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Creating a New Old World

I don’t know whether it’s the summer doldrums or editing burnout, but Gift is barely crawling along. There have been days when I’ve actively avoided it. But there’s lots of reading going on, since that’s always my way of taking a mental vacation.

I’m not even working at the story I’ve chosen for this year’s NaNoWriMo. Not “working” working, just doing the “in-head” creation of scenes or dialogue that often precedes really getting down to the nitty-gritty of putting a story together.

I’m also in one of those periods when a new idea keeps nudging at me and getting in the way. It’s also demanding something I’ve never spent much time on — world-building, and it promises to be a big, complex thing that’s going to take a huge amount of work.

The basic idea is that a modern form of medieval serfdom has developed. America has become a highly stratified society where economic and social differences are openly acknowledged. Baronies are large, mostly urban, enclaves. Population is divided pretty much into Independents, barons and other powerful people, baronial serfs, and the equivalent of today’s homeless and unemployable. What’s consuming me is how this came about, and how it actually looks in its daily operation.

Privileged Lives was my first book where the background to the story was important, and this one will go much deeper. The way I’m doing it is the exact opposite of my usual approach. My first inspiration is usually one or more persons and the challenges they meet. Once I know a fair amount about them, I start building as much of their world as the story needs. This time, it’s the world that’s important. I’m still pretty vague about the characters and how to develop the story, but I’m trusting it will all work out.

It’s going to be a tough job that will probably take a year or so to work out and write. I’m tentatively thinking it might be a candidate for next year’s NaNoWriMo. One good thing about it — there won’t be any question about the genre — dystopian science fiction.

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5 Comments

  1. Ah, World Building. I LOVE it! It is probably the most fun I have in writing. I have some thoughts about your question, but hesitate to post them without your permission. (Could also send as email, if you’re interested.)

    • Go ahead and post. Pretty much everything I write here is up for grabs. You never know when someone will find a comment or question useful.

      In the past, I haven’t been interested in world-building — always seemed like more effort than I was willing to put out. But I’m really enjoying this round of it.

  2. I guess I take the opposite approach to world building than you do. I over do it. I want to know everything about the world I’m writing in, even though I don’t use a tenth of it. For my Refuge series I have multiple books of graph paper drawings, maps, etc. Use a program called Treepad to do some outlining about species, races, Gods and Pantheons, technology (magical, non and military), types of creatures. Then the maps of the hemispheres of the planet and the habitable moon seen from the surface, then separate maps of continents, countries and so on, I love to world build, and now I have just about everything I need for the long series I plan Refuge to be.
    In a similar vein I have used several books of graph paper to develop the Empires of my soon to be released science fiction series Exodus. But as the areas are so much larger than a mere planet, so only about thirty planets are sparsely mapped out, and more work was put into species of aliens (not humans with funny noses) spaceships, and the organization of the militaries. Some of the world building was actually in reverse. I wanted the Imperial family to have a line of succession, so came up with scientific and cultural reasons for no immortality. Wanted people improved but not super, so there were limits to the genetic engineering. I wanted people working jobs other than scientist and soldier, so I developed a machine revolt four centuries before the story so that people were required to monitor machines.

    • There are two reasons I haven’t done much world building up till now. First, my writing is mostly character-based, so the settings haven’t been as important. Second, My settings are either earth or earth-like. The two novels I’m working out right now are going to demand a lot more, though. In Empire of Masks, the settings are very important, since it’s more action-oriented than my usual and takes place in a completely different alternate universe. The New Serfdom is a near-future earth, but the social settings are so different that they’re going to require a lot of world-building. Sigh.

  1. Tracking: From Inspiration to Publication « Tracking the Words: a yearly cycle
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