Worldbuilding – A Journey Into Scifi

I’ve been working on science fiction stories for a long time, and with that comes the desire to support your ideas with as much flesh as you can. Scifi is a strange genre simply because by its very nature it requires more thought and exposition; the context in which you place your stories can in fact end up being the entire substance of those stories. This means that wherever possible, you need to be able to recall an interesting piece of galactic lore, or try to simulate grand politics in an interesting and engaging way.

This is where worldbuilding comes in. The pursuit of spending inordinate amounts of time on crafting a setting is all about creating a context which can organically make your stories come to life; as a dungeon master for many DnD groups through the years, there is nothing more annoying, or so able to break the flow of a story, as being unprepared for a twist. As a writer, when you’re actually writing your story, you don’t necessarily know where it’s going to go when you’re writing it. This is one of the joys of writing; with your notes you can set little milestones in your story, winding avenues where you know your characters must end up, but it’s those misty in-between parts where your instinct and indeed cunning as a writer must shine through.

Incidentally, you can make yourself seem a lot more skilled and a lot more cunning if you do most of the work in your setting beforehand, and that’s why we’re here; you want a nourishing soup of interesting facts and lore to draw from when you’re putting your characters in compromising situations.

Anyway, I began the journey into my setting a few years ago when I was working nights at my old job. I had some cleaning and restocking to do, I worked on my own, but after that I had atleast 2 hours a night to do whatever. Over the course of a few months to a year, I filled first an A6 notebook with tons of ideas for a history, then an A4 notebook that codified everything for me; in here I went into a ton more detail and actually wrote out the timeline for my setting’s history and fleshed out some of the more interesting ideas I had for the landmark events that really defined the setting.

Something that really stuck with me was a piece of advice I believe said by Jim Butcher – the writer of The Dresden Files. I will now butcher (no pun intended) that advice by paraphrasing it: “Ask yourself when you’re writing your story, whether you’re setting it at the most interesting time in your history, because if not, why not? Why would your reader want to hear second-hand about that interesting event rather than read it?”

The reason I bring this up is because these “interesting events” are what you should be looking out for when you begin worldbuilding; it’s these that should naturally turn into your stories. You’ll know them when you find them.

I’m writing scifi, so I began my setting’s history at the time when the timeline diverged from our own – conveniently, this was around the present time at which I was writing it, so 2017. I then went forward crafting a history which would catapult humanity to the place I needed it to be to have humans in my story. I went back and forth quite a lot on whether I should make humans the focus, or aliens; personally, I love the idea of aliens, but felt in the end that it would end up being more relevant if humans were the “main protagonists”. I actually go back on this later, but this decision paved the way for some really key decisions in my worldbuilding.

So after going through year by year, then decade by decade and eventually century by century, I got the the “present day” of my setting; this is the time in which all of the stories that take place in my setting will happen. At this point, I revised all the history which had been laid down and highlighted some of the more key moments: many battles and tactically interesting maneuvers took place in the huge upheval that brought humans forward and I wanted to make those events reference points from which I could craft exposition later on.

I also finalised who and what will be the main players in my story and every time I inserted another main player or race, I had to go back and quietly slot them into the story, or make a reason as to why they weren’t in it up until that point; it’s all quite a challenge, but incredibly fun when you feel like a decision you’ve made about your setting really clicks and creates some amazing ideas you hadn’t seen before.

For instance, I wanted a robotic race in my setting; I think the idea of AI is being explored more and more, so I’d love to be able to do some of that in my stories. Now, because I had waited until I had most of the history written before I put them into the setting, I had to figure out a reason why they were removed from most of the galactic history I had up until this point (almost 500 years). I did this by coming up with a little conceit – that they came about by accident: humanity, once they had conquered most of the galaxy, sort of began forgetting about most of the pusuits they had undertaken over the years. Humans had so many resources that they could open a huge mining operation for instance, then when it turned out not to be profitable, instead of taking all the robots and machinery with them, they just left it.

A group of scientists were studying a curious type of crystal that only seemed to exist in this obscure system at the edge of known space, the whole team end up dying from a radiation burst from a nearby star; this radiation burst also energises the crystals and kick-starts their sentience. They then access all the records from the scientists, learning earth’s history and also the plans of the scientists, namely that if this experiment were to result in sentience, they would dispose of the crystals and the budding life within. Eventually this crystalline race who are able to interface with technology reach out and discover the robots and primitive AI which had been discarded wantonly by the humans.

I came up with all of this after about 70 percent of the history of my setting was complete and it ended up being a hugely influential part of the story. To me, this just goes to show how having an idea and taking it to it’s logical conclusion, even if you believe that you might be “shoe-horning” your idea into the setting, is worthy and should be pursued.

I hope this little dive into how I crafted by scifi setting was interesting. I’ll be working on all of this for my upcoming entry into NaNoWriMo.

See ya!

