Tuesday, July 23, 2013

World Building for Writers by Tom Lucas

It's day 2 of the Blogger Book Fair! I'm pleased to welcome author Tom Lucas. He teaches a world-building course in a Creative Writing BFA program, and shares some great tips on the topic.

Also check out Tom Lucas's novel, Leather to the Corinthians, "an absurd postmodern fable that defiantly flips a middle finger at modern American life. Through the perspectives of its multiple characters, it explores the absurdities of organized religion, the military, big business, fast food, advertising, sex, and the media. Witty, with bitter undertones, its story possesses a satirical spirit as it plays with traditional story structure, phrasing and cultural references. Its multiple layers encourage return visits as its characters have many more unique tales to tell."

Now, take it away, Tom!

Welcome to the Blogger Book Fair! What’s most exciting to me about this event is the great diversity amongst the writers, bloggers, and books that are participating this week.

It’s a bit trite, but there is truly something for everyone here. I hope that you have the chance to find something great to add to your reading list. Taking a look around, I see many thrilling stories, exciting characters, and my personal favorite – bold new worlds.

I am always intrigued by imaginative settings – epic fantasy realms, speculative futures, or mysterious ancient worlds. I suppose it’s this love for a rich backdrop that would lead me to teach a research for world-building course in a Creative Writing BFA program.

Many of my students are overwhelmed when they first sit down to design a world. It requires considering a multitude of factors, conducting thorough research, and some mental heavy lifting. We’re talking about building a world, and as mere mortals, it will take us more than 6 days.

To help aspiring writers (perhaps you) to build a world that is logical, plausible, and authentic, I have created a simple system to help build a foundation that will support a world for its lifetime.


In order to create a world that engage an audience, it must have rules. It must have an internal logic, no matter how wild or fantastic. The writer must use research to support their ideas. Many consider “research” to be a bad word, so let’s reframe it. Research = exploration and discovery.  It’s about answering questions, and it’s important to know what questions you need to answer before beginning research -- otherwise it’s just wandering aimlessly around the garden of knowledge.

It’s my suggestion that you parcel out the research in stages.

Begin the research by considering the location or locations in your world. What do you need to know in order to describe and detail the environment? Brainstorm a list of words or phrases that define the questions you have. Think of geography, weather, climate, flora, fauna, population – anything that pertains to the immediate, physical world of your story.

It doesn’t matter what kind of world you are building. There is always something from the world around us that can be applied to your creation. Fantasy stories often draw upon what we know about Medieval Europe. Science fiction, well, what’s the first word? SCIENCE. Connect your imagination with facts and it will feel real and vital.
Once you have established the locations of your world and how they work, it’s time to open your mind to the slippery concept of time period.

Think of the time period of your story as the moment in time in which the story takes place. What is the history of your world? How has it influenced the “now” of the story? What defines life in this moment for your characters? Think about technology, society, fashion, etc.

Look at the world around you. How does it affect you? How would you perform your normal daily tasks 100 years ago? 100 years in the future?

Another way that you can consider this concept: New York in 2013 is a different place than New York in 2000, or 1983, or 1883. What are those differences?

Ask yourself these questions and determine what you need to know in order to truly define the “moment in which the story takes place”.

DETAILS RESEARCH: Now that you have handled the physical environment as well as the time period, you should now take a look at the little details that make a world special. It’s time to add those unique and memorable touches that will make your world stand out. These can be details such as props (weapons, personal effects, clothing/costuming, etc), set pieces or sub-locations, mythologies, and more. Anything that is specific to your world applies here. This is the free-for-all stage in your research, so have fun.

Think of the stories and worlds that you love, and use the details that made you adore them to inspire you to create your details.

START WRITING: Now you have a solid world concept that is supported by research and your creativity. It’s time to start writing that story.

About Tom:

Tom Lucas was born and raised in Detroit, and although currently enjoying the lack of snow and ice in Florida, remains a son of the post-industrial apocalypse.

Throughout his childhood, Tom found solace in comic books, Star Wars action figures, movies, cartoons, and video games.  His passion for media, as well as story, has carried him through his adult life.

Tom is the author of Leather to the Corinthians, a surreal dystopian satire, a college professor, blogger, poet, book reviewer, and spoken word performer.

When not writing, Tom likes to drive fast and take chances.

For more information visit: http://readtomlucas.com/
Connect with Tom on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TomLucasAuthor

Leather to the Corinthians: http://amzn.com/0988526107

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