you selfish tyrant. The cultural belief systems and moral values clashes are those of human manifest destiny strives to dominate nature and recently emergent environmental concerns nature may face extinction to the detriment of all life. Though artfully packaged such that the message isn't preached. Say nature will correct human artifact dominance or the horrors that nature's extinction entails or this battle may be final though the war eternal.
For convention-based genre generally, the same thought and development planning illuminated above are among my guiding universe-building principles.
Literary genre notwithstanding, I add another principle to my approach that informs the latter genres: reality imitation. Motifs and features that authenticate a narrative's reality are on point, the "telling details" that show this milieu is real and concrete for readers. The underlying principle for me of event, setting, or character description isn't so much outward appearances, but inner presentations: how a viewpoint persona perceives the personal and emotional meaning of what he, she, or it perceives.
Take the above green thumb example, a mystic plant person could be offended by concrete pavement, asphalt pavement, more so by masonry foundations than wood-earth-mold posthole piling foundations, more so by exotic ornamental landscape than native, natural landscape. Such a green thumb markedly notices and reacts negatively to offending landscape motifs, positively to remarkably appealing natural landscape motifs. Would the green thumb bother to notice an architectural period of a building? Not much if at all. Same question for whether a water course is natural or human artifact, mindful though of whether the watercourse serves nature or human need more than the other.
Such a literary genre narrative might pose the timeless question Is humanity part of or apart from nature, and satisfy the question for or against or as a satisfied salvo moment in the ongoing clash of an individual and nature and clsahing individual and collective ideologies. Universe, milieu, event, setting, character motifs and features all aligned toward the clash, the spiritual and cultural belief morals that incite clash, the clash, and for a time end-satisfy the clash within the narrative's milieu. The actual physical appearances of the motifs only stage dressing for the clash's incitements, pursuits, and satisfactions presentations.
My nonhuman characters do weird things, then I figure out why, and extrapolate from there. That's how my world gets built. I don't sit down and make it.
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To use a cliche, perhaps "world building" is putting the cart before the horse. I was going to make a thread about this, decided against it, but ah well, I'll posit the idea here.
We've discussed in length beginnings on this website. Often the question that comes up is, "What are the stakes?" A lot of beginnings don't seem to have them, which you know, groovy. But if the stakes aren't apparent in the opening, the second question is, "What's intriguing in what you've offered in this first line, first paragraph, first page, first chapter?"
Word building is nice and all, but I think many writers are a bit too caught up in that, which is why their narratives seem so slow. Often a response they'll make is, "Well, the novel gets more exciting the further you read." Which I tend to take basically means the stakes are on page 40 instead of page 1. And I don't think this is the most successful way to sell your writing, whether it's traditional publishing or self-publishing.
I finally read the first in "The Hunger Games" series, which brought this to mind. This is a hugely successful book, and one thing it had going for it in the very beginning is the stakes. Before you understand the world, you know what's at stake for the central character. Heck, it's right in the title. 'Hunger'. Even before you get to the games, you have this teen girl scavenging for food, with the threat of starvation constantly hanging over her, and her family's, heads. The only way she can get the food to survive is by 1) breaking the law, 2) entering a forest with predators that are a threat to her.
One, of course, can't say that all successful books starts with stakes. Some books do start slowly developing the world even before you know why you've even entered the narrative, let alone why you should care.
But I actually think that knowing why you're writing the book is more important to knowing what the world of the book will be. And what's at stake should probably play a crucial role in developing the world in question. What does the character want, and how is this world keeping it from him/her?
J.R.R. Tolkein built an incredibly rich world, but even from the very beginning, you know what's at stake: the ring. Either the dark lord gets it, and everyone loses, or they destroy the ring, and everyone wins.
A lot of openings you see in workshop environments are setups. It's a scene being played out, and eventually the point will be made. World building before the stakes are known.
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It may seem like I’m stating the bleedin’ obvious, but all my stories start with ‘The Idea’. Where it comes from is difficult to say but it is usually triggered by me reading or seeing something and asking, “What if?” or, “What would happen?” And, while no two ideas are the same, they do have one similarity; the idea deals with some critical aspect of the human condition.
