Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Building By the Seat of Your Pants





I am a pantser-a writer who does little pre-planning, and generally writes off the top of her head. As I have shifted into novel and novella length fantasy and paranormal, creating alternate realities has gotten more complex. I realized it may be a good thing to begin each new world without using my pants, so to speak...

When I start a new world, I try to jot down some basic information to help keep the continuity in my story. It can be on note-cards, or in separate document. Start with the question "How is this alternate reality the same, and how is it different from our world?"

It seems simplest to start with the big issues:
What type of government exists, what kind of laws and enforcement are in place, and what drives the economy? Are there castes or slavery? Is there a monarchy, theocracy, or any kind of 'cracy? Is there an army, or enforcers of the laws that exist? Is there money exchanged, taxes, (thanks Talia), or trade? Is it an economy based on magic power?

Then we step down a level:
How do the residents of this world interact socially? Are there families and friendships? How do they form relationships? (This may be particularly important in a romance novel.) Do they reproduce and raise children? How are people educated? What kind of industry or jobs exist?

Finally we get down to the individual level:
What kind of humans and paranormal or fantasy creatures inhabit your world? What are their powers and skills? What other sexes may exist besides male and female? This section could also include any interesting aspects of intimacy that are different from our own. Are these alternate lifestyle choices accepted?

It can't hurt to do a short description of personal characteristics for your characters, especially the main ones that are not human. You can refer back to these notes as you write so you won't create awkward exceptions along the way. Consistency is a big issue with editors and publishers, and for us pantsers, it can become a real problem.

So when world building; I advise every pantser to let their pants down, metaphorically speaking, and do a little outlining of your strange new world. You can still write that plot straight out of your imagination, but your details will make more sense if you have a basic world-plan to access. There are tons of forms and sites you can google, here are a couple.
thescriptorium.net/world1.html
hiddenway.tripod.com/world/
The first site is a set of forms you can use, the second has links to a lot of world-building info and exercises.

Hope my fellow pantsers find this useful, but my friends we have to change this name. Do you like Freestylers better?

Chat with you all soon!
Debralee

9 comments:

  1. OMG! I just snorted coffee through my nose. I used to have socks just like that! They're toe socks. What an idea--the hero (who's uniform includes rainbow toesocks because feet are revered on his planet) lands in a world of toeless people. Talk about conflict! *G*

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  2. Oh, I actually still have rainbow toesocks! I demand a cameo in the Toesock Universe book! Anyway, great post. I'm not really a pantser, but I'm not into extensive storyboarding either. Thus, it was only with some toddler-esque whining (and a little stomping of feet, I admit) that I gave in to the reality of needing notes and outlines to keep track of what I'm doing. It's amazing how quickly you can forget the small details that you end up needing later on.

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  3. I second/third/fourth/nth the need to keep notes of your fantasy world! I tend to come up with a lot of worldbuilding facets as I write, in addition to plot facets. Right now my system of keeping track of influential worldbuilding factoids is called "highlighter". Sophisticated, huh?

    Jody W.

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  4. I love the photo! So true about seat of the pants world building. I've been procrastinating on a sequel to my first futuristic because of that.

    Shara
    www.sharalanel.com

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  5. Wow, I had no idea there were plans/sites to help in world creating. Thanks for the tip! And I love your sock picture!

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  6. Funny, I actually build from the characters up rather from the world down.

    For instance...

    The hero is a super-hero podiatrist and the heroine is queen of a race of bunny slippers that are being systematically eliminated due to a government conspiracy that puts out a recall of all bunny slippers everywhere.

    O-KAAYY.

    How would this world work? What would connect bunny slippers to the podiatrist? To the government? Are the slippers tired of being stepped on?

    You get the picture.

    ;)

    talia

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  7. Funny, I actually build from the characters up rather from the world down.

    For instance...

    The hero is a super-hero podiatrist and the heroine is queen of a race of bunny slippers that are being systematically eliminated due to a government conspiracy that puts out a recall of all bunny slippers everywhere.

    O-KAAYY.

    How would this world work? What would connect bunny slippers to the podiatrist? To the government? Are the slippers tired of being stepped on?

    You get the picture.

    ;)

    talia

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  8. Funny, I actually build from the characters up rather from the world down.

    For instance...

    The hero is a super-hero podiatrist and the heroine is queen of a race of bunny slippers that are being systematically eliminated due to a government conspiracy that puts out a recall of all bunny slippers everywhere.

    O-KAAYY.

    How would this world work? What would connect bunny slippers to the podiatrist? To the government? Are the slippers tired of being stepped on?

    You get the picture.

    ;)

    talia

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  9. How many diner employees actually are pantsers, er, freestylers besides myself? It certainly makes writing an adventure.
    BTW Talia, when I visit your sandbox I will definitely not allow the cats to join us.
    I rather think my accountant is a dragon-he hoards, but so does my husband-I may be married to a dragon!!!!

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