Birthing A World
As writers of fantasy and science fiction we generally operate in worlds outside of reality. There are a variety of views on this, from people who think of fantasy writers are cheats because they ‘take the easy way out’, and do whatever they want; to people who wish they had the creative talent to bring into being a world of their own. Not everyone can create an imaginary world, and even fewer people can create one that is worth spending time in. The first world I ever, successfully, created…well…let’s just say that there were opalescent dragons, Merlin had gone from Wise Mage to Necromancer King, and ‘Australia’ was overrun by demonic zombies…needless to say, not really worth much time.
Several posts have been written about playing by, and making, the rules. Keeping your fantastic real enough to be believed is a challenge worth discussion. Today, however, I want to spend some time focusing on the beginning of the process. Obviously an imaginary world does not pop out of the author’s head fully formed. First of all that would be extremely messy…I mean, just try cleaning all of that head off the walls. Second, ideas take time to develop. Sometimes I will ruminate on a possible addition or change to one of my worlds for weeks before deciding whether to add it…other times I have an idea that makes me want to kick myself for not thinking of it earlier.
If you count all the fantasy/sci-fi/etc authors in the world and multiply that number by ten, you might come close to identifying the exact number of ways a new world can be instigated. They can begin with anything from a set of lines on a paper, which become the walls of a city; to an abstract concept of good vs. evil with cannibalistic hobbits thrown somewhere in the middle. Sometimes a world begins with a character, sometimes with a geographic feature, sometimes with name, sometimes with a concept (truth, true evil, hope, war, etc).
From these humble beginnings you (the author) start asking questions. Questions lie at the core of creativity. Even should you come up with an idea; if you are not curious enough to ask questions about it, the your world will die then and there, never more than a set of city walls. However, if your curiosity is strong you will ask, ‘What is outside those walls?’ and then, ‘What is past that?’ etc.
This is the beginning of your world. The more questions you ask the bigger, and more complete, your world will become. This process takes time, sometimes weeks, sometimes years…depending on how fast you work, and how broad and deep you want your world to become. Most of the time your first world will be embarrassing, your baby will get (rightfully) torn to shreds, leaving you depressed and alone, until you start over. Keep going, start with a new idea, build it up and see how much better you can do. Don’t be afraid of the cliche, but don’t be satisfied with it either. Take your cliche ideas and let them gestate until they turn into something entirely you. If you take enough time, and put in enough effort, that single idea can turn into something incredible.