World Building is a critical and sometimes challenging aspect in writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. The material and social worlds through which a story moves provide essential context, with potential to fascinate and intrigue the reader as much as the plot and the characters.
As a New Zealand writer, with most of my novels set in the Waikato for at least parts of the story, but writing for an international readership, there is an immediate challenge around describing various landscapes and seascapes, towns and cities. Most English-speaking readers will automatically have a huge range of impressions to draw on if a story is based in London, New York, Los Angeles, even the Australian outback, but Hamilton, Raglan, Ruapuke, not likely.
To us in New Zealand, it’s surprising how many people in the Northern Hemisphere will think the New Zealand writer has made a mistake in describing December as a summer month. So, the quality of the air, the aroma of manuka trees, the variety of house colour and architectural style in the same 1960’s/70’s suburban street – details such as these need to be woven into the script without falling into boring and obvious ‘information dumps’. Unlike the main character in London or New York, the story based in New Zealand is less likely to be able to start ‘Fred was having a normal day at home in Wellington, Taupo, Dunedin’ without a fair bit of descriptive embellishment – even though most of these places will evoke a range of sensory impressions for we who live in New Zealand.
The New Zealand writer likely has to pay more attention than most to weaving the world-building into the narrative, along with the introduction of characters and initial premise of the plot. There are a few ways of making this easy and engaging – such as introducing the story with someone who is new to New Zealand on a search for something here, or a New Zealander, having lived a long time in London or New York, returning to this country and having a nostalgic walk through their old home town, perhaps looking for someone or something or on some sort of mission. They might especially notice that the sun tracks anti-clockwise through the sky or some such to alert the Northern Hemisphere reader that there may be ‘differences’ to look out for.
In ‘Where-Stand-All: episodes in the foundation of Hodrin civilization’ by Farrold Saxon, I present an alien world with no human characters, where the alien, ‘Hodrin’ folk have different physical and mental characteristics to humans. In some ways, this presented a nicely blank canvas for world building, including providing description of how these aliens look and function, biologically and socially. It also created a requirement for substantial world building compared with a story with human characters inhabiting spaces for human characters.
To make it more difficult for myself, the female Hodrin have facility for language and rational, problem-solving, but the males don’t. Instead, the males have facility for wordless telepathy with one-another and occasional foreseeing. How the females and males co-exist and indeed build a civilization is one of the central contexts and plot themes of the story.
I’ve self-published ‘Where-Stand-All’ November this year, 2020. It’s presented as an epic alien folk history, written by a Hodrin academic. It’s a slow-burner to begin with. It’s polarizing – readers are either thrilled or disinterested. I have been told it’s in the ‘Cultural Anthropology’ genre as well as Science Fiction. It’s available on Amazon and Kindle. You can decide if it’s of interest to you from the ‘Look Inside’ excerpt. Maybe take a look with a view to assessing the approach to world building.