I’m delighted that I’ll be having S.Kaeth for a guest port for my blog! I’m reading her new book Between Starfalls and absolutely loving it so far. The world building is rich with cultural nuances and traditions that make it feel so real. You can find the book on Amazon and Hakea Media.
Without further ado, let’s jump right into it!
I love world-building. I love reading it, and I love doing it. There’s so much to talk about when it comes to world-building, as well! Because there are so many great resources out there on how to do world-building, I’m going to focus more on how I did mine. Remember, use the method that works for you–but don’t forget to also write the story!
I started off with just mashing various cultures from history together and grabbing this from this one and that from that one. The issue I realized that made me change my system was that my story could cause harm to real people with that style of world-building. So I went back and I read a ton to find a better way for my story. This of course, resulted in significant changes to said story, but that’s ok with me. I’m not an efficient writer at the best of times, so I’m used to re-writing and re-working things a ton.
One of my greatest childhood inspirations in reading was Ursula K LeGuin, and it shows I think, in my writing. I figured the chances of my heroes being brown skinned due to their environment and lifestyle was high, and why should heroes tend to be white anyway? I went with a Stone Age society because I felt it was an under-used technological era, and I wanted to do something different. Not having metal shouldn’t make my heroes any less heroic.
I came across an old presentation by NK Jemisin on her “iceberg method of world-building” and I loved it. Basically, it went along the lines of: instead of mashing up real cultures, why not use environmental factors and social decisions and build your world from scratch? I’d already started, so I continued on with what I had.
My world had Stone Age technology, so farming would be difficult. Hunting and gathering with supplemental agriculture made more sense. But if I had hunters and gatherers, that meant the area would run out of resources after a time. So that both limited the number of people in each community as well as driving me to make them semi-nomadic. I figured if they aren’t staying in one spot for a long time, and if they’re making this sacred journey twice a year, they probably won’t have a lot of personal possessions. I went with community possessions instead, and mostly just the necessities.
So I went, with each choice interacting with other choices and cascading down possible results in social order, community relationships, etc. I wanted a somewhat egalitarian society, so I balanced the male Storytellers with female Great Mothers, and then balanced both of them with the priests and priestesses. But since I wanted the religion of my people to be very individualistic and mystic, I figured the priests and priestesses would be more like therapists and counselors in modern day, which created an interesting (I think) system of government, run by someone who keeps track of the history along with someone who focuses on healthy inter-community relationships, along with the community members who specialize in mental health.
Another thing that was both a headache and added to this is that I wanted to really embrace having a second world fantasy (a fantasy clearly not set on an Earth), with its own non-Earth creatures (for the most part). This led to new idioms, new parallels being drawn by the characters, and also a steep learning curve (which I wanted anyway, as I like books that throw the reader in the deep end of world-building). Obviously this won’t work for everyone, but I spent a lot of time trying to make things sensical without using Earth equivalents and without straight up saying “alright, guys, so tailosaen are monkeys, and Rinaryn language pluralizes with “n” and not “s”, by the way.” It was very much an aim-for-your-target-audience and do your best sort of thing!
By layering in these various societal traits with environmental factors, I was able to create a deep world, especially as I filtered in in the writing through each character’s voice and how they feel about their society. Taunos’s irreverence, Kaemada’s fear of being on the outside, Ra’ael’s firm belief in being absolutely right, and Takiyah’s eagerness for adventure, all these come from their personalities interacting with their society. Even the flaws in the system, where things don’t work as intended, all came from the bits and pieces interacting with each other.
One more thing to watch out for in world-building is that just because you love a part of the system doesn’t mean you get to show it. Only the pieces that add to the plot of the story should come through. But by having the world-building stack on itself like this, it leads to a world that feels deep and comprehensive even though you only get to show a little bit of it.
For more information on NK Jemisin’s technique, see: http://nkjemisin.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/WDWebinar.pdf
About the Author
S.Kaeth is an author of sci-fi/fantasy stories, as well as a dreamer, reader, writer, character interviewer, and worldbuilder. Writing is an integral part of who she is. Creative expression in some way helps her to get through the dark times and celebrate the bright times, making sense of the world and dealing with life in general. S has always been, and always will be, a storyteller. She can be found on Twitter and Blog.
Thank you for the guest post SK!