Greetings, dear Reader! Today is a very special day. It is the day that Ascent of the Nebula by DJ Edwardson is released to the general public. To celebrate, I invited DJ to come over and do a guest post – and it fits in with my fantasy theme for the month quite nicely, as he is going to talk a bit about world-building… something you don’t really have to do if you write historical romance or something like that… but most sci-fi and fantasy authors do!
With the Developers’ plans to reengineer the human race in disarray, this may be the one chance Adan and the Sentient renegades have of saving the desert world of the Vast.
Using the chronotrace, a device capable of looking back into time, Adan discovers their next point of attack, but a window to the past can’t prepare him for what the future has in store. He will have to risk his life, his future, and everything he’s fought for if he hopes to survive.
The third and final book in The Chronotrace Sequence brings the series to its thrilling conclusion as threats long thought buried are resurrected from across the vagaries of time and space.
And That’s the Recipe for Making Worlds
Greetings readers, writers, and fellow literary connoisseurs. I’d like to talk to you a little bit about world-building. One of the great gifts of reading is the ability to step into someone else’s shoes and learn from their experiences. In so doing, we gain new experiences and grow in ways we might not have otherwise had we simply gone about business as usual. This is because “real life” can sometimes distract us from real life. Beauty, eternity, courage, and truth, such things are often missed in moment to moment living.
In part, such bookish visions are achieved simply by the different perspective offered by a character who is not ourselves. As C.S. Lewis puts it,
Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality…in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like a night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.
But the degree to which books “heal the wound” of our own limited experience is greatly enhanced by not just stepping in other shoes, but by walking in those shoes along exotic and alien paths. In short, the visiting of other worlds is what affords us the clearest break from the mundane and the routine.
All worlds are not created equal, however. Some are like visiting a stench-filled backwater full of mosquitos and leeches while others are as enchanting as a night in the king’s castle, exploring endless corridors lined with paintings and tapestries, each one more fantastic than the last.
Consistency Is the Base
So what makes for a good world? Well, there are at least four main ingredients an author needs to make his world engaging and inviting to readers. In talking about them, I’m going to use examples from my dystopian science fiction series, The Chronotrace Sequence to show how I went about stirring these ingredients into the cauldron of world-making.
Like the broth in a soup, consistency is the fundamental ingredient which holds everything together. You can’t have a world in which everyone can teleport anywhere they want an then have your main character always late to meetings. It wouldn’t make sense. This one may not be as fancy and delicious as the other ingredients, but you’ll know something’s missing if it isn’t there.
With the first book in my series, Into the Vast I wanted to create an all-powerful society. In most dystopian novels it is governments, or powerful corporations, or vicious crime syndicates who run the show, but it always seemed to me like there would be ways to slip through the cracks of such systems. What would be the ultimate form of tyranny? I decided that a society which used technology to control its members would be able to dominate people in ways the others could not.
To make that plausible I had to allow science to go far beyond just embedding chips inside peoples’ brains, because a chip could be removed. I decided that each person would be completely reengineered genetically and “enhanced” so that instead of just having something external shoved inside them, they would actually be a piece of technology that the leaders could then manage. This would allow the leaders of the society total control over every aspect of their lives.
Spice Things Up
This one probably seems obvious as every story has some risk or danger too it, even if it’s just the main character figuring out how to keep from getting lost on the way to grandmother’s house. But I’m talking about taking it to the next level, where the very world itself is a source of danger. As Samwise puts it in The Two Towers film:
It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were.
Whether it’s orc infested mountains, the incoming alien invasion, or a virus that’s turned the whole planet into zombies, a fictional world needs to feel like a threatening, unsafe place to be. In Into the Vast, besides the scientists controlling everyone’s lives, the planet where the story takes place is an inhospitable wasteland. The scientists have created a little protective bubble through technology to get around this, but beyond the boundaries of the atmospheric generators lies a desert wracked by near constant sand storms. I got this idea from Jupiter with its giant red eye which is a never-ending storm.
With this ingredient, though, you’ve got to be careful not to over season it and burn off all a reader’s tastebuds. Too much danger without any relief really kills character development. There should be an ebb and flow. This is one of the reasons why many movies struggle in their world building. They’re too busy blowing it up to care much about creating a well-rounded world with pockets of peace and goodness where the characters can go for a brief respite from all the danger surrounding them.
Something That Sticks to the Ribs
But even in a well-thought-out, perilous world we may be entertained, but we won’t really be satisfied unless there is a real meatiness or richness to the world. Readers need something they can sink their teeth into and chew on. I’m talking about the sorts of worlds that we can ruminate on and which will satisfy for a good long while. The best worlds are those that you don’t want to just visit once, but you long to return to again, even if it’s just in your imagination. When all is said and done and the last page is turned, you wish you could keep walking down those familiar paths, convinced that more adventure and thrilling new vistas await just around the next bend.
Though The Chronotrace Sequence starts off with the main character, Adan, knowing almost nothing, the reader gets more and more detail as the story unfolds. I thought it would be an interesting experience for the reader to uncover the world alongside the protagonist.
The technology is probably the most noticeable feature in the books, and a whole host of ships and weapons introduced in the second installment, Through the Viscera. But beyond the technology there were primitive cultures with belief systems and their own languages which needed to be fleshed out. What relationship did they have with the scientists? What sorts of leaders did they have? What sorts of foods did they eat? As an interesting wrinkle I decided to imagine what it would be like to have to live on a world with no vegetation and no animals. That created all sorts of complications and possibilities at the same time.
In the final book, Ascent of the Nebula, the reader gets even more of the backstory on how the scientists came into power in the first place. Backstory and a sense of history go a long way to building up the richness of a world.
The Secret Sauce
And finally, as rich as a world should be, an author needs to risk the temptation to simply dump every detail he has in his notes on the reader. We’re not writing history textbooks on our invented worlds, we’re writing stories. So this brings us to our last ingredient which is mystery.
There has to be something left to the imagination, some unexplored lands or unexplained aspects. Just as in life we don’t know it all, the reader shouldn’t either. A book’s world will be all the more richer if the reader feels that so far he’s just scratched the surface of what such a world has to offer.
Since the main character in The Chronotrace Sequence has no memory, it was quite easy for me to add this one into the mix. Especially in Ascent of the Nebula, I think readers will get a sense that there is a great deal more going on in the Chronotrace universe than was apparent when Adan woke up that first day in the Institute. Obviously, since this ingredient is all about mystery, I won’t go into more details than that, but suffice it to say that a level of mystery enlarges the world a writer creates and makes it that much more intriguing for readers to explore.
And that’s the recipe for great world-building in fiction as well as a few appetizers from my Chronotrace series. I hope you enjoyed these insights and I’d love to hear what you think. Are there other aspects I didn’t go into that help give a world that seal of authenticity? What are some of your favorite worlds? And what do you love best about them?
Here’s to hoping that whichever worlds your reading adventures lead you to will be ones that are consistent, mysterious, rich, and full of danger.
DJ Edwardson always wanted to invent the hovercraft. Not some floaty balloon contraption, but the real McCoy, with levitation and jump jets and cool track lights down the side just because. But he found that not being a scientist or an inventor or a multi-billion dollar venture capitalist put a bit of a damper on that career path so he settled for the next best thing, writing about them.
But he doesn’t just write about hovercraft. He’s invented all sorts of things that will probably never make it out of that “what if” stage, at least not in his lifetime. He also writes about things that aren’t “things” at all, like friendship, courage, and love. And those are even more exiting than hovercraft.
If you’d like to learn more about DJ Edwardson and his books, be sure to visit his WEBSITE!