I continue from last week, where I was running through my own creative process in developing the characters, and along the way the worlds, which make up my series, The Arbiter Chronicles. As explain last week, I work by asking myself a lot of questions, and answering them allows me to develop my story.
Question: What kind of society makes it strange to have a relationship with your parents?
With this question, framed about the character Kaya, I move off earth and create the character that’s going to be both a romantic interest and a different kind of foil for my hero. This is a very smart, capable woman for whom Terry Metcalfe will fall hard. And, because I wanted that element of old, pulpy space-opera, she’s going to be the Captain’s daughter. But she has to be a misfit to be part of my team. She’s smart, she’s rich, she’s beautiful. What’s wrong with her? Her people think she’s weird because she has a man she recognizes as her father.
Wait, every human has a father and a mother. What kind of world is she from that it’s weird that she knows hers?
Last time I talked about world-building, and how I think it’s properly accomplished by starting with your lead characters and building the world that they need to live in, the world that would have produced somebody like them. (Of course, it’s important to point out that the world we grow up in is only one factor in the person we actually become. “Nature or Nurture” is an old question, and I agree with L. Neill Smith’s answer–ultimately it is each one of us, not external factors, who determine who we are. But there’s no denying that place changes us.)
So this week, I want to start showing you how I used my own method to create worlds for my most successful series, a space opera called The Arbiter Chronicles.
The Arbiter Chronicles is a teen-angst story about outcasts. When I started, I knew I wanted a cast of five young characters, mostly from different worlds. I made them each different and therefore rejected by most of the people around them. Why did I do that? Because, above all, you’ve got to write what you know. You may be writing about worlds that don’t exist, where people have powers no human could ever have, but, at some level, you’ve got to write what you know. I started creating the Arbiters when I was a freshman in college. At that point, what I knew best was what it was like to be a high school geek. So I made my characters young misfits in space.
This is a distillation of a workshop I taught at the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group conference, “The Write Stuff,” a couple of weeks ago. It’ll probably be a three-part series. Hope it’s of interest!
Frequently, when I talk to new writers, especially in the fantasy field, I hear things like, “Well, I’ve been working on a novel for ten years.”
“Oh,” I say, “what’s it about?”
“Well,” they say, “I’m still building the world.”
“Who are the characters?” I ask.
“Well, there are these guys who wear blue hats, and they’ve been fighting a war for 500 years with the guys who wear red hats.”
“So is your story about a red hat, a blue hat, or a couple of each?” “Well, I’m still building the world…”
Yeah. Like that.