Thursday, March 6, 2014

World building: Painting on a big blue marble

There's a lively debate going on when extraneous world building crosses the line. For a lot of writers, the process of creating the world is trial and error. So it's not clear in the first draft what's an additional details that you'll eventually have to cut. And when do those snippets go from from being a safety net to mentally chasing your tail.

The wildly imaginative and wildly talented China MiĆ©ville has said that you should only come up with details that enhance your story (though his earlier breakout, Perdido Street Station, went past that bar a couple of times) and that if you find yourself creating a whole separate novel as a gazetteer, then perhaps that’s more your thing.

Zelazny  and his Chronicles of Amber were a big influence during my college days. Even though he wrote in a tight, noir style, he created universes made from scratch. Sometimes those details became relevant to the plot and other times it was just create a sense of how varied the multiverse can be.

Zelazny’s worlds felt lived in yet, I get a vibe that Zelazny did a lot of world building by the seat of his pants. I’m sure that a lot more world building got left on the cutting room floor, but there are still plenty of back story hinted that made one feel as if Amber had existed before you opened the book and that it would still be there even after you finished the story. He had no fear in putting things that turned out to be red herrings and  intriguing back stories.

Of course, he wrote his books in a different time. With every thing living forever on the Internets, where fans can comb and cross reference every bit, I think that stifles authors a bit these days and some might fear that every bit and bobble has to be accounted for.

A pitch perfect example of this has been Star Trek. Twice the creative teams felt that they needed an out (Temporal Cold Wars and Alternate Realities) to "reset" over 40 years of canon to get the elbow room to tell new stories to both old -- and new -- fans. 

I'm pretty sure that a lot of fans disagree with that, but when it happens twice, what does that say? Sure there are fan-creators out there who mine the old material to make some great amateur films that have set a new bar, but those aren't coming out at real pace to match a TV show. And in the end, they only have to please themselves.

And that's usually the fan I identify with more, not the type to nitpick on the details, but to use their own imagination to fill in the gaps with their own stories. That's the place where fan fiction and fan art began in that time when it took months to wait for the next book or movie. A time where if we wanted more and couldn't wait, we made it up as we went along. 

I don't mind admitting it, that's where I started too.

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