When The Idea does come, it comes in a visual flash centring on my protagonist and his immediate problem. In this flash of insight I ‘know’ the basics of the milieu, the character and the dramatic complication. And, in my previous incarnation as a writer, I would simply sit down and start writing the story in my head, fleshing out the milieu’s details as I went along. Boy, did this ever get me into some serious narrative problems and cul-de-sacs.
In my current WIP I have taken a completely different approach. I had the ‘flash of idea’ and, instead of sitting down and writing, I started worrying at it like a terrier with a rag doll. I wrote out a quick ‘sketch’ and then morphed that into a simple plot structure with rising tension and stakes right up to the final confrontation with the ‘villain’, followed by what Freytag calls the falling action where everything is resolved. At this point you’d think I could start writing, but no, this is just the start of my world building exercise and, so far, I’ve been doing nothing but that for eight weeks now.
In the ‘flash of insight’ I got at the start, Earth was blockaded by aliens after their failed attempt to invade and humanity, reduced to a paltry 20 million, have been forced to live underground. Here, they are in the process of trying to build a fleet in space to force the aliens to leave. That’s the milieu I saw in my head. My world building is about explaining how all of this came to pass.
So, I needed to come up with answers to a whole lot of questions, the following just being a sample:
How is interstellar travel possible? Why did aliens try and invade Earth? How were they defeated and why didn’t they leave? How did humanity create a viable civilisation underground? How is humanity creating a fleet in space to combat the aliens? What is the technology based on? What sorts of society and belief systems have evolved after 30 years of the alien blockade? This last prompted by extrinsic’s contribution to my milieu question.
And these are just the questions about the milieu, I haven’t mentioned that one of my protagonists is an artificial intelligence that has just become self-aware and all the narrative complications that creates. I had initially thought to have the AI fall in love with my other protagonist, but that doesn’t work—eros being an essentially physical manifestation—so I had to make it agape which changed the story’s dynamics somewhat.
The point is, for me, I have to create the world that created the characters before I can really understand them and their motivations and dreams. Once I understand all that, I can sit down and start designing the scenes that make up the story. So, to rebut Denevius, the world building isn’t there to be explained in detail as the story unfolds, it’s the box that contains the story. I already have an idea of how my story will start; the opening scene will set out the basic situation and what’s at stake by showing the main character in his ‘natural’ environment—a planet under siege by aliens.
Freytag does indeed discourse on falling action as the conflict resolution part of a narrative, though in three different senses.
Though Freytag doesn't directly state what distinguishes rising action from failling action, as a whole he implies emotional disequilibrium is the kernel: rising action, progressively escalating emotional disequilibrium; falling action progressively declining emotional disequilibrium; until emotional equilibirum is restored to a new normal state at the bitter end.
In that sense, a narrative divides into three distinctions, though a narrative fit all three: two halves, three acts, or five acts. Rising action half, falling action half. Beginning, middle, and end acts. Or exposition (setup), rising action, climax (midpoint), falling action, and "catastrophe" (outcome) acts.
Catastrophe is the label Aristotle and Freytag apply to a final sequence or act. Both Freytag and Aristotle praise classic Aristotlean tragedy, for which catastrophe is an ideal label, as the pinnacle of dramatic arts over comedy or other. Neither offers a label for a narrative's outcome sequence that ends in comedy or other outcomes. Tolkien does: eucatastrophe, which is less than ideal for memorableness and understanding. French narratologists offer "denouement," which sensibly spans the gamut of tragedy, comedy, and other setups, pursuits, and outcomes.
Tragedy is a decline from otherwise fortunate circumstances into unfortunate circumstances. Comedy reverses that order: unfortunate circumstances progress toward fortunate circumstances. Other is exquisite tragic-comedy. A tragedy may resolve a "conflict resolution" type crisis through a noble, tragic sacrifice; however, conflict resolution is comedy's domain. Tragic sacrifice, pennance for errors, is tragedy's. Other is both tragedy and comedy, or bildungsroman: maturation tableau at great personal cost--self-sacrifice.
