4 Rules for Assembling a Planet

Millions of my fans well remember when I first posted back on February 24, 2013 about assembling a planet. That seminal blog post dominated the news and captivated the world (our world, the real Earth, I mean).

Why revisit the topic, then? Has the process of world-building changed? Well, some links in that previous post don’t work, and it’s time for an update with some better information.

Pixabay.com, image #1275774

 

 

Here you are, ready to write a story set in a world different from ours, and you want to know how to do it. Or you’re partway through writing the story already, things aren’t working out, and you want to know where you went wrong.

You can get good information from reading the Wikipedia article on world-building. Roz Morris’ post on the topic encapsulates her advice into three rules. Ruthanne Reid posted a fine article discussing approaches to world-building. What follows is my view of the topic, but you should review these other sources, too.

Here are my four rules for creating a world for your story:

  1. Think through the consequences. You’ve thought of some interesting and original ways that your world is different from the real one…great. But have you thought through the ramifications? Think of Frank Herbert’s Dune and Arrakis, the desert world. Herbert thought through the implications of that type of climate on people’s behavior, clothing, lifestyle, and other animal life.
  2. Set limits on your magic or technology. Sure, it’s fun to imagine a world of amazing magic or super-advanced technologies. But add some constraints. If your protagonist is some all-powerful wizard, then she or he could simply wave a wand and resolve the conflict in the opening scene. Story over.
  3. Make your world clear to readers. Authors who set their stories in the real world have it relatively easy. They can assume readers understand the rules and norms. They needn’t spend many sentences describing the Earth we know. You don’t have that luxury. You’ll need enough (but not too much!) descriptive text to transport readers to your world.
  4. Be consistent. Sure, you’re thinking, you’ll remember the rules of your world as you’re writing your story. I wouldn’t add this as one of my rules if it were that easy. For some reason, there’s a tendency to forget and slip back into our own world.

Armed with my rules, you should now be ready to get out there and build your own world. It’s freely provided services such as this that makes millions around the world (the real one, our Earth) thrill to the mere mention of the name of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

How to Assemble a Planet

Oh, did you really think you could surf to this blog entry and learn how to design and construct an entire planet?  Well, okay, you were right.  So long as you’re expecting a how-to about fictional planets.

transparent-planetAuthors call this ‘world-building’ and they sometimes use the term ‘world’ in a different sense than the term ‘planet.’  In fiction, the world is not just the physical planet, but its inhabitants, their culture, and their environment too.

In most fiction, it’s not necessary to build a world, since the authors use the present-day (or historical) world we already inhabit.  They can assume readers are familiar with Planet Earth.  Such authors are free to focus on key aspects of Earth that are relevant to their story, to paint a biased picture of our world as seen by the author or one (or more) characters.

But in fantasy fiction or science fiction, it’s often interesting and fun to imagine and create very different worlds from Earth, or a very changed Earth.

Memorable, classic, examples of world-building include (1) Middle Earth from J.R.R. Tolkien’s books including The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, (2) the planet Arrakis from Frank Herbert’s novel Dune and its sequels, and (3) the strangely-shaped structure of Larry Niven’s novel Ringworld.

If you set out to build a world for your fiction story, what things might you consider?  A partial list includes the particular laws of physics, the solar system, the planet’s size and gravity, configuration of solids and liquids internally and on the surface, the atmosphere, geography, climate, plants, animals, and sentient creatures.  If your world has sentient creatures, then you could consider such things as cultures, languages, religion, art, education, economics, government, law, traditions, taboos, and technology.

Although Wikipedia has an interesting article on World-building, there are two other sites that I found more beneficial:  this one, and this one.  The latter site is run by Melanie Simet, who has come up with four cardinal rules of world-building that I really like, starting with zero:

0.  Be Original.

1.  Don’t distract your reader.

2.  Make your world coherent.

3.  Know at least one level of detail deeper than you need to.

She explains these in more depth on her website, so I won’t repeat those details here.  I would like to emphasize Rule 1, though.  It can be a temptation to get so involved with world-building that you forget it’s just a setting.  Stories are about characters dealing with problems, so don’t give your readers a documentary.

I’m sure this world-building is starting to sound like an awful lot of work, when all you set out to do was write a story.  It can be involved, but it needn’t consume you if you keep Simet’s cardinal rules in mind as you go.  If you write short stories, like me, you don’t have as much need for comprehensive world-building as a novelist would, unless you’re planning a long series of stories set on the same world.

That’s a glimpse at the basics of world-building.  Have fun.  Make your world an interesting one to read about.  Enjoy your taste of God-like power.  If this blog entry has inspired you, and you end up selling your story set in a fascinating new world, please let me know.  Your world could well be visited by—

                                                       Poseidon’s Scribe

February 24, 2013Permalink