Much of that time is devoted to world-building, although for the first few drafts of writing, I don’t realize that is what I am doing.
The layers of plot, politics, religion, and magic/science must be interwoven with bits of history, and the images and odors of the physical environment. Together, these layers help create the setting of any world.
I began one of my current projects with an idea for a character. I knew what the ultimate end of this story is because it is a prequel and is already canon in the Tower of Bones series.
This is the plot, the core conflict: Politics and religion shape three cultures. Two of the societies are strong enough to absorb the third, and one of them will do just that.
In that regard, neither the protagonist nor the antagonist is on the high ground morally—both consider it their right to impose their rule on the weaker society.
The first hurdle arose in the area of world-building. Because it is the origin story, I had to devise a post-apocalyptic culture. Religion was the first layer I worked on.
In the time of the Tower of Bones series, the Temple of Aeos is a finely-tuned machine that serves to distribute food and medical care to the poor, provides education to everyone, provides military protection when needed, and maintains the roads that connect the communities.
The Temple’s primary function is to find mage-gifted children before their untrained gift wreaks havoc in their communities. Untrained mages have a high chance of becoming the tool of the Bull God, Tauron.
This is bad because Tauron is the Mad God, the one who demands excessive sacrifices, often human. The word sacrifice means to surrender something of value, and the Mad God’s reign over his people is twisted. His religion is a reflection of his madness.
Thus, the Goddess Aeos’s mages are sworn to serve and protect the people of Neveyah from the depredations of Tauron, no matter the personal cost.
In the current work-in-progress, the Temple, as an institution, doesn’t exist. It is born out of the struggle between the two larger-than-life characters and the events of this book.
Both characters believe their deity has the right to rule Neveyah, and both know the Barbarian Tribes are the key to winning. At times, the line between what is moral and immoral is blurred.
Both the antagonist and protagonist in this novel will do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. However, of the two, only my protagonist is burdened with regrets for the choices he makes.
Every society, fantasy, sci-fi, or real-world, must have an overarching political structure—a government of some sort. Humans are tribal. We are comfortable when we have a hierarchy of decision-makers to guide the tribe.
The politics of any society are an invisible aspect of world-building that affects the story, even when not directly addressed. This is because our characters have a place within that structure.
When you know what that place is, you write their story accordingly. In writing fiction, if you know your characters’ social caste, you know if they are rich or poor, hungry or well-fed. This will shape them throughout the story.
We know that hunger drives conflict in our modern world, so a segment of society that lives on the edge of starvation will be swayed to the side of whoever offers food first. This is a key part of the plot for my work-in-progress.
Another aspect of world-building that was crucial at the start of this series was the choice to use magic rather than science as the primary technology.
First of all, let me get this out there: Science is not magic. It is logical, rooted in the realm of real theoretical physics. The writers of true science fiction know the difference between reality and fantasy.
However, magic should be believable. The science of magic is an underlying, invisible layer that is part of my world-building process. In my stories, magic is only possible if certain conditions have been met:
- if the number of people who can use it is limited.
- if the ways it can be used are limited.
- if the majority of mages are limited to one or two kinds of magic and only certain mages can use every type of magic.
- if there are strict, inviolable rules regarding what each kind of magic can do and the conditions under which it will work.
- if there are some conditions under which the magic will not work.
- if the damage it can do as a weapon or the healing it can perform is limited.
- if the mage or healer pays a physical/emotional price for the use.
- if the mage or healer pays a hefty price for abusing it.
- if the learning curve is steep and sometimes lethal.
This layer of world-building is where writers of science and writers of magic come together.
- Magic and the ability to wield it confers power.
- Superior technology does the same.
This means the enemy must have access to equal or better Science/Magic. So, if the protagonist and their enemy are not from the same “school,” you now have two systems to design for that story.
Authors must create the rules of magic or the limits of science for both the protagonist and antagonist.
Take the time to write it out and be sure the logic has no hidden flaws.
In creating science technologies and magic systems, you are creating a hidden framework that will support and advance your plot. Within either science or magic, there can be an occasional exception to a rule, but there must be a good reason for it. It must be clear to the reader why that exception is acceptable.
Having said all that, the only time the reader needs to know these systems exist is at the moment it affects the characters and their actions.
The best background information comes out naturally in conversations or in other subtle ways. By not baldly dropping it on the reader in paragraph form, the knowledge becomes a normal part of the environment rather than an info dump.
Limitations are the key to a good character arc. Roadblocks to success force ordinary people to become more than they believe they are.
That is when an ordinary person becomes a hero.