Sunday, 30 May 2010

How much world do you need to build?

As much as I enjoyed Dunn's Geek Love, there was one aspect that niggled: the fact that a seemingly 'normal' world accepted a circus of freaks, particularly one that displayed 'freak feotuses',without the parents being arrested & the kids being hauled off to foster care. True the outside world didn't intrude too often into the narrative but it was always there in the background, particularly when the children are attacked by a gunman and are taken to hospital. There was no reason in this normal world for the bizarre and illegal behaviour of the parents to be accepted, let alone not be prosecuted. The logic of this bugged me (although I could easily accept the crazy behaviour of the Arturian cultists in removing all their limbs one by one). And it started me thinking about world building - how much do you need, and how much should you expect a reader to accept when it comes to internal logic?

After finishing Geek Love I moved onto YA fiction with Scott Westerfield's Uglies series. (For the record, Westerfield's lifestyle as an author who splits his time between Australia & NYC has my jealousy bugs frothing at the mouth.) I'm currently about two thirds through the first book in the series, Uglies, where Westerfield has set up a future society that follows these basics: children are born & live with their parents until they're 12, they're then sent to the charmingly named Uglyville a boarding school type environment where they live until their 16th birthday and then have an operation to turn into 'pretties'; they then live in New Prettytown until they become 'middle pretties' and partner and become parents & the cycle continues. Nice and simple. Westerfield refers to the existence of other cities elsewhere in the world that operate on similar lines but the characters have little interest in these places. But of course there is an outside world that does come into conflict with the orderly existence of Uglies/Pretties, known as the smoke, an abandoned city once ruled by the Rusties whose environmental wastefulness destroyed their way of life some centuries ago.

I like Westerfield's world building. It's nice and neat and logical. You could dig deeper and nit pick if you wanted to but I think the world he's created works really well for the young adult audience and the fast-paced action distracts the reader from a desire to poke holes in the story's created world.

This is something I need to learn from. I need to build a simple yet solid world that has enough internal logic to hold it together without getting lost in a myriad of detail. I need to stop second guessing myself and trying to create a world that's bigger than Ben Hur with a lot of unnecessary detail that will only bog me down. Or even worse, stop me from writing anything at all.