Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Finishing Up The Q&A

Now that we're running out of year I thought I'd devote the next couple of Wednesdays to wrapping up the rest of the world-building questions asked back during our June Q&A.

Darlene wrote: Creating the class structure in a new society always bogs me down. I'd love to hear how you do that. It always seems so organic in your books.

I covered my approach pretty thoroughly in comments to the original post, but I did want to add a couple of additional thoughts in regard to creating your own class structure. The demands of your story will help determine the structure your social hierarchies, as in every kingdom needs a ruler and every village an idiot, but don't confine your storytelling to a rigid, no-exceptions social construct. Just as in real life there are always exceptions, like the beggar who by luck or determination becomes a billionaire, or the prince who by the opposite is reduced to a pauper. Wherever there is a society there are always exceptional people who by will work their way up or by circumstance tumble down its ladders.

Speaking of the exception to the rule, and I ask this of you from the bottom of my storyteller's heart, please do not set up a rigid, uncompromising rule in your universe's social structure and then immediately break it without explanation as the story opens. Aka only women have ruled The Planet of Chick Queens for millenia, except next Tuesday, when a guy will ascend to the throne; or only rogue males have the psychic ability to shape-shift, except for your heroine, who is (of course secretly) the only female shape-shifter in the history of recorded time.

If you're going to create an exception, make it logical and fitting, not utterly spontaneous and entirely inexplicable. If you want an example of how I do that, Alexandra Keller from my Darkyn series was the first human in centuries to survive transitioning from mortal to Kyn in book one, but the reason why she survived it was integral to the foundation of the series (and while you don't find out precisely why until book seven, the details are always there as a logical and fitting aspect of the world-building.)

Lisa954 wrote: Fran already went over my question. I love looking at the social aspect of world building. Where do you start to create this part? Do you take your own society and tweak it? or start from scratch?

How I build a social structure for a universe really depends on the type of world I'm using for the story. My far-future StarDoc universe, for example, was entirely invented, so likewise the social structures and everything in it had to be cooked up from scratch. Since there were dozens of species involved I also had to do regular, intense new social and biological world-building every time one was introduced into the storyline. This sort of universe requires a ton of work but is probably the most satisfying, because basically everything in it is your creation.

For the Disenchanted & Co. books I took the Victorian American era and skewed it to suit the alternative universe I created by changing one important event in history. That gave me a lot of pre-existing building materials to use, but much of that had to be altered to fit into my universe's reality. This sort of world-building is sometimes easier or harder than pure invention, but you have the advantage of exisiting constructs to employ, change, reimagine etc.

In my Darkyn series I added vampiric immortals and their mortal enemies to the modern world, which required building onto (and most often behind) our existing universe. This may seem like the easiest route, but it offers the greatest number of boundaries. You also have to provide meaningful reasons as to why no one is aware of the additions, or you have to alter the real world to accomodate them in some logical fashion.

Any type of world you build will present unique opportunities and challenges for your imagination, and to decide which you want for your story is an important choice. Your story concept will determine a lot, but so will you. If you're not inclined to build a great deal, altering or using an existing world is probably your best fit. If you'd love to reimagine reality from the ground up then you're more likely to be happy running with a completely new world no one has ever seen. Look hard at your story concept and your characters and see what's right for them, but also consider what's best for you.


  1. Thank you for this, especially for the reminder that I don't have to be quite so rigid.

  2. I'm awed, once again, by the amount of work that goes into your writing. I've tried to write a book on several occasions over the years, even to the extent of reaching chapter 14 on book 5, but I will readily admit that I don't have the imagination, determination and creativity to do it well. I enjoyed putting my thoughts and ideas on paper but I knew it would never go anywhere. Like most of us out in "reader world" I figured you had a idea in your head and your wrote it down, not realising the whole shedload of tiny details needed to make it flow and enchant the reader. So once again I bow to you and authors everywhere, & promise to enjoy the products of your imagination with much gusto! Thank you.