Monday, June 8, 2009

Guest Blogger - Maura Anderson

Today our guest blogger from MLR Press is Maura Anderson, putting on her editor's hat to share some points about world building in one of her favorite genres: Science Fiction and Fantasy
Hi everyone! I'm thrilled to be guest blogging on The Sweet Flag. My name is Maura Anderson and I'm both an author and an editor and work in many different romance and fiction genres.

Today I wanted to give you all some insight into what I look for and at when I edit science fiction and fantasy, specifically m/m science fiction and fantasy. After a bit of thought, I figured I'd set out my list of the top seven things NOT to do instead of telling you what to do. Because science fiction and fantasy have such a huge arena to play in, the To Do list might be really huge!

Do NOT skimp on world building.

If you don't know your world well and have rules set out for how it works, it's far too easy to either cheat the reader on the richness they would expect from a fully developed world or create problems you later need to resolve or apologize for. Even if 90% of the details of your world and its history never made it into a book, you won't go wrong by knowing that information yourself.

Do NOT limit yourself to the societal rules and values of today.

If you are building a world for your science fiction or fantasy story, don't feel you have to take today's societal rules as the rules for your world. If gay relationships are the norm in your world, treat them as so. If gay relationships are forbidden, treat them as such too. Maybe things that are crimes to humans now are sanctioned in your world. You can add richness and interest by changing societal rules and values.

Do NOT lose consistency.

The rules of your world need to be consistent and kept so if the reader is to understand and believe them. If you are inconsistent, your readers will question every rule and it will pull them out of the story.

Do NOT use modern slang without good reason

Nothing pulls me out of a science fiction or fantasy story faster than hearing a modern slang phrase tossed in when it clearly does not fit in the world. If a society has no concept of the Judeo-Christian theory of Hell and someone says "go to Hell", I'm going to be pulled out of the story and the world.

Do NOT forget logic

When you build a world, it should be internally logical. That means that if red is the color of the Gods, you wouldn't later refer to a mark of adultery as a scarlet letter. If the reader can't follow the logic of the world, they will start to only see chaos and stop trying to follow it. Or complain about it.

Do NOT skimp on description

This is especially true in science fiction and fantasy where the author can't take advantage of the fact most people are familiar with the current world and can merely emphasize differences. A richness of description and setting up the world will draw the reader in and make them love stepping away from their real life.

Do NOT substitute a rich world for rich characters

With as much emphasis as there is on world building in science fiction and fantasy, don't ever forget your characters. You still have to have characters the reader will fall in love with and care about in order for them to stay interested in the story. Even the best world ever can be tossed aside if the characters aren't strong.

That's my current list of "do NOT" items. I hope it gives you some things to think about when writing or reading your next science fiction or fantasy story!

If you'd like to see some of my work, feel free to visit my website at http:\\


Sharyn Tregarth said...

I love the second "Do Not". Nothing irks me more than the modern slang in a setting that has no concept of it. Too many people forget that, not just writers, but even in the movie business.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Maura Anderson said...

Thanks, Sharyn!

I hate that particular one too. It uses causes large comments on edits questioning how the author thinks this fits in their world! LOL

H said...

As a reader of SF/SFF, I think the world-building always shows through - some stories are so rich and deep, I'd be as happy to read about the world and the "ordinary" characters, as the protagonists and their challenge/issue/plight. :)
It is as if the story has an extra dimension that doesn't need to be laid out in front of one in order to be sensed.
(But then, I always turn to the glossary/maps/list of characters as soon as I open a book. *g*).

Maura Anderson said...

Thanks, H!

That's a great vote for world-building!

Jeanne said...

What makes this post even more interesting is that the world building needn't only be in a scifi/fantasy setting.
When I wrote my gay historical set in 1889s eastern Europe in a Yiddish Theater troupe, I had to make sure that that world followed all the rules that Maura set down. Even to the language that might as well have been in Klingon!

Maura Anderson said...

LOL - I always thought Yiddish sounded a bit like Klingon!


Jeanne said...

Maura -
LOL - I always thought Yiddish sounded a bit like Klingon!
Oh, heck it does! Even the *music* they used to sing on the shows and such sounded a bit Yiddish/Russian.

K. Z. Snow said...

Excellent advice, Maura. "Getting it right" can be a very complicated song and dance. I still feel intimidated by the process!

Another wonderful guest blog, Jeanne.

Jeanne said...

Thanks, KZ