Being an author of fiction there are certain areas in my writing that I heavily favor over others, that for me command the greatest attention. I believe every fictional author shares this favoritism: some lean towards plot, some their characters, others the science in sci–fi and still others who focus on making their story as accessible to the largest audience possible.
For me it boils down to two fine points: characters––or citizens as I sometimes like to call them––and world–building.
Why this pair? It’s what I’ve gravitated towards over the years as I realized what facets of literature I believed made great fiction. But actually I originally gave more attention to characters than world–building. Ever since I played the superb video game Mass Effect 2 I have had a fascination for dynamic characters.
That was my “awakening;” completing Mass Effect 2 unlocked an understanding. It revealed to me just how instrumental characters were to developing a gripping story.
So what kind of characters do I write about? Whose stories I tell?
Familiar characters. The only compelling character is a familiar one. Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Bruce Wayne, Katniss Everdeen, are these characters compelling because they have cool shit or powers?
Yes, lightsabers are freakin’ badass, as is the batmobile(s), but these are material articles that do not make the character. You know this. Others have donned the Dark Knight apparel while plenty of Jedi have existed before Luke.
By virtue of their familiarity, that is what makes these characters compelling. That they are relatable and sympathetic, but ultimately, that they are human. Like you and I, they are fellow human beings.
They have souls like you and I. What we experience as humans in our world, as a condition of being alive in a conflicting and ambiguous world, so do they in their world; and how they handle each situation, be it physical, mental, moral or emotional, is dependent upon their individuality: what makes them each their own man or woman.
There can be no story without any familiar characters to lead the way forward. If they’re not compelling, if you can’t feel a part of their humanity, if it feels instead that they’re aloof in their world and not living within its parameters, then they’re a waste of space.
I tell the stories of the familiar. I give their voice the expression it craves with the authenticity it commands. In other words, each voice, of each character, is unique; specific to their individuality. And like gravity, these individuals will pull you in to their world.
As I continued to write, and as I started to read outside of fiction, initially and most influentially History, it dawned on me the importance of having a world that feels, behaves and translates authentically through the significance of its history.
With any story a reader is dropped into a specific moment in time of that story’s history. Generally, the author narrates the present, but for that present to be, there must exist a past and a sense of the future. A good example is The Lord Of The Rings. The reader is dropped into the closing act of the Third Age right before the War for the Ring.
If you think about it just a little, there can be no War without the One Ring––obviously. Tolkien established the past of elves, dwarves and men so the War, and ultimately his story, had reason to exist. The sense of the future was sowed by the possibility of a Middle–earth without Sauron.
The point I’m meaning to draw is the distinction of history in connection with world–building. You can’t build a world without thinking to its history, and that’s a fact I initially overlooked, or didn’t dedicate enough thought to when I began writing.
Now I know the magnitude of world–building and why it needs to be as thoughtfully considered as the characters themselves. I’m writing fiction am I not?
Well like characters the worlds themselves can also be familiar. How? By a world that is analogous to our own: there’s a familiarity in culture, science, race, species, technology and/or history. Science fiction is a fine example of this as that genre often presents a world like our own––or that is our own––but in a near or far off future. Think Orwell’s 1984 (or maybe don’t; he was a little too accurate).
A familiar world is, more or less, a realistic one. It’s a world you could plausibly see existing in this reality.
Now it’s opposite is a fantastical world. It’s a realm of fantasy. The Lord of The Rings, Greek Mythology, Game of Thrones: these are worlds filled with creatures, objects and powers that defy both nature and logic. They have never existed in this reality, and unless by some divine spaghetti monster’s intervention, they never will.
Now that doesn’t mean these worlds can’t be familiar, because in some form they all are (the only world we truly know is Earth, right?), but it’s the addition of bizarre beasts or the presence of magicka that makes them fantastical. Thus a fantastical world is an unrealistic world.
I create both. I have to. I’m at the beck and call of my imagination, as all of us fictional authors are. Whatever it wants, we create.
But you know what I really love to create? Societies, specifically the cultures that compose society. At the heart of every civilization there is culture. In building Fall of Sin I took from Rome, Greece, and my own, America, to build a culture that stands alone. That’s what a world-builder means to me: not just a creator of worlds, but a creator of society and culture.
It is my hope that as you read my stories you get a feel for the world and how its characters live and struggle inside of it. I also hope that with the more you read, the greater your understanding of their world will grow.
Because that’s how it is in this world: the older you get, your understanding grows and transforms, through whichever manner and mode possible. You become wiser in the process.
Whether a character lives in a fantastical world or a familiar world, it is a citizen of that world by the simple force of reciprocality: worlds affect their characters, and those characters affect their world just the same. It’s give and take, without which, little to no meaning could be gained.
That reciprocality holds true for us. As citizens of our world, we’re capable of affecting that world, might be small for most of us, but it’s present; however, our world affects us too. We feel it, and often in ways we’re not conscious of.
All of this is cogent world–building for any story. My world and its citizens are vis–à–vis, which I know my writing would not be whole if they were otherwise, if instead they stared down two separate paths, each walking away from the other. Not with my writing. Both citizen and world have affected me in ways I hadn’t foreseen.
I believe they will affect you in equal measure.
My 2 Things.