Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Guest Post by Sharon Lynn Fisher - Author of Ghost Planet and The Ophelia Prophecy

World Building for Ghost Planet and The Ophelia Prophecy

I love both Ghost Planet and The Ophelia Prophecy (click on titles to see my reviews).  One of the things that really caught me was the unique and complex world building in both.  When I asked Sharon to share how she goes about creating these wonderful worlds she agreed to do a guest post on the subject.  I want to thank Sharon and I hope you enjoy the post as much as I do.  But first just a little bit about Sharon.

A Romance Writers of America RITA Award finalist and a three-time RWA Golden Heart Award finalist, SHARON LYNN FISHER lives in the Pacific Northwest. She writes books for the geeky at heart—sci-fi flavored stories full of adventure and romance—and battles writerly angst with baked goods, Irish tea, and champagne. Her works include Ghost Planet (2012), The Ophelia Prophecy (2014), and Echo 8 (2014). You can visit her online at SharonLynnFisher.com.

Building Sci-Fi Romance Worlds by Sharon Lynn Fisher

I used to hate world building. It’s a ridiculous thing for a speculative fiction author to say. But when I first started writing, I found it intimidating. Generating a whole new reality out of your gray matter. Making it believable and vivid for the reader. And really, wasn’t it just the “in between” part? The part that happened when there was no actual story going on — no action or dialogue or romance?

It’s hard to say when my attitude shifted, because I didn’t actually realize it until I started getting reviews that mentioned world building. I remember thinking, “How is it I’m good at this when I don’t even like it?” It landed on my head like a cargo hold full of tribbles. I do like it! In fact I love it. Creating setting and atmosphere and tone … it’s often a catalyst for the rest of the plot. It adds another layer to character development. It’s key to motivation. 

But yeah, it’s the hard part. For my stories, there are multiple branches of world building — the physical setting itself, the culture and political situation, and the science behind the speculative element.

For settings I often draw on geographical areas I know. My debut novel, GHOST PLANET, is set on an Earth-like planet in areas that closely resemble different parts of the Pacific Northwest, where I live. In my new book, THE OPHELIA PROPHECY, the last human city is located near Moab, Utah, where I’ve hiked and mountain-biked. The rock formations have a captivating, otherworldly quality. The main action of the story takes place in Connemara, in the west of Ireland, and in the Moorish city of Granada, Spain, both of which I’ve visited. The Gaudi-inspired architecture in OPHELIA comes from time I spent in Barcelona.

The science, culture, and politics are all pretty knotted up together, and make up what I think of as my special sauce (and really they’re the special sauce of any sci-fi novel). I tend to write speculative elements inspired by science. In GHOST PLANET, the heroine is actually an alien reincarnation of a human woman, joined in a symbiotic relationship with her psychologist supervisor. I researched Gaia theory and symbiogenesis for that story. For THE OPHELIA PROPHECY I researched recombinant DNA to create a species of human/praying mantis transgenic organisms. I also did research on biomimicry and biohacking. The book I have coming out next year, ECHO 8, required research into parallel universes, quantum physics, and parapsychology.

How all of the research and personal experiences blend together and churn out a whole world with its own unique history and personality is something of a mystery. It’s sort of like dumping a bunch of ingredients into a crockpot and opening it up to find lamb stew the next day. Because I’m mostly a pantser and don’t plot out stories in advance, my characters and story often spring from this world development rather than the other way around. 

Counterintuitive though it may seem, reading science books can really get the creative juices flowing. I think it’s because I try not to read with a specific goal in mind, but for the sheer joy of learning about something new.

World building takes time, and it takes faith. During the research phase it can feel like procrastination. Like I’m accomplishing nothing. But I’ve learned that as soon as those ingredients begin to coalesce — as soon as I feel that world coming into focus — the rest of my story is not far behind.

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