In writing any kind of narrative the world it takes place in is of paramount importance. Even writing in what is meant to be the real world requires that the author do world building in as much as there are many worlds within our real world. I’ll address that later. What follows is a brief overview of the elements I feel are important for world building and how they are illustrated by my available works.
First, my world / universe must be a place that the action I want to play out can logically occur. This seems obvious but it is all too easy to try to place a story in a world that really doesn’t support it.
Taking my tinker books, Tinker’s Plague and Tinker’s Sea, as examples, these stories cannot be told in anything but a post-apoplectic world. I require a world where high technology exists but is only available to the few. There must be a smattering of failed technology, and limited resources for dealing with the problems presented. In Tinker’s Plague this made the quarantine hard to enforce and set up the situation that led to my central conflict. In Tinker’s Sea I needed the antagonists to have a nuclear submarine, but had to supply a rational for why they hadn’t been hunted down and neutralized already.
The world must fit with the story told within it. If I tried to tell the story of Tinker’s Plague in let’s say the present day, logic flaws would occur such as why wouldn’t the CDC descend on mass. Where are the news crews making everything public? Why don’t they mobilize the military to keep order? The shortages of a post-apocalyptic world are vital to my telling of the story and in fact set up the backdrop the story hinges upon. One obvious thing that being in a post-apocalyptic world allowed for was the isolation of my protagonists which really ups the dramatic tension.
In Tinker’s Sea I had to add a political element that springs from the cold war going on between the two technologically advanced nation states to enhance the reason for their failure to use their advanced military systems to neutralize the pirates. This came in the form of a treaty that limited the scale of military equipment that the nations could deploy on the great lakes. A treaty like this again rises logically from the world I created.
Thus the first rule is; “Follow the logic of your world.”
The world must be internally consistent.
In Slaves of Love, I have a high-tech, urban society set about a hundred years from now. This has several implications, for one the cities have largely been converted into “Towers”. These structures reach kilometers into the air. The suburbs, or low towns, form what can be called the wrong side of the tracks. To make the towers I had to advance materials technology, thus poly-carbonates, super-strong, log chains of carbon molecules, are used for many things we use steel for today. This also means that space launch technology has advanced with super-light, super-strong, space shuttles. It is a hundred years in the future so gasoline is a bad memory; instead, people drive electric cars. Using electric cars meant that I had to have recharge stations reminiscent of parking meters at each parking space because of the poor mass to power storage ratio of batteries when compared to chemical fuels. The pressure differential between the bottom and the top of these kilometers high towers will result in hurricane force winds. It makes sense to harness these to supply power. This is but one consequence of people living in these towers that has to be examined to keep the book’s internal logic. The answers to these problems echo out into the world in general.
In Horn of the Kraken the Norse apocalypse, Ragnarok, has come about. From the writings passed down to us we know that Ragnarok has several ages the first of which is marked by Fimbulwinter, a time where the sun and moon have been eaten by the cosmic wolves and all is arctic cold and dark. Now the logical consequences of this cannot be ignored. Torches, candle lanterns, fires all sources of light and warmth are vitally important. It also means that any light makes you visible from a long way off and a lack of light makes you invisible and practically blind. Food production has all but stopped. Another matter of vital importance is that waste removal systems that rely of flowing water no longer function. Thus if I wanted to use flowing water in the book I had to supply a rational or violate consistency. I couldn’t have light when I wanted it without explaining why. I had to stay consistent to a dark and icy world. It was often a pain to do so, but those limitations forced me, well my charters, to be innovative. Another factor that added to the book in this way was the technology was from 936 CE, and I had to stay consistent to that.
The idea is to look at the elements you put into the world and think of how they would affect that world, not just in the ways that are convenient to your story. This will make your world seem real and may even present you with some interesting elements to use in the book that you hadn’t thought of before.
The people in the world must reflect their world. No one lives in a vacuum. We are all affected by the society we live in, the things we grew up with, and the things we deal with every day.
In Nukekubi, my paranormal detective story, I have a structured, urban society, ours, where rationalism has largely eroded a belief in magic. This results in Ray, my wizard, having to have a day job. Most people not believing in magic forces the practitioners of magic to be circumspect. Imagine going to your boss and saying, “I need a few days off so I can hunt a Japanese goblin that is scaring people to death.” Getting canned might be the least of your troubles. The logic of a world, where magic is only slightly more demonstrative than ours, is that mystics are as closeted as they are in our own world. Keeping this kind of secret will influence a character.
Another aspect of this is that there are simply things your characters can’t talk to people at large about. This will create friction in interpersonal relationships. The sense of being an outsider looking in is likely to make the character a little judgmental when looking at the rest of society.
An additional consequence of this sociological denial is that your character has a way they can strike out at people, and not risk retaliation. What does it say about your character’s moral nature that they don’t?