The Observer

Banner looked up at the wall before him, shifting his bag to a better position on his back. He held a hand over his eyes to stop the rising sun from blinding him as he tried to find the handholds he had been told about. The wall around the park was three times his height, made of yellowing white stone. The gate would have been the easier way in, as shown by the stream of well dressed people heading through them. But, for that you would have had to been invited to the event. And Banner would never be invited to such a thing.
After moments he saw the protrusions of the holds, it would be a tough climb, but he wanted on top of the wall. He glanced around him, noting that no one even bothered to look around, not even the guards stationed at the gates. One even looked like he was nodding off, leaning upon his spear, the warming air of the summer morning lulling him to sleep.
Good, thought Banner as he leapt to grab the first handhold, this should be easy.
He scampered up the wall, hands only slipping twice, each time sending his heart galloping inside his chest. It was only the work of moments but the strain created buckets of sweat and his muddied shirt clung to him, his long hair sticking to the sides of his face. But he was up! He took a moment to admire the view.
Tall, bushy trees lined smooth stone paths winding in many directions. A large softly undulating lawn stretched out near the gate, people were spreading blankets on the grass, jostling for good positions in front of a low wooden stage.
Banner walked carefully further around the wall so that he had a better view of the stage, then he sat down, legs dangling over the edge. He placed the bag on his back next to him and rooted around in it. He brought out a flask of water and a hunk of cheese.
Down below things were getting started. The sea of brightly coloured clothes calmed and a figure walked on to the stage.
The long figure was dressed in all black, a tall hat rested between two long sharp horns.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, and the random man on the wall.” They bowed, swiping the hat and almost folding in two, long brown hair falling forward.
Banner dribbled water down his front as the figure mentioned him. He scanned the crowd, looking for the guards. But the crowd was laughing, no one looked up, the guards were not even inside the park. He leaned back and peeked at the gate, no one was near. His heart slowed back down.
“My name is Trimble and today, I have something special for you.”
Trimble straightened and threw out their arms and flower petals poured from the sky. Banner watched as below him the crowd was covered in red petals. Then something tickled his head and he noticed that petals were falling on him. He picked up one that had fallen on his knee. It was soft and smelled wonderfully of berries.
“Let’s get on with the show!” Trimble spun and the black clothes changed to bright green.
It’s going to be a wonderful day, Banner thought to himself, and took a large bite out of his cheese.

***

I have no idea if this makes sense! I had an idea and then I’ve had a bad headache for the last two days. But my schedule must be upheld, so I hope this was at least readable!

Full Moon Ritual

“It’s time.” said Denay with a smile. Her eyes grazed the rising moon, full and watchful; the lake, still and deep. She slid into the water, its icy chill harsh against her naked skin. She stopped as the water crept up to her waist and turned to her friend.
“I cannot believe that you’re trying this.” Atter shook his head. He tightened his grip on the blanket around his slight shoulders, scooting his bum closer to the small fire they had built in their makeshift camp. “You are going to freeze!”
“I won’t. Gerargis will protect me.”
Atter shook his head again but passed her the bag of supplies. Denay knew his feelings on her experimentation, even if she did not understand them.
Slowly Denay made her way further into the lake, towing the bag alongside. Once her feet could not longer feel the bottom and she felt nothing but water around her Denay set about creating her altar. Carefully she opened the bag, spread it out over the water, moving the items within as to allow it still to float. A box of salt, a shard of red glass, a green leaf and an apple.
Once everthing was steady on the oil cloth Denay eased herself back, giving her room to swim and float.
She felt the giddy bubbling of success in her stomach, but damped it down, this was only the beginning. The altar bobbed as she shifted in the water, floating on her back and staring at the black sky. The moon was almost directly above her, time enough to ready herself.
Denay’s breath came slower, deepened, eyes drooped half closed, sounds grew louder, water became warmer. Her gaze turned inwards, seeking the barriers within, seeking with eager hands to unlock them. Through practise she had become a locksmith of herself and it took the work of mere moments to open herself to the magic of the world. The sounds and feelings of the physical world were dulled, Denay now felt the magic pouring from all around her, the water was a tingle, the air as painless sharp pins. The moon a loud roar above her. The items on her altar called to her, aiding and urging her on with her purpose. The brightness of the full moon dazzled her, filling her with importance. She righted herself in the water, easing to tread water in front of the altar.
“My intent is to change this apple into glass.” She held up the apple in both hands, raising it into the light of the moon. She returned the apple to the altar, picked up the glass in her right hand, and stared into the shard. More deep breaths, pulling magic through her and forging it in her intent. With her left hand she sprinkled a pinch of salt over the leaf and returned to lay her hand over the apple.
For a long moment she concentrated, focusing the magic and her intent. The leaf shrivelled, the salt bubbled upon its surface, the shard began to glow and become hot. The apple was becoming as ice beneath her palm, and all through she kept the glass apple in her mind, forcing the magic into the shape she desired.
With a last searingly bright burst the glass was gone, Denay lifted her left hand unveiling the newly made glass apple. It was more beautiful that she had imagined. Transparant red glass, with several black seeds hovering in the centre, it cast a sparkling shadow upon the altar; it had a small glass stem, complete with a delicate green leaf. She whooped and spun in the water, causing the altar to almost upturn. She grabbed her apple in time, calming herself.
“Thank you, Moon.” A nod to the bright white orb. “Thank you for your guidance Gerargis. Even though this is not your ocean I sense your care and your power.” She took the time to close the barriers within her, sending what magic remained to her Guardian in respect and graciousness.
Once she was grounded again, the physical world came back, she was safe to pack her things and head back to shore, to show Atter the fruit of her labour as he merely looked on, his eyes as wide and bright as the moon above.

**

This small snippet is set in my world. A little insight to show a bit about my magic and how things in the world work. It was a lot of fun to write! I hope you enjoyed and stay tuned, I’m sure there will be many such pieces in the future.