Is it a life form? Is it a flower? Is it a piece of art?
Following up from Wesley’s great post, we’re continuing our look at world building!
Life overseas can bring the strangest of surprises. One of the local vegetable stalls (which is not exactly normal by American standards, anyway) suddenly put out these alien-looking vegetables between the broccoli and the cauliflower. Which sort of makes sense – they look like a hybrid of the two, but on steroids.
After poking it (firm texture), picking it up (heavy) and sniffing it (smelled green and a little like dirt), there was no choice but to buy it. Though the obvious question of how to cook it occurred,* as the vegetable looked less like food and more like a mathematician’s attempt at art.**
In one of my stories I occasionally have to think about food production in a technologically advanced and resource-limited community. Not only is one of the characters fathers intimately acquainted with the food production process (through his job), but one of the main characters once worked on a farm^ and one of the main points for part of the plot hinges around the fact that only two of the characters have ever been allowed on the farmlands. It is unintentionally a way for a really boring fact to tie in to something essential to the story line.
A few things to point out:
Don’t limit where your inspiration comes from
If you are utterly intrigued with a billboard that pulls moisture from the air and turns it into drinking water, let yourself dream about the potential of such billboards everywhere. Would water be free? What other random objects would serve crazy dual purposes? Or would that cause major climate change by sucking all the moisture out of our air?
Details (even boring ones) still matter when you’re building your world
Even if a lot (say, 90%) of the details don’t go into the story itself, you should have a decent idea how your world functions. Think through the political climate/structure, geography, history, language, etc. of your fantasy world. If the government runs in mysterious ways, you should understand that mystery, even if your readers don’t know or care about it. Missing pieces of your fantasy world might get overlooked by your readers, but there’s a good chance that if you’re missing the foundations, you’re missing something else as well.
Don’t cram too many details in
This might sound counter to the previous advice, but readers can always tell when a writer starts stuffing unnecessary information into a story. As your readers, we might be happy that you enjoyed learning insect facts, or the intricacies of poetry structure, or the names of every WWII aircraft, but we’re probably going to put down your book, ultimately bored by it. Keep it interesting, but pertinent to the plot – if it helps advance plot or develop your characters, great! If only you are excited by the minutiae (which a beta reader can help you determine), then you should probably drop it.
What kinds of weird inspiration have you stumbled across recently? What snuck its way into your story that you’re proud of? Which random facts have you been saving for a rainy-day novel but perhaps haven’t been able to use yet?
Katie, signing off.
* If you were wondering, it was delicious.
** “Fractals!” was my first thought on seeing the thing. How many nerd points do I get for thinking that?
^ Ironically, this is part of his dark, secret past.