Tag Archives: science fiction

Why We Need to Read Challenging Books: A Discussion of The Power, by Naomi Alderman

Writers tell stories for a multitude of reasons and people read stories for a multitude of reasons. I think what we get from the reading experience is very personal, and sometimes we simply want to use that story as a method of entertainment or escape. I don’t there’s anything wrong with that (actually, I think it’s awesome). But what about books that don’t bring entertainment or escape, but instead challenge us? I mean, books that are just plain hard to get through, both philosophically/thematically and narratively. How do we approach those? I’ve been thinking a lot about this very topic since I finished The Power by Naomi Alderman. It’s a book with a lot of strengths, but I also found it, to be frank, quite challenging on a number of levels. And yet, if someone were to ask me if I would recommend it, I would emphatically do so. To me, The Power fits into a larger canon of books that I think are necessary specifically because they are challenging to read. And I’d like to talk about why that is.

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All the Reasons You Should Read the Broken Earth Trilogy

So, big historic stuff happened recently in the science fiction literature world. If you haven’t heard (you probably did, because I was screaming quite loudly), author N.K. Jemisin made history not only by winning the Hugo award for best novel three consecutive years in a row, but also for having every book in a series (The Broken Earth Trilogy) win a Hugo. If you’re not familiar with the Hugo’s, it’s a pretty prestigious award that recognizes great authors in the science fiction genre, with winners like Isaac Asimov, Orson Scott Card, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Neil Gaiman.

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Two Approaches to Worldbuilding

Worldbuilding is one of my favorite aspects of storytelling. Whether the story is fantasy, science fiction, or some dystopian future, a great world design can make or break a story’s credibility and inspire countless future stories. In celebration of this marvelous act of creation, I’m going to share two basic approaches to start building your new world.

But first, let’s discuss what worldbuilding actually means.

Forgotten_villa_by_CptHandel

Sometimes I like to start my world building by sketching . Here’s a building I sketched for one of my older stories.

Define: Worldbuilding
Worldbuilding is the creation of an imaginary setting, whether it be a small town or an entire universe. These imaginary worlds should have internal logic based on geography, history, biology, and so forth. They can be used for fictional novels, video games, tv shows, movies, and pretty much any other story-based media form. The best created worlds serve the story, enriching the setting of the characters and plot but not overwhelming them.

There are many aspects of a world you can latch onto when starting your story. However, I’ve found that there are two basic but reliable approaches to starting the worldbuilding process.

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This is Ofrina, an early map of a continent I created. I used political map because I was trying to decide the country borders.

Top Down Approach
A fairly common approach to worldbuilding is what I like to call the top down approach. The concept is simple: you start with the details of the world you want to build, and then work backwards, figuring out the world’s history and so forth to support the end product you want. For instance, say I wanted to tell a story where my main character was a member of a tribe of blue-skinned people. To build a world to support this idea, I’d need to work backwards, and ask myself questions about how this group of people came to exist. Are they the only blue-skinned people in this world? Were they created by a higher being, or did they evolve? From these questions, I can start to branch off these few details I know and create a fully realized world.

The top down approach has its positives and negatives. It works well because it allows for a clear picture of the end product. In this way, it’s easier to not forget the story and be overwhelmed by the immensity of an imagined world. It helps with early character creation, too. However, if the creator doesn’t have a clear understanding of what the world should look like when they start, the top down approach might cause more problems than it solves. If I change my mind and make my blue-skinned people have the ability to fly, I might have to go back to the drawing board. So, for people without a clear picture of what sort of world they want their story to be set in, it’s better to start with the bottom up approach.

The Bottom Up Approach
The bottom up approach begins with the very foundation of the world you’re going to create. Basically, you start with creating a world (earth-like or not) to serve as your canvas. To this, you add geography. What does your world look like? Also, it’s a good idea to decide how the sciences play out in your world. Some storytellers are happy saying that physics, biology, chemistry, and so on are just like earth’s. That is just fine. However, if you want to play around with those, feel free. Just make sure you research things so they stay internally logical. If you want to build a world where photosynthesis doesn’t exist, you better know what photosynthesis is and why it’s important for plants. Now is also a good time to decide if your world has some special aspect, such as magic or a unique energy source.

Once you have your foundation, it’s time to add the people/life forms that inhabit this world. How does this environment affect them? It’s probably not a homogeneous group (and if it is homogeneous, you better have a darn good reason why), so adding various cultural makeups is a good idea. From here, it’s a matter of figuring out details like language, politics, history, and so on before refining the final product to fit your story. It’s important to keep that internal logic you spent so much time crafting, but you also want to make sure you leave room for your story. Hopefully a this point your imagination is firing on all cylinders, and you’ve found a great source of conflict or a really interesting idea for a main character.

So, how do you guys feel about worldbuilding? I’m considering writing a second post with finer details about what we need to think about when we build a world, like infrastructure and political systems. Would that interest people?

P.S. Sorry I missed last week’s post. My husband and I were a bit under the weather, and also I’ve been trying to finish my latest draft of Footfall.

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