GtPGKogPYT4p61R1biicqBXsUzo" /> Google+ Speculative Fiction Author Mur Lafferty: Worldbuilding: Panster vs. Gardner | I Smell Sheep

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Speculative Fiction Author Mur Lafferty: Worldbuilding: Panster vs. Gardner

People often are frightened over worldbuilding for a series. It is a daunting task already handed to SFF writers, to make a completely new world (or give a whole bunch of new aspects to our own), and when you have to keep the world fresh book after book, it can be overwhelming. But you must remember: no world is complete after book one (…if you’re doing a series, anyway. You one-shot authors are on your own.)

I thought when I started to write a series that outliners (or “architects”) are better equipped for the job. This kind of writing lends itself to planning. Lots of planning. We will know why a certain kind of people do things a certain way and even if our entire plan doesn’t end up in the book (it shouldn’t, actually), we will know it’s there, which will make the writing stronger.

I am so jealous of this luxury. I know there are outliners out there telling me (and other ‘pantsers’ or, to put it kindlier, ‘gardeners’) that their job is hard because they need to have the book in place before they get started.

We know it’s hard. It’s so hard we can’t do it.

But one thing I’ve discovered in writing the Midsolar Murders series is that those of us who literally don’t know what’s in the next chapter until we’re done with the current chapter can also have some interesting worldbuilding options.

We used to be called “pantsers” because we wrote “by the seat of our pants” which, if you think about it, is a very weird statement. But I’m not here to talk about the origin of strange sayings. The point is that we just write whatever comes to our head. Which sounds like hell when you think of planning out a series of books; we can’t just write whatever comes to our head for hundreds of thousands of pages. We have to have some kind of consistency! But I have found solace when using the more up to date term I mentioned above, “gardener,” in which the writer plants plot seeds and see what grows.

When it comes to worldbuilding, gardeners have so much fun.

The key to gardening is to drop a million tiny hints. Just little asides here and there. If they never come to anything, then they don’t stand out as dangling plot threads. But later, if you need something, you can search through your planted ideas and see which one would fit. Then you feel very clever.

For example, I had a story where a character casually mentioned that her uncle was a lawyer. I don’t even remember the context, but I do remember that when I was planning out a sequel, I thought, “hey, there’s an uncle out there. What can I do with him?”

In SFF, when you’re creating a race of creatures or are building new communities, making alien races, or making new magical laws, you want to avoid absolutes. Instead of saying “these people never celebrate holidays” or “that religion was confined only to this one town,” you say instead that, “They don’t celebrate any holidays that I know of” or “I haven’t heard of anyone believing in that religion outside of that town.” Phrasing like this leaves little doors propped open. If no one ever celebrates National Potato Week in your book, then you’re covered. But two books later, you can have a character come across a monk running a Feast of the Woven God ritual and sees that everyone is freaking out about it. This leaves yourself room. If a religion or illness or language was confined to only one town, if that town gets wiped out, then you have a slight door open if you mentioned that no one was known to do X outside of that one town.

Using dialogue to bring in exposition is great here because characters are fallible while third person narrators are trusted. A character that says, “He always talked about being an only child” will leave room for a long-lost sibling later on. Having a bigoted person angrily state an absolute makes people think that the statement is more of an opinion than a fact, and leaves all kinds of outlets to prove them wrong.

Having absolutes can get you into trouble as the series goes on when some people may follow one of your worldbuilding rules to a logical conclusion you didn’t think about. (I’m not here to put down authors whose work I will never match, but some authors have created worlds with gendered absolutes and didn’t take into account how queer people fit in to the world, and when questioned, they kept making more and more exclusionary rules until their world didn’t make sense at all. And their readers were pretty angry.)

Are all elders at this church women? Or is there a rule that the elders must be women that many have broken in the past? Or does a history revisionist claim that all elders have been women? See how these slight modifications leave avenues for more worldbuilding?

Things as simple as mentioning relatives that haven’t been in the story yet, or missing years in the history books, or a part of a magical creature’s life cycle that no one has ever witnessed, or even something as simple as “no one knows how X does Y” allows the story to go on and raising a question that you may or may not choose to answer in the future.

(For the record, writing a speculative fiction story with nothing but, “We don’t know how X does Y” is not recommended. You have to make some decisions.)

I recommend making notes, and remembering when you’ve left something open, mark little hints that readers may never see, but you know are there. And if you didn’t put any in, or you’re an outliner who feels left out of this piece, you can always throw in a few asides while editing.

Chaos Terminal (The Midsolar Murders)

by Mur Laffert
November 7, 2023
Genre: Space Operas, Amateur Sleuths, Science Fiction Adventures
384 pages
Mallory Viridian would rather not be an amateur detective, and fled to outer space to avoid it…but when one of the new human arrivals on a space shuttle is murdered, she’s back in the game.

Mallory Viridian would rather not be an amateur detective, thank you very much. But no matter what she does, people persist in dying around her—and only she seems to be able to solve the crime. After fleeing to an alien space station in hopes that the lack of humans would stop the murders, a serial killer had the nerve to follow her to Station Eternity. (Mallory deduced who the true culprit was that time, too.)

Now the law enforcement agent who hounded Mallory on Earth has come to Station Eternity, along with her teenage crush and his sister, Mallory’s best friend from high school. Mallory doesn’t believe in coincidences, and so she’s not at all surprised when someone in the latest shuttle from Earth is murdered. It’s the story of her life, after all.

Only this time she has more than a killer to deal with. Between her fugitive friends, a new threat arising from the Sundry hivemind, and the alarmingly peculiar behavior of the sentient space station they all call home, even Mallory’s deductive abilities are strained. If she can’t find out what’s going on (and fast), a disaster of intergalactic proportions may occur.…
Praise for the Midsolar Murders by Mur Lafferty

“A super entertaining read with great character development, neat aliens, and an engaging plot.”

“Station Eternity balances both the science fiction elements--meeting aliens, understanding how to work with them—and the mystery elements very evenly; it genuinely works as both genres (and works best as both). I'm already looking forward to however many more of these stories we get, because it was just so much fun.”
—Locus magazine

"A clever and suspenseful sci-fi mystery, with intriguing characters and attentive worldbuilding. ”
—Library Journal (starred review)

“The Midsolar Murders series starter offers fascinating world building, a complex mystery, a devious espionage plot, and delightful interactions with a multitude of alien species that fans of science fiction and compelling mysteries will savor while they anticipate the next installment.”
—Booklist (starred review)


Book one

About the Author
Mur Lafferty is an author and podcaster from Durham, NC. She made her name with podcasting (I Should Be Writing, Ditch Diggers, and Escape Pod) and has written for magazines, roleplaying games, and audio and video podcasts.

She's the author of Station Eternity, The Ophelia Network, Solo: A Star Wars Story, I Should Be Writing, Six Wakes, The Shambling Guides, and part of the team that writes Bookburners.

She has been nominated for many awards, and even won a few.

No comments:

Post a Comment