Posts Tagged ‘world building’

Why Novelists Need Research

November 12, 2018

I still use my Encyclopaedia Britannica for quick research. Although I write science fiction, I want my human characters to be grounded in reality. Even my alien worlds and characters benefit from references to what we know (or think we know). Then an on-going project showed me just how valuable research is for novelists.

My husband and I are writing biographies of our families. Since just about everyone was a tinkerer or maker, he thought including a section on tools would be useful. Last week he started cataloging all the cameras we had inherited, and he decided to research each model. He wanted to know when it was produced (to narrow down when our family member might have bought it), how popular it was, what special features it had, anything that would help him understand why the camera was prized enough to make its way to us.

While doing this research, he remembered a narrow, pocket-size camera his father once owned. He discovered that it was marketed as a compact, convenient camera for families to use, but it was picked up by both the U.S. and Soviet spy community because it was easy to conceal and the optics were superb.

When I heard this story, I thought of building a story on the undiscovered spy in an otherwise normal family. Yes, the story has been told before, but that doesn’t mean I can’t use the plot, and now I have a tool – Ian’s camera – to use as a prompt.

That is the fun of research. You never know where it could lead you, what story it could inspire, or where that story could take you.

Me and my camera, a long time ago

Luck and wisdom!

Normal Life for Me and My Characters

November 5, 2018

I vacuumed for the first time since hurting my ankle. While not exactly an earth-shattering event, it was a milestone for me. Cleaning isn’t my favorite activity, but once I didn’t have the strength or stability to push around the vacuum cleaner I became obsessed with recovering enough to do so, to get back to a normal life.

That got me thinking about character development, and what my characters might latch onto when they feel out of their element. I can imagine my plucky, unconventional heroine looking forward to doing her laundry when she returns to Earth from her interstellar explorations. Her sidekick and potential boyfriend might think running an errand for his mother would mean he is really home. These scenes may never appear in the novel, but that’s okay. If I know that the character feels untethered because part of her past is no longer relevant (even a chore she always hated), it will help me understand how she might react in the scene. Building a character, like keeping house, is all about what happens when no one is looking.

Luck and wisdom!

The Nature of Language

October 1, 2018

I talk with my hands. Okay, as I’ve never mastered American Sign Language and don’t use my personal, private hand signals with any consistency it is more accurate to say I flail with my hands. No amount of magical thinking will ever give meaning to my movements.

These are not words

That begs the question of the nature of language, and how I can use it to add more depth to my characters. If I create a multi-lingual character, will he combine languages when he is stressed? If I create an extraterrestrial who speaks with colored light, will she spell words in the air when she learns English? My aliens in The Chenille Ultimatum use poetry for their prophetic messages – what would a species that speaks with dance use for prophecy, or stand-up comedy? Although my finger waves and wrist curls only make sense to me, in my writing they can speak with grace and eloquence.

Luck and wisdom!

World-Building Through Cheese

September 17, 2018

Cheesehenge

The local paper ran an article about cheese not being the source of all evil for anyone worrying about cardiovascular issues. My inner cheese-hound yipped and yapped and chased its tail, because I adore cheese but there is a history of heart disease on both sides of the family. While rescuing my recipes for cheeseballs, cheese sauces, fondues, savory pastries, souffles, and quiches from the dusty corners of the cookbook shelf, I thought of how I’ve used food in my sci fi stories. Ann Anastasio and I have featured food in each book of the Chenille series. We’ve also made a subplot out of Earth foods that are similar to products on our imaginary planet, Schtatik. Reading the article about cheese reminded me of all the nutrition advice I’ve followed only to be told later that the studies were wrong, which illustrated a hole in my world-building. When I think of what my aliens might eat, I’ve always envisioned their diets as an ideal, or bound by ritual. I don’t think I’ve ever given my aliens a chance to cheat on their diets, or indulge in comfort food, or visit the junk food aisle in their groceries. I’ve never even considered what their groceries would look like. Ever. From now on, however, I’m going to spend a little time imagining what my aliens think they should eat as well as what they do eat, and why it matters. World-building through cheese – yeah, that’s a thing now.

Inspiration Prompt #3

July 9, 2018

Gizmos are great

I love gizmos like the item pictured above. This one has a compass, magnifying glass, ruler, straight edge, curved edge, and long cord for hanging around your neck or on a pack. What kind of person would need such a multi-tasker? What kind of person would think of cramming so many tools into one small object? When I start building worlds for my science fiction stories, I have to create the tool as well as the society that makes it, and I often start with things available here, but not ones that I normally use. Your prompt is to imagine a tool your character would need, using the item above as a starting point, and build the world of your story around it.