In J.R.R.'s world, Gandalf is one of five wizards sent by the Valar to guide the inhabitants of Middle Earth in their struggles against the dark force of Sauron. Gandalf's body was mortal, subject to the physical rules of Middle Earth, but his spirit was immortal as seen when he died as Gandalf the Grey and resurrected as Gandalf the White.
According to the Wachowski's script, an awakened human only has to link up and hack the neon binary code of the Matrix to learn how to fly a helicopter in a matter of seconds. Or if you are the One, or one of the Ones, you don't even need a helicopter. You just need a cool pair of shades.
Cheshire cats can juggle their own heads. iPads are rudimentary. No Quidditch match ends until the Golden Snitch is caught. And the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is most certainly 42.
Just like real life, fictional worlds operate consistently within a spectrum of physical and societal rules. That's what makes these intricate worlds believable, comprehensible, and worth exploring.
In real life, the Law of Gravity holds seven book sets of Harry Potter to millions of bookshelves around the world. We know this to be true, but we also know that ever since J.K. typed the words wizard, wand, and "Wingardium Leviosa," that Law of Gravity has ceased to exist on the trillions of pages resting between those bookends.
Authors of science fiction and fantasy literally build worlds. They make rules, maps, lineages, languages, cultures, universes, alternate universes within universes, and from those worlds sprout story after story after story.
When it's done well, readers can understand fictional worlds and their rules just as well as the characters that live in them do, and sometimes, just as well or even better than the reader understands the world outside of the book.
But how? How can human-made squiggles on a page reflect lights into our eyes that send signals to our brains; that we logically and emotionally decode as complex narratives that move us to fight, cry, sing, and think; that are strong enough not only to hold up a world that is completely invented by the author, but also to change the reader's perspective on the real world that resumes only when the final squiggle is reached?
I'm not sure anyone knows the answer to that question, yet fantastical, fictional worlds are created everyday in our minds, on computers, even on napkins at the restaurant down the street. The truth is your imagination and a willingness to figuratively live in your own world are all you need to get started writing a novel.
I didn't dream up Hogwarts or the Star Wars' Cantina, but I have written some science thrillers for kids and young adults. Here are some questions and methods I've used to help build the worlds in which those books take place.
I start with a basic place and time. Whether that's a fantasy world or a futuristic setting in the real world, it's important to know where you are and whether you're working in the past, present, or future.
I like to create a timeline showing how the world came to be, what past events have shaped the way it is now. Then I brainstorm answers to questions that draw out the details of my fictional world:
What rules are in place here? This covers everything from Laws of Gravity (or not) to the rules of society and the punishments for individuals who break them.
What kind of government does this world have?
Who has power, and who doesn't?
What do people believe in here?
And what does this society value most?
Then it's time to think about day-to-day life.
What's the weather like in this world?
Where do the inhabitants live and work and go to school?
What do they eat and how do they play?
How do they treat their young and their old?
What relationships do they have with the animals and plants of the world? And what do those animals and plants look like?
What kind of technology exists?
Transportation? Communication? Access to information? There's so much to think about!
So, spend some time living in those tasks and the answers to those questions, and you're well on your way to building your own fictional world.
Once you know your world as well as you hope your reader will, set your characters free in it and see what happens. And ask yourself, "How does this world you created shape the individuals who live in it? And what kind of conflict is likely to emerge?"
Answer those questions, and you have your story.
Good luck, future world-builder!
- 「想像出、創造出」- Dream Up
I didn't dream up Hogwarts or the Star Wars' Cantina, but I have written some science thrillers for kids and young adults.
- 「發生、舉行」- Take Place
Here are some questions and methods I've used to help build the worlds in which those books take place.
- 「釋放」- Set Free
Once you know your world as well as you hope your reader will, set your characters free in it and see what happens.