Monday, November 5, 2012

World Building: Where to Start

 World Building: Where to start
By Margaret Fieland

Where do you start building a world for a science fiction story? One place to start is with the story you want to tell, as this will drive the requirements of your fictional world. Do you want to write about far galaxies and empires a war? Future earth? Something else?

I am interested in the personal rather than the epic, in clash of cultures rather than the clash of empires. When I decided to write a science fiction novel for 2010 Nano, I had some decisions to make.

I wanted to tell a story of self-acceptance, of fitting in, of reconciling two different sets of values. I'm not into gadgets and lots of technology, and I didn't want to create more of a universe than I needed for my story. Thus I decided on:
Not too far in the future
Humanoid aliens
Human-occurring skin color

I have long been interested in a society based on mutual respect and responsibility, in consensus decisions rather than laws, so I made that the basis of my imaginary society's values. I also made them form households of four, or perhaps three, rather than two. I gave them mind speech abilities. I made them Black, as they were thus distinctive, believable in the context I needed them to be, and it gave me another dimension of conflict to play with.

I made their world dry and hot, mostly desert. Desert ecologies are fragile, so they would be ecologically minded, not given to waste or displays of technology.

My aliens, the Aleyni, and the Terran Federation would be at odds, a necessary condition to move my story forward. Thus mind speech would be illegal in the Terran Federation. The Federation would be hierarchal, conservative, into displays of technology without regard for the ecological consequences (with some exceptions).

I have read advice -- and this appears to be standard -- that suggests starting one's world building with the geography. For me, the society and its values came first, as this was what drove the backbone of my story. The difference in cultural point of views and the need for my main character to reconcile the two made this my starting point.

So how do you build a world? Decide on what kind of world you need to build, and go from there.

Margaret Fieland, the author of Relocated, just released by MuseItUp publishing, was born and raised in New York City. She is an avid science fiction fan, and selected Robert A. Heinlein's “Farmer in the Sky” for her tenth birthday, now long past. In spite of making her living as a computer software engineer, she turned to one of her sons to format the initial version of her website, a clear illustration of the computer generation gap. Her poems have appeared in journals such as Melusine, Front Range Review, and All Rights Reserved.  Her book, "The Angry Little Boy," will be published by 4RV Publishing, LLC, in early 2013.  You may visit her website,
and check out Relocated:


Unknown said...

When I start to write something I mostly start with the characters. They have to be believable and should fit to your story you wanna tell which also has to be believable. I guess if you would put too much imagination into your story and create a world that is too far away from reality, I don't think that you will get much readers because they can't imagine what you wrote about. So, I think you can create a science fiction world and it makes much fun to think about a story, but you should also be able to find an logical explanation for your readers to understand your characters and their behavior. The characters are as much important as the story itself, and the characters should develop, like they have to solve a problem. So you tell the story by using the main character to tell the reader her or his story.

Really a great post. Thanks for sharing.


Heidiwriter said...

Interesting! I believe, no matter the genre, you need characters the reader can identify with and cheer on! Lot's of geographical description is a big bump out of the story. Weave that in, little by little.