In Worlds Apart I have a wizard from a parallel earth with different physical laws who has brought a limited store of magic from his world with him to ours. How he interacts with the world around him dominos out even though he tries to be circumspect. Any time a character adds an element to the world you need to ask yourself how far the ripples from these actions will reach. If a wizard flaps his gums in Derbyshire England will it cause a hurricane in Miami?
What you need to do is think about how things have influenced you and extrapolate how the elements of your world will influence your character. Will they rebel, conform, not care? The world your characters live in is as much a part of them as their hands and feet, so be careful how you sculpt it.
My final point is to remember there are many worlds in your world.
In The Hollow Curse, my two leads experience a series of past lives. To make the story work my characters need to believe in reincarnation. They also should be people pre-inclined to recalling past lives so I made than practicing Druids.
Some of you are probably scratching your heads and saying, ‘what’s a Druid?’ others are thinking, “weren’t they killed off?” The answers are that they are the Priests of the Celtic Religion, and there are still several Druidic churches and societies in operation today. This is the point, they are a world within our world that many people have no contact with. Have the modern Druids been affected by the modern world? Definitely, who’s going to pass up indoor plumbing? Do they form a world within the world with its own unique influences that will affect the characters? Definitely. You have to look at the sub-worlds that your character moves through and how they influence them.
A character may move between several sub-worlds in a book. In The Hollow Curse, Alysia is part of the worlds of a university graduate student, a Druid or Dryad, a term some use for a Druidic Priestess, a jogger, and a budding police consultant. All of these sub-worlds will influence her although she may be their only crossover point, and she may keep them all very distinct.
Another great source of conflict is to have a person slip and apply the norms of one sub-world they live in to another sub-world that they live in. If you want to see the result of this just look at a high school kid who is into science and sports. If he slips up and describes the flight of a baseball referencing the laws of physics how well is he received by the other jocks? It can range from good-natured teasing to downright hatred and ostracism.
So at another level of world building, you must be aware of the sub-worlds that inhabit your story and allow the pertinent ones to leak in and influence your character. No one completely turns themselves on and off when they move between these sub-worlds and conflicts between the various worlds your character inhabits can add spice to the book or even be the central theme of the book.
The idea of all this is that world building should be as important as character and plot to your story. In a sense, your world should be a major character present in every scene affecting every action, influencing, but never overshadowing, the other aspects of the story.
Thank you very much for reading.
This article contains mature themes.
Content is key, but what if you don’t have a handle on how to gauge content? This big issue I’ve been faced with as of late is how people interpret my promotional policy. My policy was static for about two years, but now it seems I have to update it every other month. On one hand, I’m not one to shy away from expressing my opinions, but I also don’t set out to offend people. On the other hand, I refuse to be made to feel guilty for not wanting to promote something that I’m just not interested in reading and or promoting.
As for what I read, I choose to read fiction that’s within my comfort zone, most of the time. How can I be expected to find an escape if I’m uncomfortable and frustrated with the content? And to be perfectly honest, I’m more open-minded about what I read, than many of the people I associate with. I have come across so many blogs and groups who refuse to review spiritual fiction, especially not anything religious or tied to a religious affiliation, and I have no problem with that. I don’t think these bloggers should be made to feel bad simply because they
choose not read something that makes them uncomfortable. However, when the tables are turned against any topic related to sex and or violence, people get mad and offended.
So here’s the big issue: what is erotica?
Heck if I know. I don’t read it, but I’ve read a few things I feel might be pretty close it and that’s one comfort zone I’d like to stay within. As an adult, I have no problem with anyone who reads or writes erotic stories. I even think some stories could use a little spicing up, but that doesn’t mean I want to be immersed in erotic language and images nor do I want to promote it. So all that’s left now is for me to decide how much is too much.
This would all be so much easier if there were some kind of industry standard, but there isn’t. Many will argue that some works are clearly Erotica, but what about all those that are “borderline.” I was recently faced with the challenge of trying to clarify my promotional policy by having someone compare the works, Fifty Shades of Grey and A Discovery of Witches. Taking into consideration that not everyone reads the same genres no matter how popular a book may be this comparison didn’t work; the author hadn’t read either of the books and hadn’t even heard of the latter. For me personally, I can scan the reviews of a book to get a feel for the content within, but we were in a bit of a crunch at that moment.
So now I’m felt looking back at my reading history and wondering where each book falls into my promotional policy. Have I read books that I actually wouldn’t promote?…Yes, and to be honest, I’ve never promoted those books. Some of them I didn’t finish and the few I did, I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed… Maybe I should.
Now it becomes a matter of what I think Erotica is.
