I’m notoriously bad at world building.
Characters always come first to me, and then I have to slog through edits in which I put colour and logic into the setting. But this month is World Building June so — however late to the game — I thought I’d use some of the suggested prompts to flesh out my ideas.
1. Tell us about your world, what’s it about?
This is when I’ll reveal the truth: all three current WIPs are set in the same universe as the YA science fantasy novel Above Ground.
Two of the current WIPs — the YA urban fantasy DS and the paranormal erotica PD — are set in a world and time parallel to the real world of today. The third as yet Untitled WIP is a near-future dystopian police procedural, perhaps a couple hundred years from now. And lastly Above Ground is in the very distant post-apocalyptic future. (I’m shaky on timings; I told you I’m bad at this stuff.)
Four different subgenres, all linked by the same universe.
2. Who lives in your world?
During today’s time, it’s mainly humans, ghosts and demons. In the near-future, ghosts and demons are basically extinct but a new virus/drug triggers abilities in certain humans. And in Above Ground, you’ve got all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures: witches, ‘pyres, werekin, ewtes…
3. What’s its history?
I’m still working on piecing together the timeline but the overall summary is that as diseases become more resistant to antibiotics, humans develop new and crazier drugs, with unintended side-effects. Of course, there’s always going to be someone who wants to take advantage of those side-effects… If you’re interested, Belonging offers a glimpse of Above Ground‘s origin story.
4. What sorts of civilizations fill your world?
In the distant future, Above Ground features a fragmented society.
Humans live underground in a high-tech purpose-built city, their social classes roughly divided by how close/far you live from the surface. There are multiple underground cities linked by tunnels ruled by a central government: on other continents there probably are other human civilizations that I haven’t thought about.
The infected live above ground in a low tech environment (magical interference being a killer for electricity) and have multiple races of magical beings who are often at odds with each other. They generally try not to mix unless they have to. The story itself is set on the edges of unclaimed territory (elsewhere there is at least one dragon monarchy).
5. How does gender & sexuality work in your world?
This is an important theme for me. When taking on the challenge of writing a contemporary paranormal erotica, I was determined to break the mould: the protagonist is a kick-ass demon hunter who knows what she wants. I didn’t want any power plays or subservience to her love interest, but for it to be a meeting of equals.
Not to mention, the demon hunting society is very old-fashioned and patriarchal, so her presence certainly challenges the novel’s status quo, where women are considered too weak to fight demons.
6. What are the religions and cosmology of your world?
In Above Ground, there’s an entirely new set of mythology to help explain each race’s origin stories. I haven’t really had to map them out yet (other than this werewolf myth). However I’ve spent some time thinking about what I’d cover in the sequel, particularly looking at the Guild’s (a telepath society) belief structure. Their idea that a telepath never truly dies links back quite nicely to the origin stories for ghosts in my present-day WIPs.
7. What technology is used in your world?
I get to have the most fun technology-wise with the humans in Above Ground. I force upon them my silly near-tech ideas, such as t-shirts that are entirely LCD screens that advertisers can pay to hire. Then there’s the more common items like integrated home AIs.
8. What magic exists in your world?
This is the piece I’m working on the most right now, for the paranormal erotica. How do demons and ghosts cross over from the other side? How hard is it for them to remain as manifestations in this side? How are demons born? What is the “other side”, anyway?
I don’t want to rely on the traditional Christian explanation of Heaven & Hell, so finding my own path through this is a little complicated.
9. What do people do for work in your world?
With the paranormal erotica, I had hit a real roadblock when I realised the protagonist couldn’t live off of killing demons in her spare time. I struggled to think of a perfect job and seriously considered Airbnb host (flexible working hours = more time to hunt demons). But eventually I settled on hotel receptionist, a position that means she can easily monitor new arrivals in town for any suspicious activity.
The dystopian police procedural I’m outlining is the most work-oriented piece of fiction I’ve planned to date. The main character is a homicide detective, chasing down a serial killer who experiments on his victims. But the closer he comes to finding the killer, the closer he comes to finding out a dark truth about himself.
10. What do people do for fun in your world?
The protagonist in the erotica kills demons for fun: does that count?
What about you? Do you struggle with world-building or is it character development that comes second? What’s your favourite world to get lost in?