Monday, June 23, 2014

30-Week Writing Survey: Week 12: Worldbuilding



Today's question: In what story did you feel you did the best job of worldbuilding? Any side-notes on it you'd like to share?

Eep. Well I guess I have two answers to this. Because honestly I've only had to DO any "real" worldbuilding in the traditional sense for two of my stories. I would like to note as an aside that I have done an awful lot of psychological and interpersonal worldbuilding for every story, but I didn't really have to do anything on purpose.

I'm weird when it comes to worldbuilding. Fantasy writers are known for being really into this stuff and happily filling notebooks with sketches, maps, hierarchies, family trees, magic laws, etc. I don't actually sit down and work out anything initially, but it usually just falls into place as I write, and sometimes I have to go back and look at what I'm doing and make sure it makes sense. (90% of the time it does it on its own like I must've been subconsciously fact-checking myself along the way, but there are times when it does not.)

Negative One and the novels I wrote that led to it required kind of has a lot of worldbuilding even though it is not technically a world I built (since it's, ya know, our world). I have gotten compliments on my worldbuilding for the comic, which surprised me until I realized how much I actually HAD done.

In the background of Negative One is a multi-universe theory and a series of connections between worlds that allow natives of various dimensions to meet each other. That's how the obvious non-humans Adele, Dax, and Weaver got to the human world. Before Adele crossed over, I outlined her experience in her original world (its name is Ailashuo, though it's usually abbreviated to Ailao), and a number of interesting cultural trivia bits popped up as I explored her living in her world. Their culture is pretty technologically primitive but they're rather socially advanced--probably due to comparative worldliness because of their "position" in the multiverse there. (Ailao is the hub world where crossovers happen all the time.) Ironically, the group of cultures sees another world as "center," though; that'd be neighboring Shio, whose dimension "settled" Ailao before written records were even kept. The two dimensions all speak the Shioan language.

The language was kind of part of the worldbuilding I did. Shioans have a rather odd physiology. They don't have an external nose, and that's kind of shaped their faces a lot differently so they actually have kind of what is the equivalent of a nose on the inside of their mouths at the backs of their throats, and that has affected their language of course. Their language has no "guttural" sounds at all; just about everything comes out of the front of the mouth, with mostly a LOT of vowels that run into each other and their consonants are fricative. But the Ailaoans have a facial physiology somewhat more similar to humans and could make all of the sounds that any human language makes. Shioans can't do that. So when I wrote little tidbits in the other language, I used certain rules in deciding what sounds I was allowed to form words with. That's just basic stuff.

The whole culture of the prophets, the family relationships, the social rules, and the general temperaments and attitudes of the aliens just kind of came out by themselves. I'd "discover" an aspect of their existence and I'd accept it as fact, and other things that made sense in relation to what I'd already decided would crop up around those things as needed. I don't create grand sweeping plots that need macrocosmic epic levels of detail, so mostly my worldbuilding goes only as far as how it affects someone's personal life. 

For example: My point-of-view character, who is Ailaoan, has heard that Shioans get ticked off if you step on their shadow. Nobody seems to know why. Then she witnesses a Shioan friend of hers getting her shadow stepped on deliberately, and instead of getting angry she just becomes extremely humble and excuses herself. Turns out it's some kind of statement of authority in their culture--adults do it to kids a lot--and the only reason it was misinterpreted as an insult is that someone who didn't know the custom accidentally did it to someone they were not the boss of.

I got an interesting opportunity to do more worldbuilding for the comic during the character interviews contest I did for my 200th episode. People asked very intriguing questions that made me ponder and cough up answers. I recommend letting people interview your characters--or filling out a fact sheet on them--if you want to dig into their personalities and figure out more about their world. You can answer questions in their voices and styles to get to know them better. I would definitely say "worldbuilding" isn't all about naming your mountain ranges and figuring out dragons' life cycles and making pretty maps. You have to figure out details to how things work in general. This comic includes a telekinetic baby. Figuring out the rules of how her superpowers work seems pretty important--what she can do, what are the limits, etc.--but figuring out how that affects her physically and mentally and socially is also important. That's the central question at the heart of this comic, actually.