The two-part action or three-act structures are ideal, more or less, for straightfoward conflict resolution, simple-plot action. Not so much for five-act structure, which demands complex-plot "twists" to sustain the action, major crises caused by profound revelation and reversal motifs that span the acts, that elude ambitious writers and delight audiences. The twists' central function is to revitalize doubt so that emotional disequilbrium is proportioned to the moment, place, and situation of the unfolding action.
An embattled milieu world may be one where an outcome is conflict resolution, a way how "world building" informs structure and vice versa. Or a sweeping universe at war may be one where twists carry the action over emotional sags caused by the largeness of the scope and scale of a universe at war. Defeat the enemy as a conflict resolution, though with the added dimensions of maturation for depth, personal sacrifice for unequivocal, irrevocable, incontrovertible milieu and personal transformation. For how, again, a way "world building" informs structure and vice versa.
extrinsic, while most of my stories would conform to both Freytag’s and Aristotle’s definition of tragedy with all of my protagonists usually dying for noble causes and thus winning—which is a reversal of the situation of sorts, my current WIP is a major departure for me in a number of spheres. In this case my protagonists, while not living happily ever after, at least have the chance to do so, but I leave that up to the reader’s imagination. So, in essence, while I envision a resolution to the emotional disequilibrium in the story, there is no catastrophe that follows.
In the story outline I’ve sketched out I have a number of recognition scenes of ever increasing import and at least two reversal scenes that also rise in importance to the characters and the plot. Having said that, which would seem to indicate a complex plot, I wouldn’t describe the one I envision as overly complex.
But, to get back to ‘world building’. I have found the exercise, while extremely frustrating at times, immensely useful in refining both the plot and the motivations of all my agonists. As a case in point, I needed to find a way to make interstellar travel feasible. To this end, and after a bit of research, I decided on artificial wormholes that are created and maintained by a form of Exotic Matter by the ships that traverse them. As an interesting aside, particles with a negative mass (a postulated form of Exotic Matter) would always, at least mathematically, travel faster than the speed of light. Anyway, this led me to wonder where you’d find the Exotic Matter required to make and maintain wormholes. I decided that it is found in the molten cores of rocky planets with a mass similar to Earth’s, and purely by accident this is actually postulated to be one suspected location where it might exit. This then led inexorably to provide me with the reason why aliens attempted to invade Earth--to acquire more fuel, and why they couldn’t leave--they’re out of fuel.
The art of telling the story is to get this information across to the reader in a manner that engages and interests them, without resorting to reams of exposition. And, btw, the story isn’t about the invasion, or the fight with the aliens, that’s simply the backdrop to the story.
"Simple" and "complex" as Aristotle defines them are; simple: straightforward action, determined, forward resolution of a "conflict," several provocactive hurdles surmounted along the way; complex: profound revelation and reversal that turn the action toward detours and backtracks from otherwise insurmountable setbacks. Not uncomplicated or complicated per se in the general use meanings of simple and complex.
"Negative mass" particles and exotic dark matter and energy are credible authenticators and great motifs for fantastical FTL sciences. Lest you be concerned I've stolen yours when you encounter my fantastical science theories, I have different theory motifs for those and others for science fiction sciences: a fractal n-dimension not yet scientifically realized. A fractyon realm beyond absolute zero's luton asymptote as the tachyon realm is beyond light's luxon asymptote. That gets complicated. In the milieus where it affects the action, a belief system and ritual of the milieu is to explain the science so others understand it, a folklore activity, and never exactly pins it down to understandable fact. The fact of its existence a fait accompli few pay mind to except for talk, like electricity's scientific realization sparked a global conversation, though very few understand electricity.
I'm just getting back into serious writing, so I have been taking very definable ideas and developing them into short stories. Each story creates its own world closer or farther from the one in which we live. These worlds are, for me, packing boxes with their own contents of possibilities.
