Kristi is the author of OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS (Jan 13th, 2015, Simon and Schuster Canada/Pocket Books), an urban fantasy about a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world. She writes what she loves; adventure heavy stories featuring strong, savvy female protagonists, pop culture, and the occasional RPG fantasy game thrown in the mix. She’s also a co-host for the Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing Podcast.
The second installment in the Owl series, OWL AND THE CITY OF ANGELS, is scheduled for release Oct 5th 2015. Her second urban fantasy series, KINCAID STRANGE (Random House Canada), about a voodoo practitioner living in Seattle, is scheduled for release mid 2016.
Kristi is also a scientist with a BSc and MSc from Simon Fraser University in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and a PhD in Zoology from the University of British Columbia. Her specialties are genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology, all of which she draws upon in her writing. She is represented by Carolyn Forde at Westwood Creative Artists.
World building is one of those topics I often see floating around and it’s a hard one for authors to define, I think. Sci-Fi, urban fantasy, epic fantasy – they often require an author to build the world from scratch, taking things that are both familiar and completely foreign yet still make the reader suspend belief. It’s tricky. I completely understand why it’s a popular topic.
So how do we do it?
Quick answer: I have no idea. I just write the story and make the world fit with the characters and plot I want to tell.
Not the answer you wanted. Not the answer I wanted to give, but it was the most honest one. When I sit down to write, I’m not spending time trying to figure out the best way that a political structure or environment would work, or what kind of magic species might live there. I’m writing a story. About people (and often monsters) but mostly about people. The world for me is scenery, a backdrop for the characters to interact with. It helps move the plot along sometimes even providing a substantial plot point/conflict. But I’m not writing a novel around the scenery, I’m adding the scenery and world in where needed to tell a story. That doesn’t mean that other authors can’t do it the other way around. The only right way is to find out what works for you as a writer and your own writing style.
Now…disclaimers aside, I will do my best to give you something useful. Below are four things I always keep in mind whenever I find myself world building to keep the scenery from scuttling my story.
1. Different but recognizable: This is probably the most infuriating point about writing genre in general, but people like new things that are still familiar. Different and original, but it can’t be completely unrecognizable. Otherwise, where world building is concerned you’ve got to explain all of it. Also you need to know what your reader is expecting. If they are picking up an urban fantasy they’re probably expecting to see a world that is very familiar to ours with a few things changed. Likewise with an epic fantasy. Better be dragons in there and a few new continents. But even in those, you have to make sure people recognize that your giant hamster is a form of transport (a horse/camel)…and that leads to my next point…
2. Balance and believability are key: Magic, science, weather patterns, economies – keep your world balanced. Note that in our world we have apex predators but there aren’t a lot of them. There are way more herbivores. Why? Because someone needs to eat the plants, turn them into energy, so the carnivores can in turn eat them. The circle of life and energy conservation and expenditure. That’s not to say you can’t have world full of carnivores, just make sure you know why we don’t have only carnivores in our world and make sure you explain the logic somewhat- not necessarily to your reader, but to you as the writer. The quickest way to screw your believability is to screw up the balance – goes for character, plot, pacing, and world building too.
3. KISS- Keep it simple stupid: This is an old adage I used to hear back in my research days and it applies here just as much. Whenever we were giving a presentation on our research, we were always told to make sure we were running the conversation- meaning only bringing up the things that you as the researcher wanted to talk about, not adding in all sorts of facts to show how good a memorizer we were. The goal was to focus on the details and points that were important to my research story, not things that would derail the conversation onto a tangent that I really knew nothing about. The same goes for adding world elements to your writing. Don’t tell us everything there is to know about weather patterns on your six continents- especially if it has no relevance to the story whatsoever– But, if the weather plays a pivotal role in the plot than we need to know something about it…not everything mind you…but the parts that are important.
4. Know you’re calling a horse a nug: Last but not least…you don’t need a world full of fabbits and skrillexlopes. There’s fun to be had making a world where people ride giant blind hamsters like (looking at you, Bioware) but for all intensive purposes know what you’re writing is essentially filling the spot of a horse.
Obviously there is the cool visual factor. And no one, certainly not me, is saying you can’t do it. BUT, you don’t need to. Just because you’re writing a fantasy doesn’t mean you can’t just have them riding horses. Or camels. Or bears. Sometimes, to keep with the balance of the story and to keep from introducing too many new things, just calling them horses is a good idea. On the flip side, to keep with familiarity, you are more than welcome to take some animal- bird, fish, reptile, amphibian, and use it to base the biology of your dragons on. It can actually help ground your reader because those will make inherent sense and add a familiarity. We all know what frogs are like- they sing at night, lay their eggs in ponds, spend a while swimming around as tadpoles. Familiar. Interesting (Dragon frog anyone? I’d read that!), believable.
The point is you’re in charge of the world building- this is fantasy. There are very few rules with one exception. Make sure whatever you make will entertain your reader. If you manage that it doesn’t matter what rule you break!