When You Have to Create a Whole New Realm

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When You Have to Create a Whole New Realm

Post by dios4vida » October 5th, 2012, 12:43 pm

Fellow sci-fi and fantasy writers - this one's for you!

I've stalled a bit finishing up my latest WIP because the last 1/4 of the book takes place in the hive of a spiritual parasite. It isn't a place, per se, but more like a labyrinthine cave of spirits and thought-munching creatures in the middle of space/time. While I've got that to work from, that's also everything I have. I'm having a hard time getting enough concrete details of how this place works and what dangers my characters will face to actually get it written out. So I thought I'd turn to my brilliant co-forumers and ask what your favorite tips and tricks are for creating a world/realm that isn't even remotely found on earth. Is there anywhere you like to turn for inspiration, or something you've found to help you get enough details built up in your head so you can push forward with this strange new place?
Brenda :)

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Re: When You Have to Create a Whole New Realm

Post by Sommer Leigh » October 5th, 2012, 2:15 pm

Keep it simple.

Figure out what that ONE thing is that has an importance to the story, a feeling, a look, a sensation, an emotion, a color, a shape whatever it may be that the characters experience in this location and concentrate on building off that. Too many rules and locations and complicated descriptions are going to muddy the waters and potentially confuse your readers. Especially in the beginning during your first pass through the location, keep it very, very simple.

You should check out A Wrinkle in Time and anything by China Mieville for a little inspiration in describing something that seems so indescribable. China especially does a remarkable job making you fully believe in something that has no real world equivalent.
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Re: When You Have to Create a Whole New Realm

Post by Margo » October 5th, 2012, 9:31 pm

You need a 115-page template.

No, I'm not joking.

Stop laughing.
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Re: When You Have to Create a Whole New Realm

Post by polymath » October 6th, 2012, 10:34 am

If a writer has difficulty describing the sensory details of a circumstance, like a whole new realm, readers will have ever more challenges comprehending its intent and meaning.

To get to the degree of audience accessibility and appeal you want, research and investigation are called for. A cave of spirits that devours thoughts. Think about famous caves readers may have familiarity with, the Well of Souls, Cave of the Winds, Anemone Cave (Acadia, Maine), and study up on them. Immerse in the research, become the cave. Visit a cave if you can. Create one if not.

Try unexpected cave analogs, like smother yourself in blankets and pillows, leaves or sand. How does that feel? Feel is the sixth sense of creative writing; it is the emotional feeling of a circumstance. Consider other analogs, like glass, mirrors, a woodland cavern of vegetation, or immersed in water: bathtub, mud puddle, lake, river, ocean, warm or cold. This is imagery and symbolism's purposes: expressing intangible, immaterial, abstract circumstances using concrete circumstances; re imagery--visual sensations, or symbolism--other sensory processes. Avoid simile as much as possible. Similes are easy to write yet hard to comprehend if readers don't make the necessary personal connections.

Consider the cave's purpose within the narrative. What is its agenda? What is its function drama-wise? What's my motivation? said the cave to the screenplay director.

Consider prepositioning details about the cave beforehand. The ending quarter of a novel is late in a narrative to introduce a new circumstance. Readers need preparation for new circumstances. Leavening in details from the beginning prepares readers for an upcoming circumstance. This is Chekhov's Gun's corollary postulate: If it's important to a final act, it should be prepositioned in an earlier act.
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Re: When You Have to Create a Whole New Realm

Post by Hillsy » October 8th, 2012, 6:11 am

Tips n tricks, tips n tricks, tips n tricks....hmmmm

Ok well I've kinda had to do something like this before - One of my novels has a chapter in a dimension where scale is removed. So drawing on that. What did I do.....lemme think....

1) What is it?
Sounds obvious but its actually pretty important. There are a ton of ways you can approach this. Just some examples - pick the ones you've read -
The Warrens in The Malazan books of the fallen: Pocket dimensions filled with power/magic which some can visit.
The Melange in Nights Dawn Trilogy: An afterlife where souls kinda succumb to entropy and suffer their own heat death
The Ways in Wheel of Time: It's actually a fabricated sub-dimension connected to the real dimension
The Territories in King & Straubs's The Talisman: A parrallel universe where people become sort of fantasy charicatures of themselves..
Right well there's more but yeah it'd get boring.....point being, knowing exactly what it is will help solidify the concept. "Spiritual Labyrinth in the middle of space/time" Is a really good start. All you need to add is something that will fix in your head what it is...Dimension/plane of existance/mental construct/God built world/Magical realm/fundamental physical constant....Each comes with it's own tropes and so on so it's actually kind of important to know (For example: Magical Realms tend to be accessed through creating a doorway, Dimensions through finding an established doorways, mental constructs through meditation and discipline...etc etc)

2) What does it do?
Possibly the most important. Tied into Sanderson's First Law - how vital to the plot is the mechanics of the Location. If the setting is just a neat backdrop, somewhere otherworldly to send the characters so they can have hi-jinxs cooler than those limited by established physics...then the world building doesn't need to be so deep. A good comparison would be the star-ships in the films Event Horizon vs Alien. In Alien the tight mechanics are uneccessary. We don't need to know about its propulsion or weapon systems or anything like that - It just needs to be a floating hulk returning from far away. In Event Horizon however the core of the ship and why/how it was built is absolutely integral to the plot - the Details matter. As such "building" the Nostromo needs only a veneer of details around, basically, a giant floating industrial park. The Event Horizon, however, has to be built from concept up.

