When you write, you don’t aim to recreate reality. Instead, you excitedly create a secondary world. Although a few aspects resemble reality to make the story understandable, other aspects are intentionally unrealistic to make a point. If this describes your work-in-progress, you know I’m talking about speculative fiction.
I’ve noticed a vacuum developing in fiction. Popular novels, particularly fantasy and young adult, tend to exclude child characters. And if children do play a role, they’re caricatures of how small people actually behave.
For many of us who write speculative fiction, worldbuilding is a key part of the process. I enjoy harmonizing the story world, themes, and characters. When I succeed, the results are rewarding, and I’m equally fascinated by complex cultures in the books I read. Since art both reflects and affects worldview, its role in a culture reveals many secrets.
Research can be a hassle. Still, most of us writers agree that we need to understand the facts to portray different places and times authentically. But sometimes we’re so focused on wars and revolutions, architecture, and major landmarks that we forget the smaller details.
One of the biggest challenges with writing speculative fiction is clarifying how your story’s magic and/or technology works. Once you’ve accomplished the monumental task of developing those systems, how do you educate readers without making them yawn? They don’t want you to pause the story to give a lesson on all the phenomena, yet they don’t like being confused (and prone to disbelief) either. (Aren’t readers exasperating?)
Like me, countless authors are fascinated by languages. Yet few of us have the energy to invent Elvish with its many branches. Coining a handful of phrases and ethnic names is doable, though still challenging. Also, developing a language is time consuming, and you’ll only get to feature it in one book (or perhaps a series).
If you write contemporary fiction, you’ve probably run into the problem of choosing a setting. A story’s setting is as influential to the plot as the characters who populate it. A book set in Paris will be vastly different from one set in a small Midwestern town. But what if you’ve never been to the locations in your story? How important is accuracy? The short answer: Authentic details bring settings to life.
The 1860s to 1890s were a shoot ’em up, bang ’em up period full of drinking, swearing, killing, and general lawlessness. So, how are you supposed to write a wholesome story set during the Wild West?
When I think about researching the time period my book is set in, I cringe. How do I write it without becoming overwhelmed and giving up?
A unique setting isn’t about how you describe it, but about how a character perceives it. Everything in a story revolves around characters, including setting. Descriptions are not foreign elements that must be incorporated solely because characters need a place to plant their feet. Showing the setting through the eyes of a character gives it purpose, direction, and meaning.