I’ve never read Fifty Shades of Grey, but I’m pretty confident it’s too extreme for me, along with other such titles as: Insufferable Proximity and His Possession (books recommended if you like 50 Shades). I guess if the major selling point of the book is sex, that’s a pretty clear indicator. What about all those books that actually have a well-developed story along with a lot of detailed sex?
Take the book Outlander for instance. To me this book is borderline Erotica, but I have a feeling the Showtime series is pushing the limits of that (I’ve never watched it). I read this book because it was recommended to fans of time-travel and historical fiction; both accurate descriptions. However, this book contains a lot of sex and some of it is what you might consider “kinky”. This book was very uncomfortable to finish, but the beginning was so good and the actual story and characters so compelling, that I plowed forward and tried to skip over the parts I didn’t like. It was truly an incredible story, but it’s not a series I will ever continue simply because of the intense and graphic content I choose not to read.
Now consider the All Souls Series, specifically A Discovery of Witches. There is no way I would let anyone under 18 read this, but I’m not a parent and it’s really not that bad. It’s quite simply very mature and meant for adult consumption. This is an 18+ read, but I don’t consider it borderline and definitely not Erotica… I am way off and suffering from a delusion? I don’t know, but this is how I see this. I don’t exactly write children’s books myself (yet 😉 ), but I must draw the line somewhere.
I often try to compare book content to movie content, but even that’s not so easy to do. I often ask people that if a book was a movie would it be rated R or NC-17, but that’s not always a good indicator. Many R-rated movies are released only after a 2 or 3 minute clip is either edited or cut to bring it down from the NC-17 rating, and many PG-13 movies seem like they could be rated higher. There’s simply no way to determine where exactly to draw the line. In writing it goes even further. As much time as I may spend trying to define “What is Erotica?” others are arguing over what’s the difference and limitations between Erotica and Pornographic Lit. I can’t even imagine where it goes from there.
So in conclusion, I guess I’ll continue to update and tweak my promotional policy and continue to please some while I offend others.
This is an unoffical Author Insights post.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you like it let me know and share it with others. See you next time, Toi Thomas. #thetoiboxofwords
I’m going to be perfectly honest; romance is not my thing. At least I never felt like it was, but I could be wrong. I have found that what I perceive as traditional romances, whether in books or films, don’t really appeal to me with a few specific exceptions. However, when reviewing my list of go-to chick-flick romances with some friends, I learned that some of my choices aren’t very traditional. Don’t worry, I’ll be sharing that topic on another day.
When it comes to my writing I realized that most stories need some element of romance, love, or relationship issues (not always romance) to keep the story well-rounded. It was then that I also realized that I do like romance when it’s combined with another genre, when it’s not the driving force but an interesting subplot or catalyst. I even conducted a poll last month to see how people felt about genre, to which I’ll be posting my results in my newsletter tomorrow.
Anyway, back to romance. I’ve been told that my Eternal Curse: Giovanni’s Angel is non-traditional romance within the whole paranormal romance genre. In all honestly, that may have something to do with the fact that I tried not to focus too much on the romance, but it is a major driving force in the story. I feel that maybe the idea of writing romance intimidates me so I try to avoid it or reduce encounters with it. Unfortunately, that tactic has never worked for me.
So that’s when I decided to write a romance of my own with no paranormal twist, no fantasy or sci undertone, or any time of violence or political intrigue. I decided that I wanted to tell the story of characters who could be real people who I might meet and form relationships with. But of course this raised another question. “Am I truly writing a romance or just general fiction with a romance in it?” This is where the whole idea of “read what you write” would have greatly helped me. In any case, I’m so close to finishing this story and can’t wait to share it.
In the meantime, I’d love to know your thoughts on romance, whether you’re a fan or not.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you like it let me know and share it with others. See you next time, Toi Thomas. #thetoiboxofwords
It’s been a while since I’ve shared any thoughts that weren’t directly related to me blogging or a book I’m working on; not that it’s a bad thing. You may not be interested in my other thoughts, but since you’re here, I figured I’d share.
Some people love polls and some hate them, but I think most people are in the middle. As long people aren’t asked to do a poll daily or weekly, I think most people will give them a try. I’m going to start posting a poll once a month just to see if I get any takers. The poll will appear in the side panel of this blog throughout the month, but I’ll also create a post like this announcing it.
Now here’s where things get a little kooky. I could have gone with one of the more popular Poll apps or services, but what can I say, I’m a control freak and like to do things a certain way. My polls will pretty much be Google forms so I can easily manipulate them and keep records of them. I’ve had a poll posted for a while now that hasn’t gotten much attention, but that’s okay. I’ll be posting a new poll in the next week or two. For now you can check out my current poll.
Some people love Paranormal but hate Romance, while some have found comfort in Paranormal Romance. So what do you think; does genre matter? Share your thoughts and see what others think too.