Monday, February 15, 2021

World Building for Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors: Start with Questions

Welcome to World Building for Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors

A Craft and Fandom Series

Start with Questions

One of my favorite parts of writing science fiction and fantasy is idea generation through questions.

These questions always start with the basic questions and build from there.

For example: 
A Group of Fantasy Questions Based on a Vase of Fake Flowers on my Desk:
  • What if the flowers on my desk were home to a particular species of tiny dragons? 
  • What if these flowers were picked by an unsuspecting human from an fairy dragon preserve hidden alongside a farm? 
  • What if the tiny dragons are then seen by a human child? 
  • Will the laws of fairy and human be at risk? What are those laws? 
  • Why would fairy dragons hide from humans? Why would they live anywhere near them? 
  • Will the human child need to help the dragons? Will the dragons help the child? 
  • What kind of trouble could they get into if the tiny dragons and the human child become friends? This is presuming the tiny dragons can communicate with the human child. 
A Group of Science Fiction Questions Based on the Dark Outside my Window as I Write:
  • What if aliens crash-landed and are camped out in the wooded area behind my house?
  • Why would aliens actually want to camp behind my house? 
  • Would I ever interact with them? What would that look like? Okay, maybe I'm too boring of a subject for alien interaction, but what if...the aliens decided to camp out and do some human research on a familial unit they thought was stereotypical, but then it turned out the familial unit was actually a group of criminal masterminds living together to disguise their nefarious deeds? 
  • What nefarious deeds? I'm not sure yet. 
  • What if the aliens decided to "help" the subjects of their studies with the unknown nefarious deeds? Would they help/hinder/cause humorous havoc? 
  • How would alien technology and human technology mix?
My first tip for World Building for Science Fiction and Fantasy is to generate lists of questions. Use the basic questions we're all familiar with and build on them.
What if

Repeat, and continue the idea generation with questions about the answers found for the first set of questions. 

Exercise #1 Start with Questions for World-Building

Ask yourself a question based on something you can see/interact with in your immediate surroundings mixed with something outlandish, fantastical, magical, technological, science fiction-based, or alien-based. Try for at least seven questions, all building on the first one.
Yes, this can lead you to write ideas like mine above which are a mix of real world and fantasy or science fiction. However, we'll change this up with Exercise #2.

Do not panic if some of your ideas feel like tropes the first time around. It's okay. 
First, tropes are useful. 
Second, tropes can be bent and reshaped into something new as you continue to ask questions.

Exercise #2 Rewind and Twist the Questions

Go back through your list of questions. Ask yourself the following questions:
  • What if I change my initial setting? 
  • Where else can this take place?
  • When else can this take place?
  • What is the most important element of this idea? (The interaction, the magic, the tech, the characters?)
  • Do I want to age up or age down my initial character ideas, if I have some?
  • If I have a trope, how can I twist it to make it fresh?
  • What tone do I want to use for this idea? (Serious, humorous, dramatic, adventurous, romantic, etc)
  • What do I like about the idea forming so far? What don't I like?
Note: If you don't like any of the ideas so far, go back to exercise #1 and start again. Don't waste too much time on the initial idea unless you love it. Each of these exercises should take less than 15 minutes, ideally, until you land on something that really gels, or you just find yourself itching to start the story or ask more questions. 

Do you have any questions?
Ideas for idea generation?
Please let me know in the comments. I'm building this series of posts with the hope of turning them into a World Building Guide at some future date. 



Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Those are great! Although I would really wonder why aliens chose our backyard.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Patricia - they always work for me, too.

Alex - I would wonder that about my yard, too, except behind our yard there are 2 acres of trees and sometimes we have homeless people living back there, along with a black bear, and coyotes.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Questions like what if are always great to generate ideas for creating a fantasy storyline and world building.

Sarah Foster said...

These are great! I should think of more what if questions when I'm stumped for ideas.