Along the way, I put contents into certain boxes from which many ideas start to flow unbidden. These are worlds that I think have the ability to generate a novel or two. This is where I begin to formally define the world. I write down the contents of the box.
One such box has a planet within it that I call Heart. On Heart, magic is a big deal. The story I wrote didn't have much magic in it, but the world itself started generating ideas for more stories. Magic so defined the milieu that I found that I had to define magic. Magic government, magic characters, society, situations, relationships, everything is affected by magic.
I had to formally write down the rules of magic for the world of Heart, especially if I wanted to go back and write another story within it. It took ten single spaced pages to outline everything about magic. Most important among those rules are the limitations. What can't be done by a magician?
Now, the big reason that I wrote it all down is simple. I don't know doodley-squat about magic. My readers have never seen somebody talk to a misty pot of excreta, wave a stick at it and have a supermodel pop into existence. Nope, none of us real creatures in our real world know the first thing about a thing that doesn't exist in our real world; so I needed a cheat sheet.
The people on Heart do most everything else with approximately nineteenth century technology, minus the steam power. I know wood stoves, horses and hard work. Governments are fairly standard locally and magicians run things federally. Heart is an alternate Earth. So I don't need to write anything in these areas.
I have had to define their religion. It occurred to me that people who see miraculous things on an every day basis, would have a different definition of the divine. Three pages, but necessary.
There are a million things that my characters live with that my readers and I know everything about, like the wheel. Those are things I don't need to write down. On the other hand, there are things that readers don't know anything about from personal experience or even the internet, and yet my characters live and deal with those things. In order to consistently portray believable situations and characters, I have to have those things well in mind. I write those things down.
Limitations. When I thought of magic, I had to think of its literary limitations. Magic can easily subvert drama. It can make tension impossible. I had to craft it carefully enough to be sure that I avoided difficulties I could foresee. Also, I didn't want magic artificially adding to the drama (For example: Doing a spell takes life force from a magician's loved ones.)
For me, formal world building is about defining things that don't exist in the real world. Some writers can keep in mind all of the discrepancies between reality and their creations. I can't, so I define the major stuff and its rules and write it all down for future reference.
So, where do you think a story about super heroes might depart from our reality?
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extrinsic, I understood the distinction between simple and complex plots, I just don't think my complex plot is all that complex.
Kent_A_Jones, I guess my first question would be, "What makes them super?" Then there are whatever 'powers' they have. I would imagine that you'd need some way to overcome a few Newtonian laws, just to name one hurdle. What about conservation of energy?
quote:I already have an idea of how my story will start; the opening scene will set out the basic situation and what’s at stake by showing the main character in his ‘natural’ environment—a planet under siege by aliens.
Of course, we each do what yields the optimal type of results from readers we're looking for. My concern, however, with a description of a story like this is, are the stakes for the character really that a planet is under siege? To me, this is what you get when you build the world first, and then stick individuals in there to populate it. The world pushes the character, and the narrative, around.
But in reality, in a world under attack from aliens, the only individuals whose stakes the invasion would be are world leaders, maybe? Top generals. Peoples whose specific goal is to combat the alien invasion.
"Ender's Game" is basically a book with a world under attack, yet we don't see Ender learning to fight the actual aliens until quite late in the narrative. What we see first is Ender dealing with bullies, or the stakes: a weaker individual against a larger, more powerful force.
Vernor Vinge's "A Fire Upon the Deep" somewhat begins with an invasion by an alien force. But the book opens on parents trying to get their kids away on an escape ship.
I guess my concern with starting big, or starting with the world; and then going small, or to the character, is that ultimately, I don't think it's the actual world that readers fall for. And I feel that a lot of fiction in workshops suffer because the writer was a bit too focused on building the narrative universe.
For example, when I read this:
quote: And, btw, the story isn’t about the invasion, or the fight with the aliens, that’s simply the backdrop to the story.
Without having read the story, I can't help but wonder why the alien invasion is necessary at all. It sounds like fluff that can probably be cut. And yet, this fluff sounds like it begins the story. And I feel like this is where the, "Well, it starts slow, but really picks up steam later" comes from. It comes from aspects of the story which are unnecessary because they have little to do with what's at stake for the central character.
