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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Creating Universes, Building Worlds (SiWC 2011 Notes)

Sorry, folks. I said I'd post my notes from Surrey, but I've been taking my sweet time. I've been a bit busy with NaNo ... among other things. I received a personalized rejection last week, and I'm grateful that the agent took the time to point out what didn't work for her, because it highlighted a few minor issues for me. So I've been doing NaNo *and* editing.

What, me? Overcommitted? I have no idea what you're talking about.

But here's another set of notes! And hopefully I can get some more up this week. But I can't promise anything and I *will* be selfish this month. I'd like to start sending SOTS elsewhere. Besides, I also have 20K left to go on my NaNo.

That being said, here's my notes from the Worldbuilding workshop given by Tor fantasy author A.M. Dellamonica, author of Indigo Springs and Blue Magic. This class is based on a 10-week distance ed course she teaches through the UCLA. Much of the class was spent on exercises, some of which I mention here, but they were fantastic for brainstorming new things and realizing how one little idea can lead to so many more.

Creating Universes, Building Worlds

The basic principles of worldbuilding genrerally apply to all the genres.

Exercise: Dances with Vampires
4 basic vampire rules common to a lot of vampire stories:
-          Sunlight kills them
-          They dink blood (hemovores)
-          They have fangs
-          A stake through the heart will immobilize or kill them
-          Pick one more world law: e.g. they all pine for lost humanity – what would happen?
o   Spray tan / fashion industry so they look more human
o   Take night jobs to be around humans
-          Therefore, the laws of the universe shape the story. It creates the world.
-          My rule: they all seek redemption? Or instead of eternal life, they have limited lifespans? And they have to redeem their souls while drinking blood before the time is up, or be eternally damned? How can they do that? Charity work? Get it out up front.
-          Another idea: Vampirism as a common cold, temporary
Now imagine that you’d created vampires from the start. Imagine how differently the opening would be like, if you had to spell all that out? It’s worldbuilding.

With worldbuilding, we’re either changing an existing structure, or introducing something completely new.

Science Fiction
-          Complicated worlds can be hard to communicate
-          Not all of us have an engineering degree
-          We don’t know for sure if the reader knows
-          Dialogue can give backstory and worldbuilding
-          It’s hard to write dialogue without getting closer to character.
-          Even something that seems restrictive can go a variety of different ways.

How do you slip in info without overwhelming the reader?
-          There will always be way more info than you can possibly share.
-          Dialogue is great to slip in the world, especially from what problems people are having
-          Infodumps are tricky, and an exercise in “what can you get away with”.
-          Make the problem relevant to the world.
-          Have something change, so character recognizes something is different.
-          Show it in day-to-day life: how the characters react, what they encounter that is different from our world, as they experience things
-         Tourism: they could go somewhere unusual for them. Because they’re experiencing things for the first time, so does the reader.
-          Mystery: e.g. the character knows/feels something is wrong in the world

How do you deal with similar books coming out that seem they’re too like your book?
-          Finish the damn book anyway.
-          If you sell your book tomorrow, it won’t be published until at least 2 years from now – 2 years will have passed.
-          The likelihood of something being nigh-identical is very low
-          Sometimes, similar work sells
-          Just because you think it’s similar, it might not be. Read the competition.

If writing hard sf, talk to an engineer/scientist to confirm details, or it might not work.
Exercise: Build a magic system!
-          You have to eat something to have the power: edible magic!
-          Cumulative poisonous effect (limit on how much you can do to yourselves or others; hard choices)
-          Wizards short-lived, have proxies
-          The holy grail: magic in a non-toxic fashion, cure
-          Subculture of scam antidotes
-          Could be importing magic foods from another society
-          More ingredients = more complexity, more power
-          Vehicle for oppression
-          Stolen partial antidote, loved one w/ addiction, compelling personal reasons, was a guinea pig? Does the bad guy have motivation for stealing it such as trying to get people to stop using it?

Other stuff to keep in mind:
- Magic should always have a cost.
- Any sufficient advanced technology can come off as magic (as per Arthur C. Clarke, I think)
- Fiction is about doing the impossible.
- Next time you think about creating a world, you can create immensely powerful beings, but think about what the costs are.
- Know your target audience.
- You decide the boundaries.
- If blending fantasy and science fiction, think about how the technology interacts with the magic.
- Keep the number of invented words to a minimum. As much as you need, as little as you can get away with.

For further information, check out her Resource Page.

More notes soon, I promise!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your notes. I'll likely never have the chance to attend anything writing related such as this so it's nice to read about others who have.

    A personalized rejection is always helpful, gives you something to work on and often times points out issues that you've overlooked. (That's if you agree with the critique.)

    It's forward from here. You'll get there, I'm sure. :)