Well, today, I thought that I’d talk about time and world-building in sci-fi/fantasy fiction. Ok, I’ll mostly be talking about fantasy fiction here, but there’s some stuff here that might be of interest to you if (like me) you’re more of a sci-fi fan than a fantasy fan.
As regular readers of this blog might have guessed, I’m absolutely obsessed with George R. R. Martin’s “Song Of Ice And Fire” novels at the moment (expect a review of the second half of “A Storm Of Swords” tomorrow).
Anyway, being a sci-fi fan, there’s always one question I’ve started asking myself recently whenever I read these books. It goes something like this:
“What will the world that this story is set in look like a few millennia later?”
This might sound like a strange question to ask. After all, fantasy stories are meant to be set in a timeless “ye olde” past of some kind or another. But, let’s be honest, can any world really stay in the middle ages forever? And, more importantly, what will that world look like when it leaves the middle ages?
For example, the “Song Of Ice And Fire” novels are heavily inspired by European (mainly British) history, so it’s likely that a “modern” version of Westeros (the land that these stories are mostly set in) would probably look like a slightly less repressed and more interesting version of modern Britain.
But, what would a futuristic version of Westeros look like? Now, that is a much more interesting question!
(My personal theory is that we’ll get to see this at the very end of the last “Song Of Ice And Fire” book and it’ll probably turn out that the whole series is actually just an account of someone watching a holo-recording in a history museum (after all, G.R.R. Martin is a sci-fi writer too). )
Still, it’s an interesting question and it’s one that fantasy writers should probably ask themselves about their own fictional worlds.
As well as being a good thought exercise, a more practical reason for asking this question is that it helps you to think about your story on a much grander scale.
After all, the setting of your story is a living and evolving society of some kind and how do you hope to understand it if you don’t know what it’s eventually going to look like?
Yes, you probably won’t get a chance to actually show the “futuristic” version of your setting in your stories, but knowing what it looks like will probably make you think about the world of your story in a much more detailed and interesting way than if you didn’t.
Likewise, when I read sci-fi stories, I should probably start asking myself:
“What did the world that this story is set in look like a few millennia earlier?”
Of course, most sci-fi stories are set in an imagined version of our own future, so there’s usually actually an easy answer to this question.
But, for sci-fi stories that are set on other planets or sci-fi stories which are set in a parallel universe of some kind, knowing the history of your world will allow you to add more depth to your story and to make the setting of your story look a lot more convincing.
It’ll also allow you to add all sorts of quirky traditions and realistic historical oddities to the setting of your story which you might not have thought of adding if you’d just set out to write something “futuristic”.
All in all, asking yourself both of these questions will help you to think about the setting of your story in a more “realistic” way. It’ll help you to realise that, if you’re inventing a fictional world – then, like any world, it has to have a history and it has to have a future.
After all, without these two things, how can you hope to convince your readers that the fictional world that exists in both your and their imaginations could potentially exist (or have existed) somewhere in the universe at some point in time?
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