Straight on Until a New Planet
I love SF, and some of my favorite stories are about other worlds, including Andre Norton’s Witch World stories, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series, Keith Laumer’s Retief series, C. J. Cherryh’s Chanur series, and the Liaden series.
I usually start out with a story and then fit in the background–planet and culture, though some of my stories are set completely on Earth. While my main characters are usually Americans in stories set on Earth, elsewhere I often give Terrans backgrounds of other countries and cultures to make them more interesting.
Some planets are simple, with little description of the moon(s), wildlife, etc. (I don’t want to worry about tides or how things evolved). I spent more time inventing planets like Snakebite in Hidebound, which also included the hero’s planet (one even nastier than Snakebite so that the humanoids evolved physical protection); I made this planet interdicted. The planet in Velvet of Swords (more nasty flora and fauna as the result of genetic engineering) was colonized by humans and aliens, with the humans recreating old Terran cultures.
Other interesting planets are found in What Price a Friendly Freep to explain the aliens; Pretty Pink Planet and Hot Yellow Planet, which was begun, as I recall, as an experiment in writing a series story with similar titles (I had fun with the colors in Pretty Pink Planet, and I love the cover art created for it in an audiobook anthology); and Royal Guardians (I think this is an alternate universe). Time/space portals from Terra to other planets or time machines to other times are fun too.
There are books (see Writer’s Digest Book Club listings) and websites on world-building; I haven’t spent much time there, but I’ve discussed various ideas on the old AOL writing boards, where writers often ask for input when trying to solve a story problem. I asked about missiles and subs in the Zap Gun folder (SF/Fantasy board), where we also discussed Keith Laumer’s Bolo (super tanks) series.
For some stories, I had to create maps to keep track of where my characters are running amuck and keep track of directions and distances. If you’re writing a story about Mars or the moon, however, you can use NASA maps, available in books, on websites, or even as posters. There are also Mars and moon globes. Nowadays, there is less invention in stories set there.
So, you can find the blocks for building your world in the far corners of the universe of the mind, but for decorating and landscaping, you may want to research other planets and other cultures (I think the Celtic culture is way over-used in fantasy), found in fiction and non-fiction books; then you put your own twist on a planet, an animal, or an intelligent being. And don’t hesitate to use a tentacled alien; they’re not passe if you can add something new.
Thank you, Joy.
Joy was born on a farm in Wisconsin and still love barns and the smell of silage (“an acquired taste,” she says). She lived in Boston after graduating from college, and is now back in Florida (not retired) where she spent some of her childhood.
After selling wildlife habitat in the country, she bought a foreclosure earlier this year and had to replace the kitchen, among other things. They’d even taken the kitchen sink! Thanks to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which takes place each November, Joy’s now written three novels. She has three blogs:
- Her writing blog: http://pagadan.wordpress.com
- Her media blog: http://pagadan.livejournal.com
- Her house blog: http://pagadan.blogspot.com
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