Shocker, I know.
(image found via Google search)
Every good story has three things: plot, characters, and setting.
All good stories use each of these things to create a compelling tale that you, the reader, can’t put down. The vibrant fantasy of Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson), the charming Alabama county in To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), dangerous high seas in Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson), and IT’s domain in A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L'Engle). Dozens of stories contain worlds that whisk us away from our own (boring or not) lives to places we wish we could go.
Each of the stories I mentioned are in different genres. Two of them are even in our world. They prove you don’t need another world to make the setting of a story great. However, sometimes that other world is exactly what your story needs.
What do we do, knowing we need a setting just as much as a plot and characters? We could just base our alternate history steampunks in London, our fantasies in England and Scotland and France, our sci-fi in future America. Those are all good and well, perfect for some stories.
But why not make our own?
If the universe we looked at last week inspires us so much, why not try and make world for our novel? Why not a universe?
The negative answer might be: “because it’s impossible to make a world”, or perhaps “that’s too much work, Nottinghamshire will do just fine for my dragons and magic”.
We can’t make a world that works just as well as our own. No one can work out every single detail, every single life and death and balance and imbalance. Not a single universe a writer creates will be infinite.
But we can sure try.
Other worlds draw our attention, don’t they? Tolkien’s Middle Earth almost screams at us to take a look, see how colorful the past is? “Check out my history,” Middle Earth begs, “come see how brilliant it all fits together.”
And we do. Most everyone* will willingly delve into this vibrant world painted through Tolkien’s epics. Hobbits and Elves and Ents and Orcs and magic Rings pull us in and set us down in the center of the Old Forest, daring us to find Tom before dark.
Narnia whisper through the wardrobe: “come and see”.
Mazes demand to be solved.
Games dare us to be the last one standing.
Prophecies warn of impending doom.
History, magic, technology, culture, races, governments, animals, food, geography, cities, dragons, cyborgs, danger, darkness. Worlds we don’t live in offer their best, and we dive into them willingly.
They look like they do it with ease, offering us magic in one hand and evil sorcerers in the other. But then we try and create our own, and suddenly everything becomes overwhelming.
How do you reconcile four timelines?
How can my magic work?
Is time travel feasible?
What if this culture frowns upon walking?
Does History have to be complete?
Our minds shut down, and we give up. It’s too hard, we say. Let the geniuses make worlds, we’ll stick with Hampshire and Londontown.
Not while we have something to say about it.
Today we’re going to refuse to settle.
Pick up the pen, the pencil, the keyboard, the dry-erase marker. Gather your spare notebooks and Word documents. Set aside the outlines and rough drafts and formidable forests. Pull on the welding mask, get your hands dirty. Start building.
*I say most because some people don’t. To each their own.