Jade Kerrion unites cutting-edge science and bioethics with fast-paced action in her novel, Perfection Unleashed. The novel, “a breakout piece of science fiction,” is a Royal Palm Literary Award 2011 winner and a Next Generation Indie Book Award 2012 finalist. Get your copy at Amazon.com.
The author is also holding a Rafflecopter giveaway from now through Sept. 21 for 2 $25 Amazon gift ceritificates, just for Facebook liking and Twitter following her.
One of the early questions Fantasy and Science Fiction authors wrestle with is “do I build or borrow?” Should you build a brand new world for your characters to play in, or should you just turn them loose on Earth?
For some authors, the answers are easier than for others. If you’re writing urban fantasy, Earth offers you thousands of cities and hundreds of thousands of suburbs in which your characters can live, love, play, and create mayhem. If you’re writing space opera, you have to, by definition, leave the comfort and gravitational field of Earth far behind.
For others, answers are much less clear. It comes down to how much creative energy you want to expend on world creation. All authors expend energy on world creation, even those who write non-fiction novels about the neighbors and the strange sounds emanating from their house. The question here isn’t whether you do it, but how much of it do you want to do?
In Perfection Unleashed, I set my characters down on present-day Earth. Why? I preferred to invest my creative energy on defining the different classes of mutant powers and articulating the social structure between humans and their derivatives (the clones, in-vitros, and mutants) rather than on deciding how much time it would take to get from New York City to Washington, D.C.
The former is obviously important, since it’s a critical piece of my world creation. But why does the latter matter? What could be more trivial than how long it takes to get from New York City to Washington, D.C.?
The answer is simply because details matter. I’ve read novels that failed to ground the reader in time and place, novels that left me perplexed as to distances between two key locations. Those novels were, almost without exception, set in fictional worlds that didn’t provide maps. Maps are sometimes overkill (and in my case, they only highlight the fact that I failed art in eighth grade), but they do serve an important purpose. They convince the reader that the author has really thought about the fact that it takes time to cover physical distance, whether you’re traveling by donkey’s back or spaceship.
To create compelling fictional worlds, we need to convince our readers, like birds following a trail of breadcrumbs, to accept one “fact,” and then another, until they’re nodding along with all the “facts” we offer them, trapped and enthralled by the worlds we create. Authors can do this with any world, built or borrowed, but I’ve often thought it easier to start with “facts” that are really facts—like the ninety minutes by plane between New York City and Washington, D.C.
Furthermore, as a reader, I take a special thrill in comparing alternate versions of Earth to the world we know today. One such world is the one created by Jacqueline Carey in her Kushiel’s Legacy series. Her world spins off from our world approximately after the birth of Christ, and is set in the nation of Terre d’Ange, a fictional version of France. I loved reading about her fictional countries and thinking, “Ah…that’s China and India, and that city, La Serenissima, is supposed to be Venice.” The blending of her world into the structural foundations of Earth made Kushiel’s Legacy a fascinating read. I was heavily invested in her world, not only because of her characters and her story (which were incredible) but also because she was talking about my world—a world I already understood. It’s still escapism, but the landscape is comfortably familiar.
But what if Earth is just too limiting? Then, by all means, it’s time to build as opposed to borrow. The trick, I’ve found, is deciding what to change. Flora and fauna are usually the first targets. The laws of physics are usually the last to go. My rule of thumb: change it only if it matters to the story. Otherwise you are increasing the readers’ cognitive load without reaping the benefits of increased immersion in the world you’re creating.
A related question is should authors invent new languages? The impact of language on our minds is profound. Languages shape the way we think and consequently, how well we are able to do certain things. The creation of a new language in speculative fiction is interesting, but I think it is dicey. I once read a novel where the Orc language and its translation was critical to the storyline. Yes, it mattered to the story, but I was mentally exhausted by the consonant-heavy, unintelligible text and started glossing over it.
What are some of the guidelines you use to decide whether to “build or borrow”? Please share!