Saturday, July 26, 2008

Urban Fantasy World-Building

As promised, here are the key points from the Fey Fab Five's world-building workshop. (Ok, they call themselves Team Seattle, but I couldn't resist.) Note that most of these can be used with high fantasy or sci fi as well.

1. Setting informs plot and character development:
* Cake Mix: start with the known world and break some rules (ex: America w/ underground zombie world).
* Scratch cake: build a world of your own, adding rules as you go (ex: Forgotten Realms).

2. Awareness level of audience:
* Closed world: fantasy aspects are secret; only open to protagonist and a few others
* Open world: fantasy completely integrated; everyone knows.
* Inciting Event: something that either opens up the world or closes it off.

3. Role of known mythology:
* Use known myths, tweak, and make your own.
* Do research first so that you know what you're talking about.
* Know your stuff: Apollo could currently be the god of the tanning bed, but probably not the god of dishwashers.

4. Economics:
* Who are the movers and the shakers? Where does the money (or goods/materials) move?
* Who controls what?

5. Limits:
* A magical system must have rules and limits; there has to be give and take.
* Your protagonist should have a fatal flaw.
* There has to be something on the line, so that your audience cares.

6. Consistency:
* There needs to be consistency within the genre that you're working in. For example, magic always has a cost. Or, were-creatures need to be a comparable size to humans. You don't hear about were-ferrets.
* There also needs to be consistency within your own book or series. Think about all the angles, restrictions, etc, before you even begin writing so that you know the limits of your own world.

7. Tropes & Stereotypes:
* Find out the common archetypes or hallmarks of the genre or subgenre you're working in.
* Select one, then put a spin on it.


elizaw said...

I completely disagree with the first consistency point. Were-ferrets would be awesome, and magic doesn't need to follow a system if you don't want it to. Isn't that the point of fantasy? To take advantage of your blank canvas? To develop something new and interesting?

The second point about consistency needs to be bolded and possibly put into large, blinking letters. :)

Alex Moore said...

Although I may have muffed it by not being clear or concise enough, I still stand by the original point: Genres have (admittedly loose) rules. You need to know what they are and honor them before you can break them.

For example, when Caitlyn Kittredge breaks the "equal mass" rule of were-creatures, she does so with a detailed explanation of how magic entertwines with DNA. It's not that you can't break the mold, it's that you should be aware of the mold you're breaking and do so consciously.

And, ultimately, whatever magic system you set up, you need to follow the rules of that system. Therefore, magic does need to follow a system, even if it's one of your creation.