World Building for Earth Day: Bottom up World Building
Our relationship to Earth
1. Seed idea.
Ever story grows out of a seed idea, something which is so wonderful that it must be shared. My stories grew out of a dream of a woman fleeing by moonlight, a child in her arms.
2. What plot works best?
Most stories use a combination of basic plots. The writer simply matches seed idea to appropriate plot combination.
Tragedy — Things go from bad to worse.
Comedy — An absurd problem is solved in an absurd manner.
Romance — Individuals fall in love and attempt to overcome differences.
Mystery — The cause of a crime or other event is uncovered.
Epiphany — Significance is found in ordinary life.
Disaster — An attempt is made to avert or overcome an unfortunate event.
Adventure — A visit to a strange place.
Agency/Hero’s Journey — Someone discovers something which could save society.
Awake after the dream, I decided that the king has been assassinated, and the royal nanny is escaping with the infant heir. They hide out until the heir comes back as an adult to claim the throne. This fits the pattern of the long-lost heir plot, a variation of the hero’s journey. This pattern is used for stories ranging from Oedipus Rex to Harry Potter.
3. What sort of society is necessary for the plot?
The long-lost-heir plot often features patrilineal kingship and rule by divine right. God favors the legitimate first-born son and gives him the right of absolute rule.
I have deep-seated dislike of divine right, so I wanted another way of proving kingship. I decided a hereditary queen would nominate and marry the king. Such a society would be matrilineal, inheritance passing from mother to daughter. Given this, I know the royal child of my story is a girl. As an adult, she faces the challenge of selecting the next king. This setup as has the makings of a nice romance.
4. What environmental forces are necessary for the society?
Society develops and adapts in response to the basic human needs for shelter, air, water, food, and access to mates. Knowing the resulting society, the writer can backwards engineer climate and terrain. It helps to think of shortage. I learned this from Frank Herbert’s Dorsadi Experiment which has a world with a shortage of toxin-free food and water.
I settled on a lack of shelter as the driving need on Fenria, my imaginary planet. On Fenria, fierce tides and weather lead to a high death rate at sea. In response, the society has a taboo against women fishing and operating boats. As a result, females live longer and society invests in women’s education at the expense of male education. On Fenrian, men are expendable. Fenrian doctors, lawyers, teachers, and engineers are female. Voila! A matriarchal society.
5. What kind of cosmology will produce the shortage?
Cosmology can be thought of as the rules for how a universe functions, or as rules for a magical system. For a story to have conflict, nothing in the world should be for free. Without cost there’s no conflict, no social development, and no story. Cosmology should have built in costs.
Every long-lost-heir must prove his identity. Oedipus Rex has damaged feet and Harry Potter has his scar. Standard devices for proving royal identity include special marks, scars, magical talismans, or feats demonstrating the favor of the gods. My distaste for divine right eliminates most of these. I settled on technological solution, a neurological implant which opens doors in the palace, but which also can be infected with an electronic virus. Thus, my story fits within a scientific cosmology.
I prefer scientific cosmology because the scientific laws of thermodynamics already have costs. I can still have my hereditary queen without any additional work of developing a complete magical system.
6. What genre best fits the story?
Where to shelve a book depends mostly on the publishing market. I believe most stories straddle genres, containing plot elements from multiple genres or combining a plot favored by one genre with a cosmology favored by another.
My story has science and technology integral to the plot making it science fiction, but it also focuses on a romantic relationship. This combination makes the story SFR, science-fiction romance. It’s up to me to decide if I will pitch the story as science fiction or as romance.