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Friday, May 6, 2011

Where in the World…

(this blog post first appeared over at Heroines With Hearts...)

So you’ve decided to write a science fiction romance. Or a fantasy…or paranormal. Whatever the case,you’re about to step into a world where the rules are about to change. More importantly, you’re about to make the rules. All by yourself…

World building can be a daunting undertaking, but there are a few simple tricks you can try to simplify the process. Whether you’re writing about a pod of vampires in New Hampshire or a reptilian alien society in outer space, you need to outline the basic rules of existence, not only of the culture and characters, but of the basic environment in which they live.

Some writers start with a map. They look at the big picture, creating continents, islands, sites and streets. From there, they move to culture and personality. While this sounds like overkill, environment can affect the personality and physical characteristics of a society. What do the people look like? Do they have physical features that differ from that of humans? What caused them to develop that way? That same question relates to the environment. If the sky is rainbow colored or flowers are true black, be prepared with an explanation. How does their world and environment affect their personalities as a species?

In the Belle Starr science fiction universe, I developed several alien species that were featured in minor roles in the story. Each species is the product of their society and world and a lot went into their creation. For example, the Somians are a sensual twin species. They are born in same sex pairs, grow up together, and in adulthood, mate another twin pair. Every twin pair is essentially one person split into two bodies. Somians are frequently sex workers and take pride in that profession. Their planet is lush and fragrant; they love beautiful colors, fabrics and delicious food. Since their culture is all about happiness, they have advanced studies in mental health beyond any other known species.

The Valorans are their polar opposite. The Valoran species comes from a dry, less tropical environment. The entire species are intersexed, but have fallen into a natural division of those who consider themselves male, and those who consider themselves female. They are prudish, not given to emotional display and specialize in sciences based in mathematics. There is a minority of the population who consider themselves gender neutral, and they suffer some discrimination from other Valorans.

Somians think that Valorans are in denial of their innate sensual and dual nature. Valorans think Somians are frivolous and foolish. When a Somian and a Valoran come together romantically…the results are intriguing!

As you can see, a lot of work went into developing two alien cultures that really don’t take center stage in the stories they appear in. But since they’re so well developed, they enhance any story they appear in.

Back to rules. Be careful if you decide to outline a set of rules for your culture. A popular author created a species that by nature could not produce homosexuality. She put those rules into writing in a glossary and locked herself in. Imagine how interesting it was when homoerotic elements began to emerge in her stories! So know your rules, and know how to break them.

It’s a big job, wrangling an entire universe. I generally keep a page open on my computer to take notes as I write. I jot down names, places, even sounds. All this gets transferred into a ‘bible’ for that universe. Since the Belle Starr and the Uncommon Whore series share a universe, they also share a bible. I make sure to note what character originated where, as some do cross over. There are also software programs that you can use to take notes and collect photos, music and videos that influence you in the creation of your world. You can also use an external method, such as white boards (which I use) and sticky notes.

So, are you ready? Or are you lost? Best of luck on your journey, and Happy Tails!

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