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Creating a World

By Susan A.J. Lyttek

One thing I love about writing speculative fiction is the opportunity to imitate my God and create worlds. There are entire books written about how to design your universe. Obviously, I cannot going that far in a blog post. Even so, I will include some basic pointers on the process.

  • Anchor it in reality. Unlike our Creator who can take a blank slate and make beauty, we can only reuse what He made to begin with. For instance, my fairy tale world for work in-progress Hortense Maigret is loosely based on old Europe. It has larger kingdoms interspersed with tiny princedoms, duchies, and contested areas. It has dark forests, daunting mountains, and quaint villages. The world of Telba, the home to the Dinosaur Window Club, has its roots in the U.S. Southwest. The desert in this set of stories almost acts as another character.
  • Adhere to a set of rules. When I created the world of Ya for my first completed (and yet unpublished) novel and gave it two suns, I gave it equally turbulent weather for whenever the smaller sun came too close to the planet’s orbit. Scientifically, a planet with a rogue sun would have harsh weather—if it were capable of sustaining life at all. In the fairy tale world mentioned above, all the fairy tale characters stay true to their stories and established fictional abilities—with a few twists.
  • Use visuals. When I wrote “Habit Forming”, a sci-fi short story, I looked at an office building to enable me to describe a world of strict lines and lots of metal. This helped me make the descriptions of the buildings and endless conformity necessary for the story. Working on Mapmaker, I use online paintings of medieval Italy in order to capture the texture and setting of the time. I also have several re-created maps of towns (such as Florence) and estates that my hero would encounter so that I know about how long it takes him to walk from a to b.
  • Create your own maps. I hand draw maps for most of my fantasy worlds. It helps to have all the countries and/or landmarks laid out on paper. Then when a character walks south, for instance, I know what he will run into and about how long it will take him to get there. For areas that need more detail, draw an up-close map. You know how the major cities will have more detailed presentation of streets and attractions? Do that for the places your character spends a lot of time in. You don’t want to say he turns a corner and runs into the bakery when fifty pages earlier he ran into the butcher shop in that spot.
  • Consistency, consistency, consistency. This is especially necessary in spec fiction worlds. So if the world has magic, it will always have magic at some level. If magic is not in the equation, you can’t just introduce it so the character can save the day. If supernatural activity is limited to eternal beings, a mortal can’t suddenly call down lightning to scare an enemy. Of course, if that character thinks he or she is mortal and isn’t, that would work and also act as a great plot twist.

This is just a basic framework for creating your fictional world(s). Have fun imitating our Creator!

Susan A. J. Lyttek, author of four novels, award-winning writer, blogger, wife and mother to two homeschool graduates, writes in time snippets and in colorful notebooks. She also enjoys training up the next generation of writers by coaching 6th to 12th grade homeschool students.

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