Monday, September 15, 2008

Back on the Blog Chain: Storyworld Creation

Time for another Blog Chain Post. This time, my friend Heather picked the topic: How do you as an author choose or create your story-world and give that setting authenticity? You can start with her blog if you wish to follow the entire blog chain link to link, or you can check out all the marked blogs in my Blog List.

The previous poster, Archetype, focused on the laws of fantasy and science fiction worlds. I'm going to continue discussing science fiction; specifically, I'm going to talk about creating future worlds. My novel Across Two Universes has three major worlds: the world of mid-21st century New York (about 60 years ahead of us), the world of the spaceship Sagan, and the world of 1980 Earth, where my hero, Paul, meets the man he was cloned from and attempts to change the fate of that world. Everything in ATU is set up to make that meeting possible.

When I came up with this story world, my initial idea was to send someone back in time to hear the Beatles play at the Cavern in Liverpool. I then had to figure out her motive for doing so, and it turned out to be to clone John Lennon. (The original versions of my novella "Move Over Ms. L." and the first few drafts of ATU did use John Lennon and other real people; there's no denying that. I'm currently changing them, though.) So I had to set up a world where time travel was possible and figure out how that worked. I started with a few Writer's Digest books devoted to time and space travel. I decided that the best time travel method for this story would be to have the time traveler pass through a wormhole into another, younger universe. She would need a spaceship to do so, not to mention a wormhole. I don't want to go into too much detail about the origins of the wormhole, but I will say it's not natural. But I also needed a society capable of making a spaceship, so in my future world, cold fusion is possible and used to power the ship (which still isn't capable of faster-than-light travel, so it travels relatively short distances). The ship itself is used to collect genetic samples and other treasures of the 1980 Earth and bring them back to the 21st century.

In designing the Sagan, I focused more on how people live in it than its technical specs. Although the ship is well-stocked and maintained every time it returns to the 21st century Earth, it has to be able to supply its residents with food independently. I therefore gave it a salmon tank and a hydroponic garden. It also has a psychiatrist to help people cope with space travel and little cubicles where people can seek privacy. Since passage through the wormhole is rough at best, passengers are required to strap themselves into their bunks.

To come up with other technological wonders of my world, I read Scientific American. My heroes wear "smart clothes" that can keep the wearer warm and spidersilk armor that can stop bullets--things already being discussed today. I also extrapolate uses of the technology; holographs aren't just used to replace TVs but to create costumes for actors. I also think about how current events would affect the future. In my world, global warming has caused severe flooding in New York City; the city was saved by building levees.

Research and imagination can help you create your world, but it's the way you use them that makes your world authentic. Instead of telling my readers about my world, I show it to them as Paul would see it. The story starts with Paul using his autoholoprojectors during a play. On the Sagan, he meets with his girlfriend in the hydroponic garden and in a private cubicle, interacting with the settings and experiencing them through several senses. I don't lecture the readers about flooding; instead, Paul mentions in bypassing how he was an extra in the documentary The Floods of New York.

It's time for me to pass the blogging baton to Kristal, but I'd like to sum up in three points: when creating a world, make it multifaceted. Think about the implications of your decisions on other aspects of the world. And don't forget to show it to the reader with sensory descriptions and telling details. No matter what world you write about, the details will make it real.


Abi said...

Nice post Sandra! I like the way your characters experience their world. I think that is very important and helps with the readers ability to put themselves into your story.

Great job.


TerriRainer said...

This is why I doubt I could ever write TRUE sci-fi. I have the utmost respect for writers (such as yourself) that take the time to actually set up a BELIEVABLE world or future.

The amount of research that goes into writing historical is huge, but it doesn't take near the amount of research, combined with understanding and imagination, to create a sci-fi world.

Good post!

:) Terri

H. L. Dyer said...

Fantabulous post! I'm so impressed with you spec fic world builders... seriously ubercool stuff here. :)

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Very cool! And I want to see the documentary - The Floods of New York - it sounds great!

Anonymous said...

Okay, I hate being out-thinked. Is that even a word? No, it's underlined in red, but I'm leaving it anyway. Seriously cool stuff, Sandra. For my science fiction novel (it's considered "soft" sci fi, BTW = no spaceships or travel), I just set it in the future when pretty much the whole world was wiped out and...yeah. Too much work to read about wormholes and create spaceships and the like.

But I love reading about that kind of stuff, and yours sounds like the world would be so believable, that I'd be able to buy almost anything you told me.

Great job! Love the speculative fiction take on story-worlds. :)

Michelle McLean said...

Excellent post! :) And I agree, I would love to watch that documentary :D I like that you make your worlds authentic and believable by having your characters experiencing that world. Very good stuff, and very interesting!!

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

Ooh! Elana! I love post-apocalyptic!!!

Sandra -- fun post. It's fun to read about things our technology is just starting to be able to do and extrapolate the way you're describing! :-D

Anonymous said...

I'm with Elena. Researching wormholes and spaceships-too deep for me. Love reading it, though. My favorite book of all time is a sci-fi.

Great post. Impressive world-building. Your project sounds amazing. Thanks for sharing your process with us.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Sandra! I'm impressed with all of the world building that has to go into your books!

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