A Guest Post by Kevin Enriquez
What makes you like a fantasy or science fiction book? The characters? The plot? The title?
Even though they are all important elements, the foundation of a believable fantasy or science fiction story lies in the story world.
In today's guest post my friend and fellow writer Kevin Enriquez is unveiling
the positives and pitfalls of creating a story world.
Are you ready?
Here we go!
The importance of story worlds
As a science fiction and fantasy author there is one point of storytelling that stands out above the rest.
While character development and plot are often the key focal points of many authors, this is less true when considering the categories of science fiction and fantasy. It is the care and craft of developing a story-world that many speculative fiction authors consider a point of pride and achievement.
But what exactly is a story world?
If you type “story world” into Google, no clear answer is given. As a matter of fact, there are many people who completely reject the notion of having any specific focus on story world. Some define story world as the “universe” or “general setting” of any particular speculative fiction story. Others say story world is anything and everything related to any given story of any given genre.
For the sake of this post I will define story world as:
The setting, scientific laws, laws of magic, civilization development, and the mental/physical/emotional connection between the universe and the characters within the universe.
Many authors are going to define this term in different ways, but to me it is everything beyond the plot and characters. The term does not, and should not be limited to just science fiction and fantasy authors.
But with an often ambiguous term such as story world, too many authors don’t take the time to find out how to properly develop and maintain their story world.
Positives and pitfalls of developing a story world:
Here are three positives and two pitfalls of developing a story world:
The developed story world helps build the plot
One of my favourite books on how to write speculative fiction is Orson Scott Card’s “The Writer’s Digest Guide to Science Fiction & Fantasy”. For any first time sci-fi or fantasy author, I highly recommend this book.
Within the first few pages Card describes his process of initially coming up with his amazing series, Ender’s Game. He starts by saying that long before the science fiction details or plot were worked out, he created a basic story world.
His world, “Humans fighting off alien invaders, with children as the commanders of the fleet”. The main character as well as the plot almost naturally developed from this general understanding of the story world he created.
Ender’s Game has an outstanding plot with characters that you can easily route for, but it started with a story world.
The developed story world helps define and maintain limitations
No one likes reading a story where the heroes have powers that are rarely consistent or where the characters get out of a tight jam by a story element that seems to have only been created for their specific purpose. Every Deus Ex Machina (a story element where the characters move the plot along thanks to chance, luck, or a new story element introduced for the first time) causes a reader to care a little bit less about any danger the characters are in. This happens because the reader becomes callous toward luck, assuming the characters will always survive a situation no matter what.
With a properly developed story world there are limitations in place that cannot be broken. The author has created boundaries on the types of magic, or the futuristic elements within the science fiction. Even in other categories like romance, certain story world expectations are created which require the characters to act and be a certain way. This prevents the “saved by luck” option within a story.
Instead of using a Deus Ex Machina, the author is forced to use the story world he has already created in order to move the plot along. This may be harder for the author, but it is much more enjoyable for the reader.
The developed story world creates a fan base connection
I don’t need to go into too many details about this. Just mentioning Star Wars, Harry Potter, or Twilight will immediately elicit strong reactions.
Any true Harry Potter fan can name which house they are part of as well as who their favourite characters are.
A Star Wars fan will tell you which movies they liked and disliked.
And Twilight? All I need to ask is Team Edward or Team Jacob.
These stories are popular because of the plots and characters, but the fan bases hold onto the story world elements in order to identify with the story.
These stories would have fallen short without a properly developed story world. Instead, they thrive on fan bases which are consistently growing.
The overdeveloped story world takes away from the plot and characters
There are some authors who choose to focus on the description and understanding of the world to an extreme degree. Often these authors develop an intricate story world, one that may be fascinating and extremely interesting, but at the expense of plot and characters.
A thin plot can take away from an interesting story world because the reader won’t continue.
Likewise, if there are underdeveloped characters, who will the reader cheer for?
It is important to properly develop every story world, but without a story to go inside, few readers will take the time to learn about this wonderful story world.
The overdeveloped story world prevents an author from writing
Nothing is worse for a writer than to not write.
So why is it that so many authors, specifically for science fiction and fantasy, find themselves not writing for the sake of story world development?
I know many people who spend so much time creating the story world: the vast civilizations, the creatures from different planets and regions, the types of currency, and some even go as far as creating a new language.
Don’t misunderstand me - these elements can be absolutely wonderful within a story. One of the greatest stories of all time, Lord of the Rings, has the most complicated story world I am aware of. Tolkien did a fantastic job creating his story world, but it didn’t stop there. He created the world. Then he wrote down the story.
Some authors don’t get to the writing part. They spend five, ten, sometimes twenty years developing an intricate story world— but they never write out their story.
If your goal is to just create a huge story world you might have succeeded. But if you want to be a writer… You MUST write.
I hope this clarifies the uses and misuses, regarding the development of story world.
While every author should take the time to develop the story world, it is important they do not fall into the overdeveloping category.
About Kevin Enriquez
Kevin Enriquez is a storyteller who has been working on the craft of developing stories and written prose since 2010.
His emphasis on understanding the art of storytelling has evolved into a love of storyworld, character, and sub-plot development.
He can also be found on Facebook where he posts story elements and original poems.
He posts daily words of encouragement on his Тwitter @enriquez_k_t
Head image credit: Sketches of Sofia.
Have your say!
Can you think of a story world which has deeply impressed you?
What story world characteristics are challenging to you when creating your story?
Have you fallen in some of the mentioned pitfalls when creating a story world? Can you add up to the list?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below and remember to tell your friends on social media!
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