3) What happens there?
This is where plotting intersects with world building. So if you want something to materialise from thin air, check if your current idea allow that to happen? If yes, move on. If no, work out what would need to be in place for that to happen then see if your model can be adapted/augmented without it falling apart. If you can't, then tweak the event til it can. (So instead of materialising out of the air, the monster instead is a reanimated statue that springs to life - similar effect, massively different rules.) Basically the thing to remember is that neither the World nor the Plot events, are static. It's like two planets orbiting each other exerting gravity to move the other, but because they have different mass one move less (Which one is up to you). Hopefully - once you start working out why certain events can't work, you'll get a better feel for all the things that might happen in their place. That's the primordial soup of ideas...

4) Eyeballs
Finally here's the bit where all this work hits the reader. The maths and physics behind fire is actually pretty damn complex - but all people really see is something yellow and red that gives out warmth and can burn your fingers. Some things you can just cover - for example you could have a world where wandering away from main paths would cause the fabric of the place to sort of break down into nothing, forcing the person to return back to the path. Now this could be because you're travelling in the inside of a God's Mind and the path's represent the thickened neural pathways of memory/knowledge, And here Knowledge/memory equals reality. But all the character's see is a white fog a few dozen meters either side fo the path that, walking into it, makes them feels pretty weird and very scared (And one person didn't come back).....

OK I've rambled on for what feels like a week.....just some ideas

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Re: When You Have to Create a Whole New Realm

Post by Shipple » October 8th, 2012, 8:49 am

I agree with Sommer about keeping it simple because once you've confused your reader, they (or at least I) just give up on trying to understand. If they're really into the book, they might skim through the confusing part, but once I'm confused, the effort I'll put into that section is minimal.

And to go along with that point, I think readers connect most with things they've experienced. Obviously no reader would have experienced the hive of a spiritual parasite, but, if, as polymath suggests, breathing the air in this hive feels like you're being smothered in sand, then the readers have some sort of starting point for their imagination to work from.

But definitely, keep it simple, keep it consistent, and use the senses. You could pick a primary sensation for each sense and keep going back to those sensations throughout this portion of your manuscript.
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Re: When You Have to Create a Whole New Realm

Post by Margo » October 8th, 2012, 2:23 pm

Reposted from another thread...

I recommend reading up on ancient and social history. If you pick up a good, weighty volume on any ancient culture--the Romans, the Greeks, the Irish, the Norse--check out the table of contents for the kinds of topics covered, to give you an idea of how values and beliefs and social constructs both informed and evolved with architecture, diet, settlement patterns, legal and educational systems,etc. The big problem I see with writers creating their own worlds is they go one of two ways... They have a big white room with nothing defined, inevitably leading to contradictions and painting themselves into a corner later, a world totally lacking in internal consistency and context... Or they forget to concentrate on the big, overarching values and issues and fill page after page with trivial detail (*cough*card game rules*cough*no I'm not joking, I can't tell you how many times I've seen that*cough*).

For something as thorough as a fantasy series, I literally have a 100+ page world building template, and it has served me well (despite the fact that most of the details will never make it to the page). The greatest value is that it informs ME, and the decisions I make in the course of outlining and writing stem from my own understanding of a working culture/world. Then, even the off-the-cuff decisions I make naturally benefit from internal consistency.

But it assumes a level of commitment that some cannot meet and others disdain, as well as a love/interest/fascination/RESPECT for cultural identity and development as it stems from interaction with the natural environment.

Edit: OR people can just write about riding around on unicorns that poop ice cream and explain the physics with, "A wizard did it."
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Re: When You Have to Create a Whole New Realm

Post by Margo » October 8th, 2012, 2:31 pm

Oops, I forgot to close with..

But listen to your muse go with your heart this is your story not the readers' your perfect vision don't worry about word count or story structure or research or outlining as long as you follow you heart it will be great singing of angels crying of puppies agents and editors swooning million-dollar-contracts galore rah rah rah.

*private joke* ;)
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Re: When You Have to Create a Whole New Realm

Post by Mark.W.Carson » October 11th, 2012, 4:30 pm


I'm with you there. Imagining things can be a long and tedious process. I often do my best while thinking about it on a drive or in the shower. You have free reign, though, as the creator. If you want there to be green soupy rain coming from all directions, that's it, it exists. The limits are your imagination. What things do you want the reader to FEEL when they read about it? What makes YOU feel that way? Go from there.

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Re: When You Have to Create a Whole New Realm

Post by JohnDurvin » October 13th, 2012, 9:42 pm

Labyrinth in the middle of space-time populated by thought-eating creatures? Sounds like an evil sci-fi version of Wonderland. I'm absolutely not suggesting you start using Alice motifs or anything, but if you're already dealing with a place where time and space don't work right and creatures are sucking out your feelings and memories, you might want to look at how he did it.

Also, in difficult-to-describe situations like this, I always find it helpful to have at least one character that's completely new to the whole thing, and another that's an old hand with it. If you've only got the former, readers get pretty belabored by the fantastic novelty of it all, and wind up feeling like the author's showing off what a crazy situation they can pull off (assuming they're pulling it off), and if you've only got the former, they can potentially make the whole thing more confusing by not reacting to any of it. (You might be able to pull it off if you've got a Harry Dresden or a John "Hellblazer" Constantine for a hero, but then again, even the Doctor has his companions.)
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