World Building

18 Dec

“World Building” is a term often used in relation to imaginative fiction. It’s been employed especially with regard to science fiction and fantasy, genres within which entire universes are sometimes created. That’s precisely the enterprise I’ve been engaged in these last several years. I really have no idea how you’d characterise my work-in-progress. I eschew genre with all of its commercial implications. But there’s a heavy element of alternative history involved, posing the “what if?” question. How might the world look if some key event had turned out differently? And I’m forced to acknowledge, there are facets of sci-fi and the fantastic in there too. 

Part of the creative process for me involves taking world building literally. A child playing by himself in the attic of a villa is an important strand in the narrative. He’s making an imaginary world of his own out of Lego-like plastic bricks. One of the items we see him build is an ambulance. Since “the instructions” for its construction are included in a footnote, I had first to make that model vehicle for myself. And so a raid on my children’s toy boxes proved necessary, with the results seen below…  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“You will need fourteen 2×8 and three 2×2 blocks for the base, roof and grille; two 1×4, twelve 1×3 and four 1×2 blocks for the sides; one 2×4 and one 2×2 block for the windscreen; one 2×4 and two 1×2 slopes for the roof front; one 1×4 door.  Detail may be added using two blue 1×1 blocks for the roof-mounted flashing lights, two yellow 1×1 ones for the headlamps and two red for the rear light cluster.”

A key aspect of this imaginary world, then, is the suburban villa and its roof-space. First I had to draw it, to crystallise for myself what it was that I’d imagined then to convey this believably to the reader. It’s inspired by the attic of a former workplace, but I still needed to perform a graphic walk-through to give the description credence. 

attic-map

A mythical country and its cities also form part of the context of the book, necessitating my immersion into the craft of mythocartography (is that a word? – oh, well, I suppose it is now). I’m as yet undecided whether to include versions of the maps in the finished artefact. Opinion among those who’ve seen the manuscript under development remains divided. One thing’s certain, though – I couldn’t possibly have navigated my way around that imaginary space without having sketched it out physically first. And how could it appear real to the reader if I hadn’t done so? 

map-fine-detail-3-copy

Mythocartography – a sneak preview

Working with other fiction writers, I’ve found that the worlds they’re building are at their least believable when they haven’t fully imagined them for themselves. For me, then, the lengthy processes indicated comprise one way of achieving greater authenticity. After all, if you haven’t fully imagined the world that you’re describing, how can you expect the reader to? A short extract follows, combining the child’s world with that of an imaginary city.

Those who’ve left the city-in-transit are not permitted to return.  The same held true for the capital during the era of the People’s Semi-autonomous Republic.  For all that, you could still exit and re-enter the city by means of a secret labyrinth.  At least, you could imagine doing so if you happened to be a small child.  Starting out from the top of the stairwell, you might enter the large storage cupboard occupied by various items of janitorial equipment – vacuum cleaners, mops and buckets, carpet sweepers, step ladders – and make your way to the back where a hatch opened on to the dumb waiter mechanism.  Crawling through this restricted space, you emerged into the attic above the tower.  You crossed the floor to the other side of the attic then squeezed through the door into the roof void above the extension, dragging yourself along the rafters to a further door that opened into another cupboard on the west-facing wall of the north wing.  It smelt of brick dust and rodents.  From there, you could re-emerge, slightly to the south of the city, covered in dust, soot and cobwebs, displaying scuffs on your shoes and trousers.  You’d have some explaining to do. 

All text and images © PSR 2016

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2 Responses to “World Building”

  1. Mari Biella December 20, 2016 at 10:07 am #

    And a very intriguing world it seems to be, too! I’m looking forward to reading more…

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