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Archive for the ‘worldbuilding’ Tag

World-building for fun and profit

This is a reprint of an article I wrote last month for my local romance writers’ newsletter, so it’s mostly for writers.

Worldbuilding is the gentle art of making stuff up to create a believable reality that isn’t necessarily the one we live in. You might think, “Oh, I write contemporary small-town romance, I don’t need worldbuilding.” Unless you want to annoy real people in a real small town, you need world building.

It begins with reality and then turns left once in a while where reality turns right. How far left is up to you. In the early aughts, I wrote a (very bad) ghost-story novel. Most of it was set in a Queen-Anne style house in Seattle (allegedly), but part of it was set in the small town of Ahsahta, Idaho.

Now there is no Ahsahta, Idaho—there’s an Ahsahka, but that’s not my town. My town was a combination of Horseshoe Bend, Cascade, and a little bit of McCall. A mountain town, not too far from the capital city, with a good airport and some empty commercial buildings. A little down on its luck but scrappy. The name is from Ahsahta Press at Boise State University (yes, with the blue Astroturf and also a remarkably good English department), which at one time claimed it was a Native American name for mountain sheep.

It’s only in one or two scenes, but I knew exactly what downtown looked like and could have drawn you a map, compete with a few house and storefront elevations, because I realized this small town was a setting I could use again, and it would become a nice little theme connecting stories in a series. Of course, I haven’t written another book in Ahsahta (yet), but I know it’s there.

Place is only one aspect of world building, though. Culture (religion, race relations, economics, etc.) is another big one. In Blade’s Edge, I made a point of the technological society being metric, polytheistic and patriarchal while the non-technological society used Imperial units, worshiped a single (female) deity, and inherited from mother to daughter.

In another series I’m working on, I had to think about capitalism after humans leave Earth. Heavy, deep stuff. What I came up with—the “cartel” system—was a combination of multinational corporations and constitutional monarchies of a sort. Different than what we have now, but…based on what we have now.

Consider HP, one of my inspirations—I’ve never been an HP employee, but I’ve worked there on six different occasions in the past thirty years. And it has two name lines: Hewlett and Packard.

And yet another aspect you need to look at is language. Since I write science fiction romance, one of the things I was poked about early on was swearing, which I found puzzling. They weren’t upset because there was swearing, but they didn’t like the actual words used.

Now, I’ve always figured language evolves, so whatever you’re reading from a thousand or 1,500 years in the future is translated into current dialect, even if it’s set in the same “language.” But once I went through the process of deciding what would be bad, really bad, and the equivalent of the f-bomb to people who routinely traveled in space (rip, rust, and dust), I stopped getting the dings.

So world building can be as small as a word or two, or as big as a new socio-economic system. Now go make up things to bring your worlds to life.

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