Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb May 27, 2013 - 1:33pm

I tried an exercise today that I want to share with people and ask anyone else if they've done it.

I felt like I was losing control of how complex the world in my sci-fi novel was. Everything felt like exposition whenever I read my draft through lately - I'd lost the ability to just tell the fucking story because the world in the background was swamping my head, and making me ask how to build it for the reader, and when to reveal what. I felt like I'd lost any idea of what story I really wanted to tell anyway. I remember one reviewer in Teleport Us (I think it was Deets999) writing to me 'YOU know the story you want to tell...' When it comes to this novel I've been thinking 'Well that's just it: I fucking DON'T anymore and I can't even remember what I set out for when all this started three years ago!'

So here's what I did to try and un-clog my brain:

I wrote a few pages encyclopedia style, just to myself and not for any reader, trying to describe how this world works and what the important things about it are. I thought about how one of my heroes, Peter F Hamilton, once published a guidebook to his collosal (and brilliant) Night's Dawn trilogy, and decided to see what would happen if I wrote myself a kind of personal guidebook to this world of my own that I'd spent three years and two novel drafts creating.

I went right back to the basics: what year's the present? What years did all the backstory in my head happen? When did Earth develope the ability to build colonies in space? Who's running that show? Who's allowed to live in them? What is the 'Talent' power (the main futuristic concept of my novel) and what can it do? Who has it? Who's allowed it? What social structure exists around it in this society? What are people in 2600 actually like? How come Earth is still even HERE? Where are the other planets that have been part of this and why do they ostracise Earth to the extent that their locations are hidden and Earth people are denied deep space travel? What countries are still important players in the modern world? Why does England now have a constitution and no monarchy? What names do people see every day when they tune into the news IE who are the big players in the 2600's?

(Loads more, but I'll stop there. I'm still writing it even after all that.)

Finally, I asked myself the big questions: WHY is the character/narrator I've chosen to tell the story of important in this world at all? Why him, when I could pick so many other people I've imagined and plug them into this encylopaedia I've just created?

It helped. I feel like I'm back to having control over my imagination, and I just might get a story worth telling out of this. I've seen some of the big holes in my ideas and made changes to patch them up. I'm thinking 'Let's give it one last go' even though I had that thought about six months ago only to hit the bottom again and post a Self Doubt Thread in here. I'm back to beliving in myself. Good times. 

Enough of me celebrating....I'll probably fuck the whole story up all over again soon enough! Over to you guys, if you write sci-fi or fantasy or anything else where the world is unfamiliar how do you build it and sort it in your head and keep control of it?



big_old_dave's picture
big_old_dave from Watford, about 20 miles outside London, Uk May 27, 2013 - 4:24pm

Hi Chacron,

I've always wanted to do a fantasy/sc-fi story and i have had the same trouble having to build everything and then spend the story just info dumping the world to the reader instead of letting the story flow. I've been thinking about my last workshopped story the right words and setting in a fantasy city but it's finding the time to do it all then rework it. I'll defo give your method a go! Maybe in the future, got two stories on at the mo and a course starting. 

I've written more stories set in the past and get same issue. I did the research to the one I'm on at the mo was a real head turner and the world I found and all it's lttle details was really amazing  but trying to get the reader into the time and place felt I was trying too hard to show the reader I've done my research showing every detail slowing the story right down. It's tricky!

Glad to hear you back on track mate, 

Frank Chapel's picture
Frank Chapel from California is reading Thomas Ligotti's works May 27, 2013 - 7:19pm

You can also use real world models, pinpoint specific eras, 10 to 100 year spans, and look at it under a microscope. Once you understand it, transplant your fiction into it, dress it up in sci-fi. This method is just exercise to grasp the dynamics of a culture, it's not suppose to be substituted for actual world building.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami August 11, 2013 - 12:47pm

Well I tend to do most of my science fiction based either on places I've been, or places I've lived basically my whole life. Mine centers largely around the worldly karmatic principle two years in the future. However you shape the world comes back to shape you. So things like government, currency, military, and everything else is the same.

I tend to let whatever the character weakness is dictate the story.

Natso's picture
Natso from Mongolia is reading Moby Dick December 10, 2013 - 3:43am


Thanks for sharing this technique. I felt the same when I started last month, and after having used your wiki-like exercise for few weeks now, I feel great. At least, unclogged. Now, to get back in and start weaving them together.

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb December 10, 2013 - 2:02pm

Someone actually did something I suggested? And did it for weeks? God help us all.

Seriously though, I'm glad it worked for you.

SamaLamaWama's picture
SamaLamaWama from Dallas is reading Something Wicked This Way Comes December 11, 2013 - 9:21am

Very cool. I'll give it a test drive. Thanks for sharing.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated December 12, 2013 - 1:50am

Lighting does strike.