Before I talk about world-building, I'd like to remind you all about the AUTHORS FOR THE PHILIPPINES auction, which is in full swing at the moment, raising much-needed funds for the Red Cross to aid the people of the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan. There are some truly amazing 'money can't usually buy' lots to bid on, so please don't miss out! The bidding ends at 8pm on Weds 20th November, so you haven't got long. I've got signed, doodled and dedicated books, and also a school visit on offer, but those are just two of 468 fantastic lots, including books signed by Philip Pullman and Neil Gaiman, and the chance of being a character in Patrick Ness's next book, or having a dedication in the 25th Anniversary Edition of Amazing Grace, or in the next Young James Bond novel. The list goes on, and there really is something for everyone - DO go and browse (just click on the links in red!).
Now, onto that world-building I promised you....
World-building is a key skill for any writer. Whatever genre you write in, giving your readers a vibrant sense of place - creating the feeling that they can step into the pages of your books and find somewhere which actually works as a three-dimensional landscape - is as necessary as writing strong and believable characters. Our own world is a useful template to use, because we all know how it works, but how does a fantasy writer go about creating a brand-new world with its own history, culture and politics?
A week or so ago, I was at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, and was privileged to hear a panel of bestselling fantasy authors talk about this, sharing tips and tricks as to how they do it. What surprised me was how differently they all approached the matter of world-building.
He also says that there is a danger to be found in assuming that all readers will know and have an implicit understanding of the culture the writer comes from. For instance, if an alien read certain books from the past (and even from the present day), and focussed its attention what on swearing and curse words actually highlight, it might assume that "women are dirty, sex is bad". He maintains that how people curse shows what people see as taboo - it is a window into the cultural assumptions and beliefs which most of us simply don't examine too closely. Therefore, making up a credible 'cursing vocabulary', for your world can ground it and give it a feeling of reality, as well as being a shortcut to that world's cultural beliefs and taboos.
Adrian Tchaikovsky keeps it simple. For setting and place, he asks: "What if there was..." Everything in his world grows organically from that, and then, once he has that, he says: "This is the world - now who lives in it?" He feels there is "no reason we have to be chained to history or to our perception of history."
Hal Duncan is the definition of a true 'pantser. Together with finding a voice and a perspective, creating a setting is, for him, an ongoing process of discovery. He doesn't care if it's right "as long as it sounds good."
I'd be very interested to hear what other writers think of all this. Does one of these 'methods' strike a chord with you? Is there something here you hadn't thought of, but would like to try out? Personally, I'm going to look out for an enthusiast on trading in Ancient Egypt, because that's what I need at the moment, and think about the uses of swearing. I'm also going to confess to being a mythology geek. How about you?
Lucy's new picture book, Bear's Best Friend, is published by Bloomsbury "A charming story about the magic of friendship which may bring a tear to your eye" Parents in Touch "The language is a joy…thoughtful and enjoyable" Armadillo Magazine. "Coats's ebullient, sympathetic story is perfectly matched by Sarah Dyer's warm and witty illustrations." The Times
Her latest series for 7-9s, Greek Beasts and Heroes is out now from Orion Children's Books.
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