I am incredibly excited to get the ball rolling here in the Salon. This is our first official month of blogging and I want to thank my fellow Scouts and all our friends on and off the web for being such wonderfully supportive people.
Jumping right in. I have a confession to make about this month's topic: I don't really do a lot of worldbuilding. You’re thinking: ‘How can that be? Steampunk is all about creating an alternative Earth, or even a whole new world altogether’. I’m not saying it doesn't get done. Sure, I make a few notes in the brainstorming phase (mostly back-story), but once the writing begins I do the only thing an effective captain can do to keep the ship running smoothly. I delegate.
I let my meeps (yes, I have a silly nickname for my characters) do the worldbuilding. It's not because I'm lazy, really. It's just that I think that the heart of worldbuilding is in the details; the little things that meeps know and observe on a daily basis; the stories and opinions that express their particular worldviews. I let them tell me those things as I go, and that's how I discover what's important to them and the story.
For example: I wrote a scene last week in which my headstrong biologist, Atalanta, is traveling on a steamboat operated by the Corps. They are a group of influential scientists that are basically like a Victorian-era Big Brother and a very important aspect of my alternate world. I could spend hours writing out the history of that organization and every move they've made leading up to the current state of affairs, but just the thought of doing that makes my head go all pear-shaped. Instead, I let Atalanta point out the good stuff.
She notices a large mural depicting an epic battle between a legendary airship and a drakon, an event that according to the plaque on the wall occurred decades ago. It turns out that Atalanta’s grandfather was on board that ship during the attack and she’s heard the story many times since childhood. In a fairly short part of this scene I learned a lot about her world, including tips about drakons, her family’s history, and Corps policies. It’s a lot of info that comes across in just a few paragraphs and I didn’t do any planning ahead of time.
Obviously, I’m simplifying things a little. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with deep worldbuilding. Some novels are the type that need detailed planning, lists, maps, etc.; it just doesn’t work for me. Doing it my way requires some note-taking while I’m writing the first draft, but it still seems easier to let the meeps do all the heavy lifting so I can focus on the story.