Building for Science Fiction or
by Tina Morgan
Creating settings for a science fiction or
fantasy world can be an exhilarating or daunting task.
Unlike other genres, there are few limitations on where
the imagination can go. This is the ultimate opportunity
for a writer to stretch her/his creative muscles.
However, there is one catch you need to be aware of
before you start writing. Many science fiction and
fantasy readers are well educated and well read. Do not
make the mistake of condescending to them or you will
greatly reduce your odds of publication.
Like any other genre, you will find readers from a
variety of occupations but in science fiction you will
find many readers who know the science. Often their love
for technology or space came from reading a science
fiction of fantasy novel as a young child and they
transferred that passion into a career in the technology
or science industry. For this reason I say the most
important aspect of creating your setting with be
your material before you start writing.
Where do you start researching? Do you need to know
quantum physics to write science fiction? Of course not.
But you do need to have a rough understanding of what
life is like under different situations. Start first by
determining where your story will take place.
Earth or earth based? On a space ship? On a radically
different planet that calls for sealed environments?
What is the physical world like? What raw materials are
available for fuel or building? What type of ecology
inhabits your world?
Part of determining location is also dictated by time.
'When' your world exists will determine the level of
technology available to your characters. Are you using a
prehistoric, medieval, present day or futuristic time
frame? The possibilities are endless. Don't allow what
you've read in the past to dictate your decision on when
in time to place your story.
All aspects of world building can benefit from research.
Don't think that because you've invented planet Jo-Jo
that the rules no longer apply. If your world strays too
far from earth then you need to consider the viable
options for supporting life. Many of the science fiction
stories I read as a young adult featured the moons of
Jupiter as viable habitations for humans. Enjoyable
fantasy when I was much younger but now it would fall
quite flat. Jupiter is a gas giant and in order for the
gases that comprise its physical form to exist the planet
has to be hundreds of degrees below zero (Celsius or
Fahrenheit). Jupiter's temperature is this low due to its
distance from the sun. So by extrapolation, that means
that its moons must be far too cold to support any life
form currently living on earth that we have discovered to
Inhabitants are another vital component of your world
building. Will they be human or non-human? Animals: real,
earth-based, mythological or something totally new? Take
care with creating a new ecology and don't put in too
many predators. Many new writers make the mistake of
creating a world full of teeth, fangs, claws and other
lethal natural weapons but they forget to give their
predators enough prey animals. If predators don't/can't
find prey, they will eat each other and possibly to
Creatures big and small need to be able to function in
the world you've created. This doesn't mean that
goo-dripping aliens are out but it does mean that I'm not
going to believe that they pilot spaceships with controls
suited to human hands.
Once you determine your inhabitants and your characters'
species, you need to consider their society. Where your
characters fit into that society will greatly affect
their ability to function and react.
What type of government and laws rule your world? Arts
& recreation, education, religion, vocation, economy-
money based or barter are all vital elements of a society
and will add richly to your setting if you incorporate
these aspects. There's no need to spend a lot of time
explaining every element of your world but showing how
your characters live can help bring the story to life. A
group of soldiers could play a game of chance involving
rune stones or carved dice, the butler opening the door
can pay the cabbie with gold coins, the priestess can
marry a couple at the county fair by waving a branch of
oak leaves over their heads. Simple things that can be
mentioned in passing.
Where do you find the inspiration for these societies?
Research. Look at the forms of society developed in our
own world. Find a battle that intrigues you and use the
tactics that won or lost it in your own war.
The Internet offers a wide source of research material
but don't forget to spend time at your local library
either. You'll find a wealth of information just waiting
for you to make your own.
Copyright Tina Morgan. All Rights Reserved
For a more detailed look at world building
check out Tina Morgan's World Building chapter in The
Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy. Available at Amazon.com and through Dragon Moon Press