I’m a big fan of sticking things on the wall behind my desk when I’m working on a plot for any of my books – convoluted or not. Sticky notes and project paper abound in my world. Real paper, right there in front of you, can be a whole lot more satisfying than having to dig around in a Word document. Worldbuilding is a lot of fun, whether you’re writing action, chicklit, or the wildest science-fiction fantasy, but if it’s not “believable” our stories are going to end up on the receiving end of some one star clangers. It’s a lot easier for mainstream fiction, but still, it’s always best not to head too far out there, and always essential to do your research, and take notes – don’t rely on memory. Most people know quite a lot. We all have various interests, some of them rather odd and unexpected, and there will always be some reader out there who will catch you out if you take just making stuff up to unacceptable heights. Thanks to Google though, you can find out seven almost reasonable ways to infiltrate most royal abodes before breakfast, as well as instructions on how to take apart, clean, and reassemble any sort of sniper’s weapon chop chop. So there’s no need for excessively wanton making of dodgy stuff up, and if you note all you need as you go along on your project page you’ll be amazed at how smoothly your writing goes.
When it comes to science-fiction, rules also apply. Generally it’s accepted that the only possible way to get anywhere faster than the speed of light is by using a good old warp drive, worm holes, or the power of the mind – some kind of mind at any rate. It has lately been discovered that a galaxy far, far away is actually zooming along faster than the speed of light – what with the universe expanding so speedily and all that lovely stuff, so anything probably is possible. Still, it’s a good idea when worldbuilding in these fantastical cases to keep proper notes as you go along with your creation of your creatures and the worlds they live in.
As well as keeping a proper list as you go of each character’s name and physical attributes, species and so on, when you’re working on a series especially, it’s a fabulous idea to buy yourself a nice big piece of project paper, stick it to your wall, and draw a map of your world on it. This way you’ll never have to dig back through pages and pages to find out forgotten particular details, like the name of a river or a species of tree. I did this with the first book in my sci-fi series, and then had to have a big sit down with pen and paper, go over the whole book very carefully, and take notes while writing the second and third books because I’d forgotten just about everything.
So you’ll mark in rivers, groves, names and attributes of trees if applicable, and areas of habitation for various alien species as you write them. You can also pencil in your heroes at the various points of their adventures. If you leave a nice broad strip to the right of your big world map blank, you can make important notes right there too, all to be got at simply by having a squiz at your wall. As well as being extremely helpful along the way, with a bit of tidying up, you could have a fabulous map to put into your actual book to delight your readers. Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonrider series had maps of Pern in them with the situations of all the Weyrs and other places of importance in them that were really great ways to bring the stories to more vivid life than her awesome storytelling already did.
Write everything down when you’re building your worlds – preferably somewhere instantly visible to you as a big picture, and you’re not likely to ever slip up enough to cause suspension of disbelief overload. Doodle pictures of your starships with notes on their modes of travel, drives and so on. Scribble in all the information that you need to know right there on your project paper map, whether it’s an actual map of your alien world, or a story map of your mainstream fiction book, and it will save you lots of possible future angst about little or large details.
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