If what's at stake isn't the alien invasion, why is there an alien invasion?
I am lucky in that I've never been in a war. But when I read the news, one thing I'm always curious about is why are there so many people in markets for bombs to blow apart? If you know your country is war torn, why are you going to the market? Well, you do it because you have to survive. For a story, you open there. The second question, why your character? Why is he/she the one who goes to that market? Well, actually, your character's parents had two kids, and it used to be the father who went. The father brought along the eldest sibling, he died unexpectedly, the younger sibling is still too young, and the mother never learned how to navigate the dangerous market.
Ok, stop there. Why didn't the mother learn? She was busy taking care of the home, and also, she came from a richer family where they had servants go to the market, so to her, it's a completely foreign experience.
Stop again. So why is the market dangerous? Well, because there's a war going on. What's the war? This is a science fiction piece, so it's an alien invasion.
Beyond the fact that the market is a place of danger, do the aliens have any other part to play in the stakes of the character's life? If not, then their story stops there. In order to justify the stakes, you've crafted a world, but you've used *only* what's necessary.
All of these other elements:
quote: How is interstellar travel possible? Why did aliens try and invade Earth? How were they defeated and why didn’t they leave? How did humanity create a viable civilisation underground? How is humanity creating a fleet in space to combat the aliens? What is the technology based on? What sorts of society and belief systems have evolved after 30 years of the alien blockade? This last prompted by extrinsic’s contribution to my milieu question.
I can't help but wonder how they play into the stakes of the central character. It all sounds very intriguing, but it also sounds like something, if in the story, could be cut. To a regular human, what difference does it make 'why' the aliens invaded?
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Here we are a meeting of the fabled writing workshop Round Table established before writing workshops formally evolved in the '60s.
William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, the Fitzgeralds Francis Scott and Zelda, Sherwood Anderson, Bruce Burton, Raymond Chandler, Waldo Peirce, Malcolm Cowley, Sinclair Lewis, John Dos Passos, Kay Boyle, Hart Crane, Erich Maria Remarque, Ford Maddox, T. S. Eliot, Dashiel Hammet, the Lost Generation a writing universe abroad and at home discussing writing.
What a fabulous new milieu this Hatrack writing workshop is by comparison. Would that they who came before could see what's become of their modest beginnings and our great promise perhaps equal to or greater than theirs. Yet no physical world built or impeding between us, a meaningful writing discussion unfolding literally from around the globe. The galaxy?
Wow. What is this milieu that knows no physical bounds and even yet maybe liberated from preconceived prior notions of writing musts and absolutes? May we be a preconceiver movement of tomorrow's great science, culture, art, literature, technology ideas, as the Science Fiction Golden Age and Modernism were a century ago? I believe.
quote:Originally posted by Grumpy old guy: extrinsic, I understood the distinction between simple and complex plots, I just don't think my complex plot is all that complex.
I see signs the plot may be complex yet accessible and appealing. Only one profound revelation or reversal makes it so. Profound not so much necessarily awesome, only profound in its impact on the action's direction. "Luke, I am your father," a revelation example. "A sister," another revelation example. Gandalf's discovery the ring is the One Ring of Power, another, both revelation and reversal. They are catalysts for change turns in plot direction. They lead toward cathartic moments. Catalyst and catharsis.
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For me, at least, I look at world building as extended metaphor. Though I actually believe in foreign life beyond earth, I look at aliens in fiction as metaphors for the human condition. An alien invasion is just a human invasion dressed up to enliven the narrative.
I have no problem with playing with the metaphor, and creating an extended metaphor, so that swords become light sabers, tanks become starships, and battleships become deathstars. But I do think that because these things are metaphors, they're also extraneous to the point of the narrative itself.
They're fine, as long as they're at the beck and call of the plot itself, and not vice versa. For that reason, I think you can start with a metaphor, say the alien or the vampire; but then, you zero in on the stakes of the character, and allow that to fill out the metaphor.
