Don’t you simply love Dr. Seuss’s HORTON HEARS A WHO? For me the story served as a watershed event as I grappled with string theory and quantum mechanics. HORTON also informs my approach to storytelling.
We writers yearn to create places that we’ll miss when we’re away. To finish our stories, our worlds need to cause a relentless itch that brings us back each and every day. Once we finish our stories, we intend that our readers find our world-building irresistible, too.
To engage our audience, certain features prove vital. Primarily our readers need to suspend their disbelief. That means seamlessly arranging entire worlds of physical systems, societal taboos and mores throughout a complex landscape. Let’s make this our starting point.
My foundation in MISTBORN CHRONICLES? A bucolic world lacking in magic and advanced science. When the curtain between worlds rips open, wild magic invades like a viral attack. Ah, you recognize ‘the call to adventure’? Rather than revisit what others like Joseph Campbell and Vogler explain so well, let me focus on the aspect that proves most interesting to me—the ‘what if’ game.
So my friends, time to put on your critical-thinking-hats. Begin with the magical influx…
What if certain species and individuals prove genetically sensitive to transformation? What if some cannot mentally or biologically handle the change? What if the one person who understands the linkage between science and magic has lost her abilities and is trapped in this world? What if her skills make her suspect? What if she cannot diagnose the harm done to her without cueing a rapacious predator to her location? What if a master merchant, who sees himself as average and anything but heroic, finds himself a repository of the extraordinary?
You see how this process works? This drama continued for over 1500 manuscript pages. Yes, a series was born. The trick? How to apply this ‘what if’ practice to each level of conception, including species’ physiology and cultures along with suites of universes bumping up against each other.
We writers set the rules, then play within those parameters. Otherwise our readers cannot suspend their disbelief. If we fail, they’ll toss our stories across the room in exasperation. As an abused reader, I learned this response firsthand.
Many books take us into their worlds, shape us, then ensnare us as return visitors. For me, Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS, Guy Gavriel Kay’s FIONAVAR TAPESTRY, Orson Scott Card’s ENDER’S GAME, Anne McCaffrey’s DRAGONRIDERS OF PERN, Patricia McKillip’s RIDDLEMASTER OF HED and George R. R. Martin’s A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE (1st three novels) exemplify mastery. First came my appreciation for these stories along with a willingness to immerse myself in them. Later I returned to read them more analytically. Even now, I lose myself in their preeminence.