Writing speculative fiction [as Orson Scott Card refers to the entire science fiction and fantasy genre] is a dream of mine. I’ve struggled with this world building concept and thought it applicable only to a couple of ideas I had about something outside the realm of contemporary or historical.
There have been a number of panels at SCBWI events on ‘world building‘. Why do I highlight that? Because most, no all, of the panel members were writers of speculative fiction. Sitting in the LA ballroom one year not too far back, I wondered. Why? Didn’t Jane Austin build a world in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE? Didn’t Sue Grafton build a world and sustain it in every one of the Kinsey Millhone mystery stories? Ellen Raskin in THE WESTING GAME? Jay Asher in THIRTEEN REASONS WHY? Anthony Horowitz ALEX RIDER?
I grew up reading Edgar Rice Burroughs’s JOHN CARTER ON MARS, Fredrick Brown’s MARTIAN’S GO HOME, Asimov’s LUCKY STARR, moving on to the LOTR trilogy, The GORMANGHAST TRILOGY, anything Frank Herbert, or Robert Heinlen, Frederick Pohl, Phillip Dick… you get the picture. I’ve probably spent more of my time in other worlds cumulatively than I have anywhere else.
The question was–why was world building only thought of in speculative fiction, in those science fiction, fantasy, paranormal stories? So when a world building intensive was offered this year at the SCBWI MidWinter Conference [with authors Henry H. Neff and James Dashner] I signed up and brought my contemporary murder mystery set in Boston. And, interestingly, I wasn’t the only one. Although there were speculative-fiction type manuscripts at the table, there was on on discrimination in the south using the ghost of Medgar Evers, [okay, so paranormal] and one on a transgender child navigating high school.
Here’s the bottom line….
EVERY STORY HAS A WORLD
Whether it takes place on another world, in outer space, in the apartment building down the block or in a time period long past, that story exists somewhere. This isn’t just setting–as in where an event takes place, the physical. A world is so much more–it’s who’s in charge, who’s friends with whom, what is the belief system, how do they communicate. The better the somewhere is described, the better you are able to fit the character into that description, the better the story. Makes sense, right? And well it should. This intensive made me question what was unique about my world? What ways the world impacted my story? What ways the world impacted my characters? It also made me question whether or not the world was complete, was I describing the MC’s world well enough that you could understand her predicament, how much did I develop and how much did I assume the reader would know based on the contemporary setting? What did I need to change?
These questions helped me to be certain I had clearly identified the theme of my story. It helped me to see any inconsistencies in the way the characters behaved. And, it helped me to achieve an ending to the story that was in keeping with the character’s behavior, and it helped me to find a solution to identifying the murderers that was consistent with her world.
So. THIS WORLD. The world of my story, the one that my main character roams around in each day, this world in some ways helps define her, is important. I had to build this world, I needed to make her world complete enough that when the last page of the story is turned, this world is something you remember.
Because every story has a world. Every single one!