Friday, March 18th, 2011

Writing Prompt: What in the World…?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to world building these days, as I’m slated to teach a class at an upcoming convention. In simple terms, world building is all about setting the scene for your story or novel.

If you write contemporary literature, you may not need to do so much. If you write science fiction or fantasy, you’ll need to be aware of all the differences between the world you’re writing, and the world you live in, so you can make the fictional world believable when you write it.

Mainly, you have to make certain that things, “work.” If it rains blue raisins every night, you’ll need a plausible reason for this phenomena and write it convincingly into the story. And there needs to be balance. For every really cool item you place in the world, you’ve got to have an equally evil or devastating one.

Balance makes the story/world more believable: too much happiness and light and things get boring fast. Too much evil and darkness, and we’re left with no enjoyment, no hope.

Naomi Novik writes stories set in the Napoleonic era where dragons exist. Kim Harrison’s urban fantasies take place in current-day Ohio, where all kinds of supernatural beings exist and tomatoes are thought to be deadly.

What kind of stories could you tell about these kinds of worlds?

Here’s Your Prompt: Create a world, much like your own, with one significant difference. Like Novik’s world, it could be the existence of dragons (or some other mythical creature). Or, like Harrison’s world, it could be that a common plant is considered dangerous. Can you imagine a world without ketchup?

On the flip side, it could be a world without a particular animal or “luxury” item. For example, what if horses didn’t exist? What if airplanes or trains or automobiles had never been invented?

Or build a world where tomatoes (or another plant) are found to cure cancer, Alzheimer’s or some other disease. (This is where balance comes in: if you can cure cancer, there’d better be some other disease or illness or birth defect that people have to struggle with.)

One you’ve built this small piece of your world, think of ways the setting can be used to generate a story idea. What kind of people live in this world? What do they believe? How do they live? How does the setting affect them?

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