Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Irresponsible Worldbuilding

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.

Cheers all!
Ella

10 comments:

Marilyn Muniz said...

Great post! I feel the same way but for different reasons. (Hint, my post will be about this.)

Letting your characters do the legwork is great. I'm using the same method but I will need more details in the end. I'm just putting it off until the storyline is done. My first priority.

EW Gibson said...

Thank you for leading the way. Yay, Ella! Let do characters walk, I say. But, I do admitt I like to do research.

Ella Gray said...

Thanks Marilyn and Elizabeth! Research is fun sometimes, but I can get sucked into a vortex if I'm not careful. I'm sure you guys will school me on actual worldbuilding :-)

Shelley Munro said...

LOL - you could be describing me. I don't do detailed planning since I'm not a plotter. I learn things as I go and somehow it turns out all right in the end. *grin*

Ella Gray said...

Glad I'm not the only one, Shelley :-)

RJ Garside said...

Ella, great first post!!! I am similar as I allow my characters (or meeps - LOL) to set their own stage and agree or disagree with the world rules. If you get suck into the vortex, we'll throw you a life preserver and pull you back. :)

mae said...

Looks like we are all meep-oriented worldbuilders! I to have peeped through the eyes of my meeps (see what you've started!) as they meandered, strolled, romped or otherwise walked through their world. Nice thing about following them around? I know I like them! That is a HUGE deal when it comes to revision time. Then again, why bother building a world no one wants to hang out in? At least you know your characters like where they live :-)

Gia Murphy said...

Maybe that is my problem why I haven't finished that d@mn book.

I love world building. It is like I'm writing the story of the world, instead of the characters.

Might try a change of tactic to see if that works better...

Cara Mia Amore said...

I am the same way, or at least pretty similar. I do quite a bit of deep world building for myself, but I let my characters do the world building themselves while the story is being told.

Honestly I may have to change that since I am making some major changes to the story itself.

My world used to be an alternate Earth, but now I'm changing it to a world all of its own. Which means more world building for me and probably my characters, but when they keep yelling at me "This is not right! Fix it!" Things have to evolve to the world where they need to be.

But this was a great post! I just started reading the blog and wanted to start at the beginning so here I am. Looking forward to reading the rest of the entries.

Cara

Ella Gray said...

Welcome to the Salon, Cara! Yes, those pesky meeps can yell quite loudly when something isn't turning out how they want it to, LOL. Thanks for stopping by :-)

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