A few weeks ago, Stickwick asked me if I would put down some of my thoughts concerning how one goes about writing fiction. This is the first in who knows how many posts in response to her request.
1. Thou shalt know thy world
Many authors of SF/F don’t appear to give much, if any, thought to the world in which they are setting their novels. I am not saying it is necessary to go to the lengths of a Tolkien and develop at least four of your own new languages and write a literature in each of them, only that if one simply leaps in and starts writing a novel without making some conscious decisions about the setting, one is going to be making unconscious decisions about it.
And most of the time, those unconscious decisions are going to draw heavily upon novels we have read or movies we have seen. This is why, in many books in which one can readily observe that little conscious thought has gone into the setting, one can often recognize the various elements that are derived from other novels. Even worse, those unconsciously copied elements are seldom harmonious and are not infrequently contradictory.
Let me make clear that I am not necessarily talking about the entire world here, only the section of the fictional world as it is exposed to the reader throughout the course of the novel. For example, in her Brother Cadfael novels, Ellis Peters seldom describes much of the world outside of Shropshire, but she provides a considerable amount of detail concerning Shrewsbury Abbey and the surrounding town and the bits of news that trickle in from outsiders indicate that she is well-versed in the relevant English history.
Exercises: These should be answered here in the comments to permit discussion of them. Try to come up with examples that someone else has not already provided.
1. Name an example of a science fiction or fantasy world the author has clearly contemplated in some detail. Explain why you believe that to be the case. Middle Earth and Selenoth don’t count.
2. Name an example of a science fiction or fantasy world concerning which the author does not appear to have given sufficient thought to the setting. Identify the primary disharmonious element that causes you to conclude that. And just to forestall the obvious attempts at wit, Middle Earth and Selenoth don’t count.