World-Building

You know why writing speculative fiction (particularly sci fi and fantasy) is so fun? You get to let your imagination run wild. I would argue that of the two, fantasy actually gives the writer more freedom, because they aren’t constrained by science or (for the most part) creating plausible explanations for why dragons exist beyond “Dragons exist–go and slay them,” but that really depends on the kind of science fiction you’re writing.

Anyways, I could turn this into another gripe-fest about how much potential the genre has and how authors like to waste that potential by writing “elves vs. dwarves” over and over and over again (because that’s what sells, duh!), but I’d like to talk about world-building in general.

The thing about building your own world is that there are a whole lot of elements to consider and a bunch of ways to play with those elements. Clothing, for instance, is there a particular style of clothing or a certain colour that’s restricted to certain types of people? More generally, how does clothing reflect a person’s status (both economic as well as denoting life stages and professions)? What does a typical meal consist of? What foods are eaten during special occasions? How do characters speak to one another? What are some standard forms of address? Are there forms of address that are perfectly acceptable in one place but considered insulting in another? How does magic work? (I should probably devote a whole post to magic systems.) This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to world-building. I could tackle world-building by category (Government, Economics, Religion, Food, etc.) and still have a ton of questions to ask, as you might expect, I don’t think anyone really has the time to tackle all of these in great detail, and some elements won’t be as crucial to the story as others.

I started writing this post thinking that I should give examples of “good” world-building and “bad” world-building, but, now that I think about it, it’s so subjective that I can’t give you a proper response. Most of the time, when I don’t find the world compelling, it’s due to bad writing, not the world itself. This is when I catch myself saying “I wish [author] had thought of this. They could do it so much better!” and I have done this numerous times. In fact to get at what really bugs me, I’m going to have to switch to talking about another genre at the moment: paranormal romance.

First, a disclaimer, I loathe romance novels. However, I am occasionally willing to tolerate paranormal romance because at least it has vampires (and ghosts, and witches, and whatever) but (and this is perhaps turning into a rant about hybrid genres in general) I can’t really think of another genre I’ve read that just kind of throws elements into a story in a way that just smacks of trying to make it seem “edgy”.

So you have vampires? Okay, that’s cool, I can handle that. Half-vampires? No problem! A vampire/werewolf/fairy hybrid? Um, what?

Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m willing to accept that maybe, in this universe, it’s certainly possible that someone with fae blood was bitten by a vampire and THEN bitten by a werewolf, but the thing that really gets me is this is frequently done with no explanation whatsoever. It’s like the author reached into a grab bag of supernatural creatures and was like “Okay, I’ll take this, this, and this.” Maybe I’m missing the point, and romance readers really just want to get back to….you know….the romance, but it just seems like the genre tends to pay much more attention to the romance and the paranormal is window dressing (although, I guess if they put too much emphasis on the paranormal, it would be urban fantasy).

Anyways, this started off as a post about world-building and became a rant about paranormal romance, go figure.

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