I’ve written about worldbuilding before–about map making, characters who write notes, drawing and painting character and scene studies, but this time I’m going to focus on two things: what I’m calling “deep history” and, second, the creation of characters who have no intention of setting foot inside your story, but come on give them a chance to write press releases for you.
Deep history is what was going on in your world long before your characters showed up or did anything really fun. The idea here is to pick a few historic things that might stand out–a war, plague, religious crusade, or maybe not so deep in the past, things like a book that changed a character’s life, a family member, friend who saved your character from something particularly horrible. Use these to deepen the life of your character. It doesn’t have to be a world-shattering event. It can be something fleeting or simple, the day your character saw a fox in the woods, the taste of a candy from that store on 2nd Avenue that your character has never been able to find again. It can be something personal, the quiet death of a nation’s president your character met when she was eight years old on a capitol city tour, or something closer to home: termites and carpenter ants eating through your character’s house–a home that has been in the family for five generations, and your character has to pull it together because the rest of the family fell apart. Think about how these things might affect your character later in life. And you don’t have to spell it out too clearly for the reader. You character has commitment problems? Trust your reader to take the steps to connect the loss of the character’s family home while a child to not being able to hold onto anything or anyone when he’s an adult, and trust the reader to sympathize with your character.
Profundity works. It’s in our nature to look for the profound in every day events. It’s easy to see how complex the world is. The difficulty is in trying to see how simple it is. I think it has something to do with our love of patterns, our need of patterns to make things fit inside our own heads, and the more complex the pattern, the better we feel when we see it. Again, though, simplicity is in seeing the patterns of patterns and the–no, no, I’m just throwing some crazy ass enigmatic fraud enlightenment at you to see if you’re actually reading this and paying attention. So, anyway, we like complexity–that is true. Your characters and your readers are the same way–especially if they’re human. Give it to them. Characters are driven by more than revenge, money, power, love. Those are just the big labels, but there are hooks deep in your character’s mind that make those things desirable, and sometimes you have to reveal those things to make them make sense to the reader as well as your character. This is where the deep history thing can play a significant role. Bring out the points, the little dots of light, the quick shadows in your world’s or your character’s history, and your reader will do all the connecting for you. Again, it can be big–your character’s brother was the assassin of the Archduke Ferdinand of your world and started an entire war. Or significantly small, that one summer when no dandelions bloomed in the fields. What caused that anyway? Weird, man, remember that? Your character does. It totally freaked him out and it affects him to this day–that’s why he joined a cult , you know. The inexplicable dematerialization of dandelions.
People are weird and your characters are no exceptions. Exceptions to this rule are, frankly, boring.
Another thing I want to look at are characters who contribute to your world, provide advice–maybe through books, web sites, email chain letters, secret codes, but never actually enter the story in the flesh. They can be co-workers, friends or family from a character’s past. They can be your character’s boss, pushing things along from a distant office, bunker, command center in orbit. It may not be anyone who interacts with your character at all, but sends along information for the world, and for the reader–plausibly delivered. It may not even be someone who appears in anyway in the story. A character who isn’t named, who’s contributions are there for the author only, characters who simply help the world get a better hold on the writer’s mind. Your world can only be as real to your reader as it is to you, and you need these behind-the-scenes characters to show up and help you see it, to speak to you, to…
…write press releases.
Here’s a press release I just wrote for an SF story I’m working on, with the event in the release is something that happened in the not too distant past. What’s cool about press releases–and I say this as if I know what the hell I’m talking about–is that they can be a great source for worldbuilding material. Their structure–title, event description, some detail, quotes from important people, and a paragraph about the organizations mentioned–makes it easy to create opinions, show someone’s success, failure, or back peddling. Write a few.
Here’s one of mine:
Artist rendering of first phase of Winderrill Platform towed into the Atlantic in November:
November 12, 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
OpenCityProject.org Launches Open Ocean Agri/Aquaculture Platform Winderrill
BOSTON, Mass. – Open City Project today announced that federal and state
agencies have completed their review of Open City Project’s permanent ocean habitat license to own, construct and operate an offshore agri/aquaculture export terminal, and
have deemed it complete. The project, known as Winderrill, is located 940 kilometers southeast off
the coast of Massachusetts. The determination by the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and U.S. Maritime Administration initiates preparation of the agencies’ joint Draft Open Jurisdiction Security Statement/Environmental Impact Report (DOJSS/EIR), a comprehensive, independent assessment of the project.
The Winderrill platform employs Open City’s hexmesh flexible pattern design, which allows the entire facility to adjust to wave motion, even in rough seas. The company plans to double the size of the Winderrill habitat every three months, beginning with fifteen of the joined hexagon-shaped platforms in November, fourteen of which are solar dedicated. The first phase of agriculture, aquaculture, and crew facilities will begin in March. Winderrill is deep moored 940 km off the coast of Massachusetts, and will have permanent berthing for two ABS +A1(E) class Offshore Support Vessels.
OpenCityProject.org CEO Alanna Delmoro said, “Open City Project is uniquely positioned to meet the world’s growing need for agricultural and aquacultural resources in a manner consistent with its energy and environmental priorities. We believe our innovative approach to building and operating large scale self-sustaining production-positive deepwater platforms will benefit the world.”
“We look forward to continuing to work with U.S. Naval operations, other agencies both US and international, and all stakeholders to demonstrate how the Winderrill platform will exceed all production, safety, and environmental standards,” said Ms. Delmoro.
Open City Project is a Boston-based non-profit corporation specializing in the design, construction and operation of open ocean agriculture and aquaculture facilities. For more
information about Open City Project, please visit: http://www.OpenCityProject.org.
Finally, the best thing about worldbuilding: you don’t have to build much of your world to begin writing in it. It builds on itself, you define one piece of the world and that leads to another piece. Worldbuilding also works wonders when you’re stuck on a scene or character motivation. Save and close the doc, and dig into your world a bit more. Hey, write a press release.