I’ve all but stopped writing long-form fiction for many reasons, one of the most significant being my frustration and impatience over worldbuilding. Novels, especially the speculative kind that I used to write, involve looking at the big picture – and by big picture, I mean the entire world! That’s not to say that short-form writing never involves worldbuilding, but long-form sci-fi and fantasy writers must take everything into consideration: culture, religion, money, family trees, kinships, weather, climate, language, food, etc. Trying to create a new world, one that is convincing to readers but also doesn’t dull them to death with details, is a daunting affair.
I recently received a free copy of an e-book via LibraryThing (a website I recommend to any book lover!) by speculative fiction author Marie Brennan. Her educational background is in folklore and anthropology, which makes her an invaluable resource for worldbuilding. Her book, New Worlds, Year One: A Writer’s Guide to the Art of Worldbuilding, is the writing resource that I never knew I needed – a resource that may help me return to novel-writing.
This book is a collection of weekly posts Brennan wrote for her Patreon supporters between 2017 and 2018. They’re grouped by similar subjects, with each chapter/post covering a different facet of society, from the fantastical (folk magic) to the somewhat dull (currency…sorry, just not my thing). The chapters are admittedly quite short, but are packed with information. It serves best as a starting point for further research.
The writing in this book is solid, concise, and engaging. Of course, the book’s greatest value comes from the information given; Brennan flexes her anthropology muscles to all writers’ benefit, providing countless examples of cultural differences and then suggesting how these differences can inspire novel fantasy and sci-fi worlds. Have you ever read a fantasy and thought that it felt too Western? Too familiar? (Afrofuturism is an amazing response to the whiteness and Westernization of sci-fi – I especially recommend Nnedi Okorafor’s sci-fi novella series Binti. But that’s a subject to further explore in a future post!)
Brennan makes you wonder things like, What would life be like if our culture’s rites of passages never existed? How would languages change if the world had six moons? Speculative fiction allows writers and readers to do just that: speculate. Suspension of disbelief can be maintained even if your creation bears no similarities to Earth or the societies on it today; consistency and consideration are key. And Brennan gives writers a lot to consider.
While it is an easy read, New Worlds: Year One is much more a reference book than a piece that I’d sit down and read straight through. In her introduction, Brennan suggests that there will be at least one more volume of this series, and I’m looking forward to it! This e-book is a resource that I intend to revisit many times after I start revising my last novel…or rather, when, which may be right now. 🙂