Whether we are painting a picture or writing a tale, we must always consider the World. When I say "World", I mean the whole World - land and sea; climate and atmosphere; plant and animal; past, present and future. Everything. We tend to take much of our world for granted.
No... this isn't leading to a rant of how we need to become one with the environment and kiss a few trees; though, I know many of us would benefit from a day "outdoors".
I would like to talk about the World that exists within our creations. Where does your character live? What is the weather like? How does society function? Is it modern? Ancient? Alien? If we were to visit your World - would we be considered gods or demons or even simpletons?
Much of a story's foundation can be found in the created World. In fact, the World could be considered a character within itself. You will obviously hold to facts and avoid creative license if you are writing a strict, facts-only, non-fiction tale. Biographies, historical accounts and specific events exist in the real, "concrete" world. Ah... but fiction is in a whole different ballgame.
Oh, sure. You can create a story in the World you know from everyday experience. Writers do this all the time. Look at authors like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, or Laurell K Hamilton. Real states. Real towns. References to local establishments and landmarks. Even details to the societal structures, mannerisms, and language quirks. The World of the stories are replicas of our real world... but there's a twist.
A fiction author has the freedom to add, augment, and even warp the real world. Vampires, werewolves, psychos, aliens and supernatural powers are common tools. Influences greater than anything we would ever encounter are added to our normal little world. Disasters and trials to test the human race. Why?
Simple: To explore the human condition. Stephen King was shown time and again how people may react to extreme conditions. The World was quite normal in King's tales until he adds a simple conflict - a crazy dog, a bullied girl, a possessed car, a plague, etc. Suddenly the World evolves. People react differently - the rules have changed. The story can go as far as the author wishes.
Most writers are smart enough to stretch the World without "breaking" it. Readers can accept some pretty wild concepts, but they have to make sense. Some examples of "stretching" your World and what is needed to avoid breaking it:
First, we must ask "What is Magic?" Often we think of Magic as chants and spells and potions. Witches, wizards, sorcerers and mages. For your story, this may be true and that is just fine. Truth is, Magic can be whatever your want it to be so long as there is a system of explanation.
Your readers don't need exact details (though some will ask), but they need some basis of reality. Where does the Magic come from? Is it used by many or few? What are the Magic's limits? How does a person gain Magic? How to lose it? Most important, is it really Magic or a misconception?
My friend, Ryan Carver, is a self-proclaimed "Hobbyist Illusionist". He spends much of his time studying the Art of Magic Tricks. When I asked him what he thought of real Magic, he said:
"Magic is simply an art of demonstrating the impossible. Well... impossible for those who are watching you. Can you imagine how amazed the people of the 14th century would have been if we could show them something as simple as a cigarette lighter? Ha! They'd probably use the same lighter burn us at the stake!"
Superpowers are great! Everyone has dreamed at some point of being a superhero. Being able to fly or shoot fire or become invisible... oh, so many powers to choose from. You will want to make sure you create an explanation as to why people have powers. Mutants? Science? Alien?
When using powers you must include an anti-power - a weakness. If your character is immortal, invincible, strong, fast, can fly and is happy... your readers won't believe it. Stan Lee is known worldwide for his Superheroes. The Heroes aren't remembered for their powers; instead, they are remembered for their normalness. We can relate to a Hero who has personal issues. Sad as it is, happy and content characters are unbelievable.
~Aliens & Non-Humans~
Biggest mistake a writer can make is creating an Alien without considering its origin. You should consider the Alien's World. Climate, gravity, plant life. How long is a day? What sort of government exists there? Was is a peaceful society? Would we exploit them? Was it a militant world? Are the visiting Aliens invaders or refugees?
What makes them different from us... or more importantly, you must consider what makes the Aliens similar to Humans. Gene Roddenberry demonstrated the effectiveness of Humanizing the Aliens not only in Star Trek, but also Andromeda and Earth: Final Conflict. There might be some differences of appearance and surely different customs, but what makes them like Humans? Do they fall in love? Do they care for others? Do the mourn the dead? Do they feel jealousy, hatred, greed, lust, sadness, joy, contentment? As always... what are their weaknesses?
There are many different places I could go from here, so I'll stop and continue in a future installment.
'Til Paths Meet Again...