We're not really world building. We're taking what we know of reality around us, and creating metaphors of it. A war weary soldier becomes Rambo, becomes Wolverine. But what's memorable about Rambo and Wolverine isn't their physical prowess, it's their personal trials and conflicts. The question, in my mind, is how do you create a world to amplify the human condition of these characters?
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Denevius, when you write a story, what world do your characters inhabit? Is it our world in the here and now, or is it some fantastical world created from your imagination? If your characters inhabit the here and now then we will all understand every aspect of their milieu. If, on the other hand, it is an imaginary world, what’s it like? And why is it like that?
That’s all I’m trying to create, the imaginary world my characters inhabit where all their hopes, dreams and desires reside, as well as the reasons for them. How can my readers know that the stakes for my character are worth the effort if they don’t know what’s at stake, the context, the risks and the rewards? The story isn’t about the invasion by aliens; it’s about two protagonists and one antagonist all trying to get what they want and, what they want is influenced by the aftermath of that alien invasion.
The story of Ender’s Game does not exist in a vacuum. I would bet a dollar that OSC spent some substantial time creating the universe it is set in. That it hardly makes an overt appearance is testimony to the fact that the universe so pervades the story that it explains itself.
I prefer not to have my characters strut upon the stage with only cardboard cutout scenery. I want to feel the recycled air-con on my face and smell the rotting corpses; and know why they are there. That’s all. The world building I’m engaged in, despite its complexity, is only the setting the narrative takes place in, it’s not a part of the narrative. Unless, of course, I’m writing a story about an alien invasion, which I’m not.
As a post-script, some bloke named Ben Bova said that while you don’t have to explain to the reader how a starship gets from A to B, the writer had better know how it does it.
I’ll offer two quotes from Ben Bova’s book: The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells.
In each and every science fiction story, the entire background must be supplied to the reader. The writer cannot say, “You know what I mean,” when he mentions a laser handgun, even though he could simply use the word pistol in a western or detective story and the reader would instantly know what he meant.
Ten thousand words or more just for the background? This is perfectly all right, if the background is interesting and if it plays an integral part in the story’s development. For example, in Orson Scott Card’s famous Ender’s Game, the entire story depends on the reader’s understanding of the high-tech war games that Ender Wiggins and the other children are forced to play. Card spent much time and energy describing those games, not only because they are fascinating in their own right, but because they are vital to the unfolding of the story Card wants to tell.
quote:If your characters inhabit the here and now then we will all understand every aspect of their milieu.
Not to quibble, but this isn't exactly true. If I write that my characters are eating fried chicken ass, a westerner might think this is a meal of desperation. When really, if you have a platter of chicken legs, chicken thighs, and chicken ass, the ass is the most tasty part.
Phil, I believe you said you live in Australia, so I'm sure the explaining of some things you find common are necessary in your fiction for those who live outside of Australia.
And I suppose this is a philosophical, so impractical, distinction, but I would argue that every story that's not historical exists in the "here and now". Again, it's all extrapolation into either the scfi realm or the fantasy realm, but that's all it is. Extrapolation.
Let's say I write a story from the past, and the character wants to send off an important message. Well, I guess once upon a time it would have been delivered by smoke. Later, by pigeon. Later still, in the hands of a man on horseback. Even later, by post. Then telegraph. Then phone. Presently, it'll be by email. In the future, it could be a message spoken by the character, copied by a device embedded in their wrist, and delivered to someone who has lenses covering their eyes able to see the message in real time.
Now, I understand that for the scifi fan, they'll want to know exactly how that tech works. However, I postulate that, even for the scifi fan, that's not what makes the story memorable, or even successful. You know what does that? The message:
"Help me, Obi Wan Kanobi. You're my only hope."
The stakes. As kids, we dreamed about the hologram, but I think it was its capacity to send an important missive that really mattered. The cool way is nice, but the reason why we have spam filters now is because email is cool, but not if the messages it's sending us is a waste of our time.
