Hello all! I’m thrilled and honored to be included in the Writers in the Storm Blog community. Since I write science fiction romance and urban fantasy romance, I thought we could discuss creating alternate worlds and world building, and the elements needed for “other-worldly” romances.
Building an Alternate World
There are a number of other-world scenarios:
1) A complete other world, not set on Earth. This could be science fiction, fantasy, dystopian, futuristic, basically any type of story. These stories would occur on other planets, in other galaxies, and so forth. A good example would be my science fiction romance books, the Shielder series. Also, Catherine Asaro’s Skolian Empire series and Linnea Sinclair’s SF romances are in settings other than Earth, as are many other SF and futuristic books.
2) A hidden world within our actual world. Many stories about witches, vampires, shape-shifters, faeries, etc., take place as secret societies on Earth that most humans don’t know exist. My urban fantasy romances, the Sentinel series, are an example. J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood books and J.R. Rain’s Samantha Moon books are two more examples.
3) Other-world societies coexisting on Earth with human societies. Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series, where the angels rule the humans; Kim Harrison’s books, where the supernaturals live apart from the humans; and the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, are good examples.
4) Stories set on Earth, but with scenarios that are not normal for our world as we know it. This could be time travel, or traveling between Earth and other planets, set in the future, or apocalyptic. Such stories could be classified as paranormal, science fiction, futuristic, dystopian, and more.
In creating your world, you can basically do whatever you want, but there are some requirements.
1) You need to create the rules and parameters of your world: Planet specifications (if applicable), types of people and creatures, their physical characteristics, their powers (and how those powers or any magic works), languages, society mores (how the characters mate, how they survive, how they deal with criminals, etc.), technology, weaponry, and many more details.
2) Most importantly, once you create your world, you must be completely consistent throughout your story. You should follow every rule you have established. If you need to deviate from that for any reason, then you should have a very plausible explanation.
I faced this challenge while writing the fifth Shielder book, Shadow Fires. The hero was a Leor, and the Leors were a fierce and savage race. The heroine, a Shielder, agreed to marry the hero, as part of a deal to save two Shielder colonies. Since I had introduced the Leors in previous books and established their culture, I was bound by those parameters, and found myself writing about situations that were unsettling and certainly wouldn’t be my reading preference. Yet I had to be true to the world and the story. Shadow Fires was the hardest book I’ve ever written. It also received a RITA nomination! I believe that was in part because the story was real and honest, based on the world I had created.
You have to be consistent in your world.
Two reference books that I have used and recommend are oldies but goodies:
- How to write SF & Fantasy by Scott Orson Card
- World-Building (A writer’s guide to constructing star systems and life-supporting planets) by Stephen L. Gillett
There are many more good books out there that can be helpful for world building.
Writing Your Paranormal, Science Fiction, or Fantasy Romance
While there can be substantial differences in your worlds and societies from normal settings on Earth, the rules for the actual story are the same as they are for all stories. Good writing is good writing is good writing.
No matter what the world, your story should have the following elements:
1) Strong, believable characters. Your main characters should each have goals, motivations, and conflicts that drive both the characters and the story. They need to be fully fleshed-out characters with whom the reader can identify, for good or bad. Debra Dixon’s book, GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict (The Building Blocks of Good Fiction) is one of the gold standards for GMC.
2) You need a strong, believable, and logical plot to drive the story. Contrivances have no place here. Going back to GMC above, find ways to motivate the events that happen in the story. Make them a natural outgrowth of your characters’ motivations and actions, or those of your societies. You can write almost anything if you motivate it properly, and the reader will go right along with you.
3) Emotion. You must engage the reader and make him or her care about the characters and what happens to them. Since we’re discussing romance, and most romances are character-driven, if you’re writing romance, the relationship(s) should be front and center in the story. Even in plot-driven stories, it’s essential that the reader relates to the characters and cares about the outcome.
4) Employ what I call “Quad D”: Details, Description, Dialogue, and Development (story and characters). There will be more about this in my weekly writing tips (see below).
To sum it up:
Build your world and populate it with your characters, stick like glue to the rules of your world, and then write your story like every other well-written story, no matter the setting or the time period or the world. Good story telling transcends all genres.
Thanks for having me on the blog!
Do you enjoy world building, or find it challenging? Do you think world building differs between genres or remains pretty much the same? Any questions you'd like to ask Catherine?
Catherine Spangler is a national bestselling and award winning author of the Sentinel series (urban fantasy romance) and the Shielder series (science fiction romance). She is a two-time Golden Heart finalist and a RITA finalist and has received numerous other awards and honorable mentions.
She is an active member of Romance Writers of America and her local chapter, Dallas Area Romance Authors. A frequent speaker at writers’ groups and conferences, she has taught workshops on the creative process, writing techniques, writing paranormal romance, and goal setting.
Catherine lives in north Texas with her husband and a menagerie of critters. She loves reading, taking naps on the sofa with a good football game for background noise, eating chocolate, and playing poker.