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Not every story takes place here and now or at any point in our time line. Fantasy and Sci-Fi often take place on other worlds, or variant of our own. This can be daunting for new writers and even experienced ones. Many issues present themselves when you invent your own world.
Before you decide to take on the task of creating your own world you should consider its purpose. Is it essential to the plot or characters? And if so, how prevalent is the world in your story? Is the backdrop of your world a point of focus? These are often traps writers fall into. Trying to describe their world in to great a detail. It will come across as forced and detract from your story. Tell your story. Only describe your world as it pertains to your characters. Try not to let the details over shadow the plot or character development. Nobody wants to read a history of your new world or how engines work on your planet. They want to follow your story and believe in your characters. Readers have a magical ability of their own. And if you give them the right que, they will gladly use it to aid your story along. Its called suspension of belief. All good fiction requires some suspention of belief. If everyone wanted your story to be completely true to life, they would be reading non-fiction. One thing to keep in mind though is their ability has limits. Once you cross them, the reader will loose interest and your story will fall short.
The science of your world can be especially cumbersome. Writers are often very intelligent people, well read and versed in many subjects. But, lets leave the physics of hyper drives to the physics geeks. If you try to explain every gadget to your readers they'll lose interest. Not only that but you'll eventually show your lack of knowledge on the subject and you will vaporize their suspension of belief. Don't try to explain why something is plausible, let the reader come to his or her own conclusions. Give them enough to wet their appetite and they will fill in the blanks. They want to believe in your story. If you have a high tech setting give the readers some background on your technology. Give them a frame of reference on when it was invented or who invented it and why. Show them how its used. Don't try to teach them how to build it or the theory behind it. Its not necessary and your time is better suited describing surroundings, history, events and dealing with the plot and your characters.
Though dwelling on your world and how it works is mostly a problem in Science Fiction, Fantasy too has its share of clutter, especially when dealing with magic. If you do describe your magic system, keep it simple and only give an over view. Once you have established your rules, don't break them unless you tell the readers why! This is a common mistake. Writers love to describe how magic works and then contradict the rules without explanation. The science of your world, Fantasy or Science Fiction, should only be a supplement to your story. Your plot and characters should drive your story. The world and science should only serve as plot devices and background.
That being said, create wonderful worlds. Use your imagination. Don't expect your world to develop over night and don't try to give people your world all at once. If you plan on writing serials or a series of novels, give them what they need for that story plus whatever background you feel they need to really be pulled into the setting and into your world. People assume certain facts about worlds. Like with Sci-Fi, if your story uses space ships and Faster Than Light travel, your readers are prepared to accept that and not question the technology. And with Fantasy you have magic, mystic races and so forth. Your readers already expect these types of things. But be original. Present new ways of doing these old tricks. Introduce great variants on these themes if you do decide to use them. Give the readers a reason why your world is an interesting place to be.
Don't try to invent your own language. You can spell names and places however you like. Just remember this, Klingon did not evolve over night. It was created by a professional linguist. As were the languages of many of the Star Trek races and even George Lucas employed a linguist to created some of his alien dialogue. If you are a linguist, by all means, knock yourself out! Otherwise, stick to earth based languages. This is a point that often sets apart good writing and bad. Novice writers love to try to invent languages for their worlds. Spend your time developing your supporting characters, cities, and the rest of your world.
There are so many aspects of world creation that it would be impossible for me to cover them all here. I could create a web site dedicated to this alone. So go with this, create only enough of the world to tell your story. Let the details of the world aid in telling your story, not become the object of your story. Be creative and descriptive and leave the science and languages to the experts. One day, if your work is turned into a movie, hire some experts to do that work for you! Here are some more links you may want to check out for more world building information!
Chrispian H. Burks
Lit.Org Owner / Founder
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