Today we welcome YA author Inara Scott. Steamed is playing host to her today as part of her blog tour for her new release THE MARKED.
Inara Scott is a writer, lawyer, teacher, mother, and coffee-addict currently growing mold in the beautiful (but rainy) Pacific Northwest. Inara writes for teens in her paranormal young adult series The Talents, and also writes paranormal and contemporary adult romance. You can find her latest release, THE MARKED (book 2 of the Talents series) on Amazon or at her favorite indie bookstore, Powell’s. Inara firmly believes in magic and fairy tales, and doesn’t think happily ever after is the least bit unrealistic.
Inara loves to hear from readers; you can find her on Twitter (@inarascott) or Facebook far more than is healthy. For contact information, event schedules, her blog, and much more, check out www.inarascott.com.
Something Old, Something New…World-Building in Fantasy/Sci-Fic
By Inara Scott
Okay, that might be a bit of exaggeration, sort of like a realtor saying that the key to real estate is location, location, location. But honestly, I think it’s true.
Every novel needs great characters and a compelling conflict/plot. I take that as a given. But fantasy/sci-fi readers (and I throw steampunk and paranormal readers under that heading) are looking for something beyond that. If they just wanted conflict and characters, they’d go read contemporary fiction.
So what does great world-building entail? Here are my essential elements to building a compelling world in fiction: something old, something new, something borrowed, something true.
(Ha! Bet you didn’t see that last one coming!)
1) Something Old: Great world building often starts with something familiar. It may sound counter-intuitive, but if you are asking people to come with you on a journey to a new world, you’ve got to give them something to hang onto. As readers, we need to empathize with characters and imagine ourselves in the middle of the story. If writers don’t give us a hook we can grasp, feel, and emotionally connect to, they’re in big trouble.
This works in two ways. I talk about familiar tropes in (3) below, but here I’m talking about the world of the senses. In DRAGONFLIGHT, by Anne McCaffrey (my favorite book of all time), her characters drink a pungent, bracing, hot liquid called “klah” (which immediately reminds us of coffee). In Harry Potter, your journey to Hogwarts starts with a subway tunnel. Steampunk effortlessly combines real, familiar objects like goggles, wrenches, and airships, with all manner of fantastical elements.
2) Something New: Note to writers: if you simply recycle an old plot and familiar world, you’re finished. Great sci-fi/fantasy writers give their world something new and different. Harry Potter is a series of unexpected bits of creativity and complexity. Every book adds new creatures and new magic. Anne McCaffrey’s thread was something horrific falling from the skies—a threat to humanity that no one had ever seen. I loved Suzanne Lazear’s INNOCENT DARKNESS for all of her wonderful, creative details, including the inseparable connection between Human and Fey worlds.
3) Something Borrowed: Like “something old” this is the way you ground readers in something familiar, while you take them on a journey to somewhere new. Familiar tropes are essential to sci-fi and fantasy because they are an anchor for the reader while traveling in a new and strange world. If you don’t believe me, try this: how many books about an abandoned/abused/orphaned child, who discovers he/she is the savior of the world, can you name? (I’ll start you off with Harry Potter, and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series). In sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal romance, how about the ordinary girl whose spunk and spark attracts the attention of the most beautiful/tormented/alpha male/powerful creature ever to live? (Can you say Twilight, Hush Hush, Shiver, every werewolf story ever written?).
Tropes aren’t evil or bad, though they can obviously become a crutch for a lazy writer. The key is combining the trope with something new, so the reader doesn’t feel like they’re treading the same road they’ve been down before. Take what’s old and make it new. A seemingly impossible task, but one writers have been working at for centuries.
4) Something True: Once you’ve got all the ingredients, you’ve got to mix them up right. The world must fit together seamlessly, in a way that feels natural, safe, and true to the reader. As a writer, you must demand absolute consistency. No cheating. You can’t solve a major plot bunny by creating a magical new gift for a character. The “rules” of the world must be internally accurate. If you’ve got magic, you’ve got to explain why and how people use it. If magic can be used to solve one problem, you’ve got to explain why it can’t be used to solve another problem. Push yourself to go beyond the convenient and easy answers to make sure you’ve created something true. If you do, readers will follow you anywhere you want to go.