Writers aid: Building a world

Some time ago I started writing a synopsis for a book I´ll probably never finish. After all, that´s what usually happens with my grand literary projects. I mean, I´m pretty good at editing, but the long haul of writing a novel is pretty daunting to me.

I hope you brought your lucky die...

That being said, I haven´t given up hope. One of the things I enjoy about writing speculative fiction is creating the premises for the story. The world building.

There are several good resources available for novice world builders, but the core concept of them all is this: If you change one thing, what else changes?

Let´s say I start with a world that is basically the same as ours, for the basis of this exercise let´s make it earth. Now, being the speculative fiction nut that I am, I want something steampunky about the world. I could set the story at any time, but change the historical events leading up to it. I could take my story forward in time in a post apocalyptic manner, or bring it back in time to the typical victorian setting that most such fiction occupies. This time around I´m going with the retro approach, so let´s go back in time. The question now is, how far?

I decided on 1689, not your usual setting, but not so far back as that one piece of cavepunk I read (that was weird!). So what´s so speicl about that particular era? Well, historically it´s one of the most conflicted times of europe. Following the thirty year war, there were a slew of other wars and plagues running about. Enough to make a battlefield or two for me to play with.

So what´s the change? well, seeing as I want steampunk I´m going to advance science a bit. Now, the way I do this is going to set the premise for a lot of other changes. You can change anything you want, but you need to have some sort of logic to back it up to make it believable. The most laughable premise for Eric Flints series 1632, is how his rural town of Grantville got transported back in time, but everything else follows a certain logic (a narrative logic to be sure, but still believable within its own set of rules) But anyway, I´m advancing science.

To do this I need something new added to the mix, and in this case I´m adding a new form of energy to play with. A cosmic storm that wreaks havoc with the planet and leaves a residual energy. Drawing from the classical works of Plato, this new element is dubbed Æther. Basic God-stuff to play around with.

Ok, so now that I have this new fanangled powersource to play with, how does it work? In the words of Steve Jobs: This changes everything.

Æther is a powersource, but like any tool it has the potential for good and evil. Or rather creation and destruction. My initial premise is that it can be used to power machines to do wonderful things, like make extremely powerful cannons or reverse the polarity of the neutron flow(thank you doctor). It might even counter the force of gravity itsself if done correctly.

Now, as with any power it might have side effects. In fact, the side effects can be quite fun to play around with, so let´s look at how Æther works in the natural world.

It permeates everything, sort of like radiation, and like radiation in has the power to change and mutate. Now, I want this to be a lethal world, but also a fantastical one, so let´s have the energy be responsive to something. Let´s have it act on the fears and beliefs of people. Their synapses charging the æther with purpose and form.

In most people this would end up as nothing more than bad dreams, or perhaps a haunted house. But what if you had an abnormal amount of Æther, what if your body produced it and it had nowhere to go? What if you started to change and you started to believe you were a monster? Well, then you become a monster. Typically one you´ve heard stories about like werewolves or Fomori or Trolls.

So, having established that what a person believes acts upon how the energy reacts, what if you believe in miracles? Well, then perhaps a miracle occurs? And if the beliefs of many are channeled into a single purpose? Say perhaps that the pope is Gods emissary on earth? Well, then the pope would indeed have some serious energy coming his way, and there´s probably no way an old man (like most popes are) would survive that transformation.

You see where I´m going with this?
One change, has many outcomes. And one thing inevitably leads to another, it´s up to you as a writer to figure out how you want to guide these changes to make the world fit your story. In the end, it´s the story that counts, but the world building is cool too :)

So if you wanted to change the world, what would you change?

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