World building once again revolving around the stakes.
quote: The story of Ender’s Game does not exist in a vacuum
I admit that I'd love to study the first drafts of popular writings. These things are locked away in vaults somewhere. Or really, probably someone's computer, and it'd be a simple but illegal task to hack it to get a copy. Funny how first drafts of Harry Potter don't exist online.
J.K. Rowling's personal phone number, social security, credit card, and any existing sextape can probably all be found, but a first draft of a novel that has to be on dozens on emails? Emails that are hacked all the time. Nowhere to be found online.
Once again, go figure.
But then, if this was a cyberpunk story, having the right computer code to get the job done is nice and all, but in my mind, it pales in comparison to the motivation, which should be the driving force of the narrative. Yes, as you say, maybe Card did build a big world that doesn't make it into the novel. I don't know.
What I do know is that it's not uncommon to get stories in workshop where the big world gets in the way of the narrative. Where you read the first sentence, or the first page, and you wonder, "What is this about, and why am I reading it?"
Why should I care?
People have all these ideas going on in their heads that's not tethered to anything substantial in the plot or character motivation. A realistic futuristic world is a boring world if there's no point to it, but a world built ground up by its stakes infuses the metaphor with meaning.
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At the risk of taking this thread off topic...some comments above talk about wanting to see the first drafts of popular novels. A lot of writers (and artists in general) wouldn't go for that---it puts the early work on something on a par with the finished work. It might be nice for the scholar and the student, and possibly for the in-depth fan...but, for the general public, it might lead to confusion. (That's what's held up the release of a lot of the alternate takes and such from The Beatles.)
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A substitute for reading a writer's early drafts exercise worth the effort is comparing and contrasting popular works with less popular ones or critically acclaimed ones with critically panned ones, even popular and unpopular and acclaimed and panned works by the same writer. Also, a writer's early works compared and contrasted with later works.
I think we'd all say that world building informs a writer's familiarity with the world and milieu of a narrative so that as writer about the milieu we can emulate the confident reality imitation as if we were recounting an adventure we had actually experienced to an acquaintance who wants to know what happened.
I confidently imagine one of the prehistoric purposes and functions of storytelling was debriefing and briefing, say recounting a successul hunt, the locations of resources like water, food, stone for tools, shelter, enduring fires from which a brand can be borrowed, dangerous places, there be monsters there, etc. And for teaching upcoming generations how to survive the wilds.
Of course, I believe we also agree that research and development shouldn't fill the page. Yet informing at least is a surviving essential function of storytelling, about the human condition, I think we would also all agree.
How we approach our writing philosophies and self-imposed rules of our worlds I'd suggest we don't agree nor should we. Our writing approaches are what makes our results unique, and delightfully speaks volumes about our unique world views, though deep, ideally, into subtext territory, not lecture or preach territory, ideally.
Social commentary, especially ironic commentary, is one of the subtext features common to popular and critically acclaimed works; and, not to be overlooked, social commentary scandal and controversy are premiere word-of-mouth buzz, Buzz, BUZZ generators. I, myself, would be delighted to have an outspoken niche condemn my works and lambast them before the public, so that audiences who believe otherwise learn of my works, are curious what all the hoopla is about, and want to see for themselves. Heh heh heh, target your condemner audiences too. (Now where did that wicked insight come from?) Research, learn, build, and develop your audiences' milieus, worlds, too.
Water cooler chatter, where buzz develops as the workplace equivalent of ice-breaker conversation starters, coffee table books, small talk, or standing on line at the coffee shop, grocery, apothecary, news stand, etc., migrated to the Internet: chatrooms, blogs, e-mail, Instant message, Twitter, Facebook, etc. How to exploit a buzz engine? Give them something bright and lively, timely and relevant to talk about. Oh my, am I like that villain? Am I like that hero? That writer, about this? Really? Would that be a cool world to live in? That's wrong and cruel and mean and not for those people to read, but I have a duty to read it and condemn it, though I secretly am thrilled to read the forbidden fruit, and feel superior because I'm exclusive. Please don't tattle on me.