I mentioned at the beginning of this ramble that I kind of had two answers to this, because even though there's a lot of more traditional worldbuilding in the backstory of Negative One, I did actually do a story with quite a lot of worldbuilding in it: That, of course, is Bad Fairy. Most of what I did was for the fairy culture. Magickal schooling, cultural attitudes toward being human vs. being a fairy (uh, or if you're mixed like protagonist Delia, what happens to you then), feudal society, politics, gender roles, religion and philosophy . . . I guess actually this is the most "epic" (and traditional) fantasy book I've written. The world itself was also rigorously examined by Delia because she challenged the status quo a LOT, so of course she had to intimately understand it before she could point out what parts of it were acceptable to her.

I think actually Bad Fairy is my work of greatest quality so far, and the worldbuilding in it is part of the reason for that. The only thing that's a little glitchy is that introducing the element of fairies (who have magickal powers) into pre-industrial society and making up a society that would have evolved naturally with these gifted people among them really leaves a lot of questions. Especially as to what would be very different about life in the middle ages. It really changes everything. I noticed that lifespans are generally accepted as longer and women aren't marrying/having children anywhere NEAR as early as they really did in medieval times. I think this is because the fairies can heal people. I also think this sets back medical science ridiculously. Everything the fairies have a shortcut to causes the humans to be less interested in investigating "mundane" ways to do it. But fairies being able to shortcut in the first place also makes science easier to understand in some ways. Fairies can explain what they feel and do when they make water evaporate faster than it naturally should, so any one of them could tell you how evaporation works. They can intimately understand natural processes and add to mundane understanding when they tap into such things with their abilities. But on top of that, fairies are just rare enough to be in demand, and their services aren't cheap, which adds at least some incentive for the poor to be innovative in getting mundane solutions to life's problems.

I loved figuring out how fairy society worked and investigating the laws of the afterlife with Delia through her peculiar associations with it, and I had a great time figuring out the in-depth magickal curriculum she took on during her younger years (you know, trying to figure out what's easy and what's hard and what's POSSIBLE with magick; I'll tell you right now it wasn't Harry Potter with the whole wand motion + correct magic words thing!). What are the rules for fairies' religious rituals? What do they believe? Do they fight with humans about it? What are their romantic relationships like? The traditional fairy family? 

How are they physically different from humans (other than the telltale wings, which they are NOT born with in the Bad Fairy world)? What are the disadvantages of being a fairy (oh yes, there are a bunch of them)? How does one define whether a person counts as a fairy in cases like Delia's where there is a human parent and a fairy parent? I decided for this story that they're considered fairies if they have controllable magick, but one side thing I did wonder was whether those mixed children with only "trace" magick have as hard a time as she did. Delia had a difficult life being so human-like in some ways in a society of fairies, but it would be interesting to write about a half-fairy who got dealt different cards and wasn't talented enough in magick to go to fairy school. The other side of that coin would be interesting.

There was a LITTLE worldbuilding in Finding Mulligan too but that was mostly dreamland and it didn't have to make sense and honestly it ultimately DIDN'T. Snot monsters live in the forest and you can make the clouds rain ice cream and the marketplace is guarded by invisible wizards and Dia runs around selling persimmons out of her basket while getting admired by everyone. Not much to that.

I did some minor worldbuilding in a couple of my short stories too. Kamber from "Bloom" belongs to a culture called Kinfolk and they're sort of like the Amish except they worship a Goddess and they actually have minor magical powers (but they don't think of it that way and a lot of their crap is misunderstood by larger society). I'm gonna write that one as a novel one day, totally redone, but I like the ideas in it. Zarry from "The Curse" lives in a fictional society of mountain-dwelling agrarians and they have a bunch of traditions which he loves learning about but thinks are kind of silly. Iris from "Her Mother's Child" lives in a tribal-type fertility cult type thing where parents send their daughters into strange mating rituals after they become women. George from "Just Like Stephen" lives in a society much like ours except that some people randomly have not-very-well-understood magical powers, and if you happen to be one of these "lucky" people then you automatically become tapped as a resource by the government and you don't have a choice (though they pretend it's an honor). I did some rather poor worldbuilding with Hendrix of "Mother's Day," where he and all his brothers are clones of each other and they're a resource for the space-age society, running all the, um, science while clinging to music-based identities for individuality purposes.

As you can see I'm much more focused on the personal aspects of worldbuilding than the broader, more traditional understanding of the word. :D 

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