World Building – is Simple ever Better?

As a sci-fi and fantasy writer, I don’t write stories set in our world. Instead, my stories exist in worlds that I’ve made up inside my head. I’m not bound by the constraints of reality, or the technology that currently exists. I don’t even need to follow the same development paths for my civilisations.

And yet, quite often, the worlds I write have a lot of similarities to our world. In the world of my Barren Planet Romances series, a lot of the world will seem familiar to readers. My characters drive cars, use cell phones and tablet computers, and wear modern clothing. Even the animals are similar to those on our world. The main differences in this story, are the fact that my planets have viable space travel, a planet wide (or rather, galaxy wide) government that is rather controlling, and some medical advances.

The fantasy world of Twin Curse is more different, since it’s set in a vaguely medieval setting without the technology we know today. Still, much of it will be familiar to readers – my characters fight with swords, stay in inns, and travel by horse or sailing boat.

So why do I keep my stories so similar to what exists today? Why not build a fantastical world where the animals each have their own characteristics, and everyone travels by hovercraft?

I believe this familiarity plays an important role in my stories - it allows people to visualise the scene and the character’s actions, without getting bogged down in long descriptions. When I say my character put their sword in their scabbard and mounted their horse, you all get the idea, and can picture exactly what they just did. When a cell phone buzzes, everyone knows that the character’s next move is to answer it, and how they do this.

In my stories, these little details aren’t important. My stories focus on the bigger picture. How space travel has changed the world my characters live in, and how they adapt to this change. How discovering she has magic can change Brianna’s whole world.

I write about characters. The setting is just a way of giving my characters the experiences they need to grow and change. And so I change it as much as I need to to provoke those changes. It’s better if everything else is invisible.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a detailed and vibrant fantasy/sci-fi world. I love immersing myself in those too. (In fact, I’ll be sharing one of my favourites with you on Friday.) But I think there is plenty of room in sci-fi and fantasy for both kinds of stories.

Which do you prefer? Do you love worldbuilding or reading about worlds completely different to our own, or do you like a bit of familiarity?

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3 Responses to World Building – is Simple ever Better?

  1. I like both kinds of world building, although I find it easier to get into a book with a simple world, as you describe, which is an extension of our own. I’m reading a book with world upon world in it at the moment and it’s making my brain ache trying to construct it all in my mind. The writing has to be very powerful to carry it off. I find also that I have a limited ability to imagine things in my mind and it can take me out of the story if I’m tring to picture an animal with wheels (such as in Philip Pulman’s Dark Materials) or if there is too much science (I’m not very technical!) my favourite is the type in Twin Curse, medieval based magical fantasy

    • Rinelle Grey says:

      Yes, I find that the more complex a world is, the more skilled the writer has to be to pull it off. Some are done so well that they’re amazing. But sometimes, I just want a little bit different and a little familiar.

  2. Pingback: Reading is Working, Honest | writermummy

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