This is my opinion. I've always been a pantser, start with a character and an idea and go from there, but as I revise and restructure my eighth novel, I've finally realized, that gull darn it, I need to outline and make a plan WAY in advance.
This is my plan for the next novel I start. I already have the idea, and some clues to the world, and it's just waiting for me to finish darn book eight.
I'm going to start by plotting out the eight and a half characters that I will need, in relationship to the story. I will start by figuring out the Hero's main goal, and who lies opposite that goal, and then I'm going to character outline the crap out of it, throw together a whole list; physical characteristics, backstory, hypocrisy, weaknesses, and strengths, and then I'm going to make sure that the character I have as a love interest is a foil to the hero, but has strengths where the hero is weak, and weaknesses where the hero is strong.
I'll do this for all eight characters.(Protagonist, Antagonist, Sidekick, Skeptic, Guardian, Contagionist, Emotion and Reason)
And then once I know what the stakes are, and who the stakes involve, I'll create, beforehand, a list of rules to this society that need to be there to hinder or help the hero in her goals, and figure out how she can change the world of the story, and what rules will be placed on her that will need to be broken, or destroyed.
Then I'll put the two together, find the place the story starts, and then start. Then hopefully, I won't have to completely restructure another novel, because it's the worst. The absolute worst.
There will be times I throw the outline out the window, because I'll have to, and of course there will be times I will be surprised, because that's what writing is.
I will be more prepared, and the rules will be clearer before I start.
A contagionist, is a character who is the hero of their own story, whose goals are different than the hero, but cross on the heroes path. Draco Malfoy is a contagionist. He isn't Voldemort, the Antagonist, but he still changes Harry's storyline. Aragon is also a contagionist.
The half character refers to the bump in status that being the love interest gives to a character. Not every story has a love interest for example, but if your love interest's goals are directly in line with the hero's then he or she is a sidekick, but that isn't an equal character in the eyes of the story, so the half bumps them up so the hero and the love interest are both leads.
Check out the blog post I did. I explain all the character archetypes, and there is a source blog that explains them with more depth than I do.
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Protagonist: Harry Antagonist: Voldemort Sidekick: Ron Skeptic: Snape Guardian: Dumbledore Contagionist: Draco Emotion: Hagrid Reason: Hermione
This is just for the first book. It shifts around in later books, but is a good example I think to explain what the character archetypes are. They are the roles in a story that the hero needs, the friends the rivals, the questioners, and the people to come to for advice. You'd be surprised at how many stories and movies and tv shows can fill these archetypes.
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shimiqua, welcome to the club of ex-pantsers. My only suggestion would be NOT to lay down any rules until you have a pretty good idea of your protagonists real goal (not the one you thought they had when you had the idea) and your antagonists real goal (ditto).
During my world building process my antagonist has gone from misguided contraryan trying to stop the protagonist to ant-protagonist whose goals are just as laudable as the protagonists but mutually exclusive. My villain is now noble, principled and right--in their own way. Just as is my protagonist.
I'm also an ex-pantser. I have learned the benefit of pre-planning. There is a balance to find; plan everything too rigidly in advance, and you've taken all the fun out of writing the book. Got to leave room for exploration and surprises along the way.
As for world-building, I am in the "detailed world building is good" camp. Even if you never explain the history of your world, it will color the actions and reactions of your characters, and knowing it is important for the author, even if it never gets to the reader explicitly. To be honest, Denevius, your take on it is perplexing to me, especially because I got the impression that your "vampire cops" book had a pretty well-developed milieu.
For me, if I don't understand the world my characters live in, I have trouble really connecting to them as an author, which I believe makes my characters come out lifeless.
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quote:Originally posted by extrinsic: After intuitive writer, after plan writer comes organic writer, a merge of both.
Now the biochemist in the audience wants to see the inorganic writer...
The chemist recognizes carbon compounds as organic, as opposed to inorganic as compounds not containing carbon. As carbon is a basis for life as it's globally known; and a lively, dramatic life is a vital, vigorous acorn and an oak of a narrative; therefore, an organic writer is one who intuitively and deliberately and synergistically writes lively narratives.
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