Saturday, March 21, 2015

World-building: Not Just For Fantasy Writers

A bug-like alien with outer space and planets in the background.
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I was choking on dust all week, especially in bed late at night. So I made sure I spent this Saturday afternoon dusting the flat. And it’s not even half done when you think about it. Being a rat pack, more dust is in the clutter of my house than sand in the Sino-Indian border’s desert. I think I have to scan and put some of those old manuscript copies and notes for past work on flash drive and trash the paper copies. Though there are certain paper copies of my work that I forbid myself to exclude to digital form, since I’m a lover of the printed word and like to read and present words on a tangible medium such as paper. But enough of that.

On World-building

I told you last time that I would have a post on world-building. Most people probably think of world-building as something only done by fantasy writers who make up imaginary universes. That’s not true. World-building is simply the manner an author describes the environment the story takes place in, regardless of whether that environment exists in the real world or not. Unless you’re a historical fiction writer, there is going to be some made-up details of that setting you’re depicting. And so because of those details, you would have to do what has become popularly referred to by us authors as “world-building”. I’ll use an example of a horror short story I’m currently working on. Keep in mind, I’m still in the process of writing this story, so some of these details may change by the time it’s published. But I’m still hoping you’ll find this as a good example to world-building. I don’t have a title for the story yet, in case you’re wondering, but you’ll know what it is when I announce its publication.

Developing an imaginary setting out of a real region

The short story I’m working on is set in the Sino-Indian border region, which is the region that borders China and India. So it’s a real area of the world. However, the province within that region I’m setting my story in is one that I created based both on Chinese and Indian cultures, especially Tamil culture on the Indian side. I came up with this “mixed” race of people because I am involving religious beliefs dating back before Hinduism and part of the myth system is made up by yours truly for purposes of the story.

Yet I wanted to give the story an effect of taking place in our own reality. After all, it involves an archeology expedition. So I used Google Earth to look at photos of the Sino-Indian region and to look at the names of places in that part of the world. I also used Wikipedia to check facts about Indian and Chinese cultures and the mythological systems of the two. However, because Wikipedia is an open source tool that anybody can post and edit articles on, I advise people to always verify the articles’ references and, if possible, to use those referencees for further research especially if they seem reliable. Such reliable references are ones published by credible universities or well-known publications by expert journalists such as National Geographic.

Because I wanted the society in my story to be more or less directly descended from one predating Hinduism, I researched the various ethnic groups of India and China and came across the Tamil people who are, according to a Wikipedia article, one of the largest and oldest existing ethno-linguistic cultural groups who have not had a state of their own. This means they have spread out all over Asia and so it could be believable if I based my Sino-Indian border province on that group’s culture.

Naming the Setting

I wanted to find a name that reflected the ancientness and obscurity of the province. Because Sanskrit is one of Asia’s oldest languages, I used Google’s translation tool  to create a meaningful name for the province. Without creating a spoiler, I’ll let you know that because the story involves a character who goes through a kind of blindness as well as a dangerously enlightening experience, I decided to give the province a name that means blinding light. So I typed in the words “land of blinding light” into the translator’s text box and came up with “Kurutakkum oli nilam”.  The name suggests not only the experience one of the characters goes through, but also the geography of the region, in which the story’s setting itself, which is somewhere near Aksai (on the Chinese side), is all desert. However, even though the province is on the Chinese side, I made it tremendously Indian influenced in the culture including its religious beliefs. And so the people themselves are mixed both biologically and culturally.

For More on World-building . . .

I probably don’t explain world-building as well as I actually do it, but one author who is really good at explaining it is Auden Johnson. She’s really big on it. So if you’re interested, I strongly suggest you visit her blog, Dark Treasury

Do any of you fellow fiction writers out there research facts for your world-building? If so what sources come in handy for you? And for you out there who aren’t authors but are avid readers of fiction, what do you feel makes a convincing imaginary setting whether based on a real region of the world or completely imagined by the author? Please feel free to leave your answers in the box below.

Until next time . . . 

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