Building a Story - Testing the Waters of World-Building

A story can come from anywhere. It can be built from pieces, or it can be taken as a whole. You can invent, innovate it, copy it, transfer it, adapt it, change it, regress it, progress it, digress it, transcribe it, or digest it. Recently I have found the idea of world-building fascinating, so I am going to do a little exploring.


World-building really isn't needed too much in most stories. If the setting is somewhere that actually exists, then most people are probably at least slightly familiar with how things would work there; the physics, chemistry, biology, astrophysics, psychology, social dynamics, politics, languages, etc. will all be something that is somewhat familiar, usually. In science fiction and fantasy this is not the case, some aspect of the world has been invented, created, but only in the mind. The line between science fiction and fantasy can get blurry at times, but it is clear that both require the creation of another world.

There have been many other worlds created; some are in the future, some are in the past, some are in the present (yes, there are parallel universes, in your mind), in far away places, or close to home. Many of them are wonderful places, you can spend lifetimes in them, and people have: the Marvel and DC Universes, Middle Earth, Westeros, Narnia, J. K. Rowling's wonderful world of wizardry. It is a different thing entirely though to build one. I am in awe of that ability, and I certainly don't have it, but let's see if I can make any progress towards that skill.

Inhabiting a world is like being a person, making a world is like being a god. There is so much to do, to think about, every little change makes a huge change to everything else. I recently wrote a post on Brandon Sanderson's Three Laws of Magic, and much of that applies to world-building, it can be a very complex thing. I am not going to draw a hard line between science fiction and fantasy, instead I am going to see what happens.

What if this was not so watery of a planet? What if it was mostly desert? Well, I think that most vegetation wouldn't exist, and therefore most animals, and therefore humans. There are ways I could reach and stretch and salvage that. If humans already exist and then the world loses its water, that is a good option. We are looking at a futuristic dystopia. Why and how would the planet lose its water? Nothing comes to mind off hand, I guess I could have aliens come take it as a resource, but I don't want to do that. Is there a natural process I could use? Yes, water can be created and destroyed. If you run electricity through water the water will breakdown into hydrogen and oxygen. As it so happens, the earth and the sun are both very electric. Some sort of event might occur that could cause this. What if the sun has unusual activity where an electrical/magnetic field is pushed out during a sun burst and super-charges the earths electrical/magnetic field? This would probably cause a lot of damage initially, then the water would start being destroyed. But, with all that electricity, wouldn't all of the fish die, at least. The atmosphere would be charged like crazy too, which means the normal static charge would probably kill, if all of the lightening didn't get you first. This isn't so much a futuristic dystopia as a post (or present) apocalyptic story. Let's see if I can keep something else a little more under control.

What about something a little silly? What if there really were geese that laid golden eggs? How would that work? The geese must both consume something unusual and process it in unusual ways. Alchemy turned into science actually can turn lead into gold now, but the process costs more than the gold is worth. I think they do it through some crazy radiation and/or electricity molecular manipulation thing. The goose would have to have some sort of process going on inside of it that changes the atomic structure of atoms, so I am going to say it has to be radiation of some sort. I think there is some kind of bacteria that produces gold of some kind too, now that I think about it. Anyway, where does the goose get this radiation? A lab? It seems like it would die. Is it genetically modified so that it can withstand the radiation? Maybe. What about Chernobyl? Animals have evolved to live in that highly radioactive area in just a few decades. Maybe there was a flock of geese in there. Then they eat some seed that has high levels of heavy metals in it. This is kind of starting to bore me though, let's go a different direction.

What if there was a major human change of some kind? Like humans that moved to another planet and then developed differently. Languages and religions could be different, the natural resources, the number of suns or moons, the gravity and food, animals and plants, there are lots of things to choose from. If you are sending people to another planet it might be best to genetically modify them in some way. What would that be? Maybe they should grow less muscle so they require less food, maybe just slower metabolisms in general. What other genetic modifications might help with colonizing another planet? Not breathing very much, or any air? Or a different gas than oxygen? A different liquid base than water for the organism? Very long lives? Higher variations in genetic mutations from generation to generation to more quickly adapt to new environments? Some of those sound pretty interesting. I seem to be slightly slanted towards the science fiction side, and the more realistic side of science fiction, on the science fiction/fantasy spectrum. Let's make a jump and see if I can get a little more unrealistic.

What is some monster really did exist? Then humans would probably capture or kill it. But, what if it was a little different, maybe a magical thing? What if centaurs were real? They were an indigenous population somewhere over by the steppes of Mongolia. They are probably dwindling out, they were probably in some wars with people over the years, but they probably lost. Now they live on reservations. That's possible, but a little depressing, and kind of an analog of the Native Americans. What about a process of mixing man and animal? Something like the Minotaur, but it isn't a punishment of the gods, it's a choice. Why would someone make that choice? People like blood-sports, and a Minotaur would be good at that. The pay would probably be higher for Minotaurs too. Then, though, the technology for that could be used for other things. Making an entire world is such a big endeavor.

So much is constructed before it even seems possible to think about character and plot. While I find the constructing of worlds interesting, right now I think I like getting to the plot and the character more. I think I will play with those for awhile, and construct my worlds a little later. You are welcome to join me at JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

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