The possibilities of world-building through a scientific or magical approach are virtually endless. If you want, your universe doesn’t even have to be our universe. It can be a universe where our scientific principles don’t apply, a universe that has different fundamental forces (fundamental interactions). What would a world be like without gravity or electromagnetism? What if there were other fundamental forces or if all four forces were one?
Technological/Magical Based World-Building – What to Think About:
Do Your Homework – People who read science fiction tend to know a fair amount of science. Taking this approach will require you to know your stuff. If there are holes in your science or technology, your readers will find them. You should also be well-read. Know what else has been written and done in your genre and also what is being done currently. This is important, since you don’t want to churn out “another cookie-cutter” sci-fi/fantasy novel, do you?
Be Thorough – Science has laws, rules that can’t be broken (what goes up must come down, energy can’t be created or destroyed, etc.). Magic often doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t (think outside the box). If you’ve done your homework and studied your subject, then make sure as you build your world you leave no stone unturned and know exactly how your technology works.
Such things don’t have to appear on the page, but if you haven’t thought it all out, it may bleed through in your writing, and as stated before, your reader will find the holes. For many readers, part of the joy of reading this type of fiction is to not only be awed or thrilled by some new science or technology coming to life on the page, but also, as an intellectual challenge, to find the flaws and pick them apart. People like to see accidents, train-wrecks. Don’t be part of one.
If magic is replacing technology in your world, you need to know how it works and what its limitations are. Do different mages/wizards have different strengths and weaknesses? Is there a difference between age, gender, or race? Can anyone learn magic, or are you born with it? Do you have more than one magic system, and if so, why?
Scientific & Magical-Based Example
1. Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicles. A unique system of magic called Sympathy, which is a marriage of both science and magic.
2. Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy. Three unique magic systems: Allomancy, Feruchemy, and Hemalurgy.
- Keep Notes – Stay organized in your world-building by keeping detailed notes. I suggest making an Excel document or a table of some kind with several categories in which you can summarize/explain everything from your characters/people, places in your world (cities, biomes, etc.), individual societies, monetary system including things like gems/stones, magic system(s), races, etc. Doing this will not only help you document everything you create, but also will keep things organized and easy to find.
- Keep a timeline – Keep a timeline of important dates for characters and historical events. In the real world dates are very important.
- Consistency – Be consistent in your world-building to keep from contradicting things in your writing. Keeping notes will be extremely beneficial for this.
- What to show/tell – As the world-builder and author you should know every little nuance of your world, but your reader shouldn’t. Too much description and info-dumping will bore them and may even cause them to skim over your writing. Your world-building should be subtle and used to tell your story. It should enrich your characters and serve to build tension, not deflate it.
- Don’t be afraid or get frustrated – The amount of time you can spend world-building can be exhausting. I’ve spent many thousands of hours building my world, and it’s easy to get burnt out. If you need to take a break, do so. And don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try new things. Read books (fiction/non-fiction), watch movies and T.V. for inspiration, and above all, have fun.
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