World Building

I was surprised recently to read that of all the writing genres, Fantasy required the most structure. But as I thought about it, it makes sense. You are asking the reader to suspend disbelief, but in order to do that, you have to establish rules for your own created universe, and then stick by them. If you make rules and then break them, you have betrayed your social–or literary–contract with your reader, and they are under no obligation to stick with you or your story.

The most non-structured story? The one set in modern day with ordinary people. As I tell my students, use ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, or else use extraordinary people in ordinary circumstances. If both are ordinary, the story is boring. If both are extraordinary, the reader won’t belief it.

But I find myself continuing work on my Pilgrim’s Progress reprise, set in post-apocalyptic America. I’ve finished the rough draft up to chapter 5, and am ready to continue. But I find myself challenged with something ever fantasy writer has had to deal with.

World building.

What I mean is what I discussed earlier. I have to set the rules for this universe where the story is taking place. In this situation, war has ravaged the United States of America. Two girls wake up after drug-induced amnesia, two years after the war has started. It has included an EMP burst over the eastern seaboard, selective nuclear strikes, and anthrax attacks. This was followed by an invasion by an Asian Coalition.

As the girls wake up, they are somewhere in Tennessee, and have the task of making it to a place in the far West called Camp Zion. They deal with enemy soldiers, deranged criminals called “demons,” and even their own troops. Civilization, for the most part, is gone.

What’s tricky in this situation is to be creative when you, as the writer, envision the world. There’s a natural tendency to fall back on and use ideas that you have read or seen somewhere. I catch myself constantly trying to recycle someone else’s ideas. If you go this route, the best thing to do is to synthesize ideas from several sources into a palatable whole.

But what’s even better is to look at history for inspiration. What would life be like in a situation like this? We don’t really know, but we can guess. And we base that on what we have seen in the past.

In any case, I find myself struggling to continue the story until I get a proper grasp on the world in which this is happening. In Rough Writers, our student creative writing group here on campus, there are a couple of young writers who are exceptionally good at world building. Maybe I will try to get counsel from them.

In the meantime, as usual, I am open to suggestions from you.