Setting the Stage Panel

The Setting the Stage-The Importance of World-Building in Speculative Fiction will take place Sunday, August 19th, at 1 PM. Bookmark this page, as this is the “room” the panel will be held in!

Moderator: Julie Ann Dawson

Jessica Marie Baumgartner
Connie B. Dowell
Mark Gardner
AF Stewart
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111 Replies to “Setting the Stage Panel”

  1. Do you feel some genres are more demanding or the fans less forgiving in terms of worldbuilding? example science fiction versus fantasy?

    • I think that Fantasy allows for just about anything, as does Sci-fi with an endless supply of macguffins, but historical fiction… the fans are unforgiving.

      • Yeah, hard sci-fi is a tough crowd. If you don’t fill in everything, readers will tear you apart.

    • I’d agree with straight historical fiction. With fastasty and even alternate history like steampunk you can play around. With historical fiction you can’t tweak it too much.

  2. This has been a great discussion. What resources do you use for your research? Are their specific sites that are your go-to guides for some topics? “Just Google it?”

  3. What are some of your favorite examples of authors, or even TV shows, movies, and video games, that really nail world building? As in “Go read/watch/play this for a textbook example of doing it right?”

    • John Scalzi did a wonderful job in Old Man’s War. Chuck Wendig’s Under the Empyrean Sky trilogy is excellent. I’d say Liliah Bowden’s Shadow series. Wes Chu’s time traveling series is excellent.

      But don;t forget Scott Sigler’s Generations trilogy. Almost no worldbulding at all!

    • It’s cliche, but in particular for children’s fiction, Harry Potter is a textbook example of how to reveal extensive background world-building at the right time. A lot of complex planning had to go into the world to make it work, but most of the government stuff is behind the scenes until needed, and until Harry is older and presumably the readers are too. Some recent fun, fantastic worlds I’ve read are Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova (the sequel Bruja Born is out but I haven’t gotten to it yet), a YA fantasy with witches and a fantastic otherworld and for middle grade, The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta, a fantasy with Indian mythology and influence from string theory.

      • I didn’t even see the Harry Potter reference before I commented. Nothing against Potter, I do love that series hahaha

    • I’m an Edgar Rice Burroughs nut. His ideas were so fluid and out-there, but they were also highly fueled by his experiences of the times he was living in. I cried during “A Princess of Mars.” It was so real and captivating.

      Ray Bradbury is also another favorite. He could make you afraid that the person standing in front of you wasn’t who you thought they were at all. “The Martian Chronicles,” are brilliant.

      Also Ursula K. Le Guin’s, “Wizard of Earthsea,” is the entire reason that Harry Potter even exists. haha We all know it, because SHE did it first and SHE did it better. haha

      • ERB was amazing at predicting future trends. Beyond Thirty, with the exception of some dated racism, still hold its own against modern sic-fi a hundred years later.

    • I really don’t have an issue with this as a writer. In addition to my degrees, I at one time considered a certificate in religion, and I’m an ordained minister. My problem is breaking my own world rules, and justifying them to myself and the reader.

    • The natural realm and it’s consistency is my strength. Describing the seasons, the landscapes and natural disasters are what I crack open easiest. Religion comes naturally, but as soon as politics comes up I feel I have a responsibility to not preach or shove my personal ideals in the reader’s face, which is a struggle for a lot of authors, I think. Some do it and don’t even know it. haha

      • Yeah, but identity politics is alive and well, as is ideological writing. Ben Bova has made a career writing environmentalist sci-fi. And he’s quite unapologetic about it.

        Also, the massive grief over Chuck Wendig including LGBT characters in the first canonical Star Wars novel. Chuck was all, “deal with it,” and obviously Lucas didn’t have a problem since they contracted him to do two more books.

        • All people I don’t read haha
          Identity politics is what it is, I tend to focus more on building connections with people based on intelligence and commonalities instead of dividing everyone into categories. My characters come to me in diverse groves because I live in a diverse are and have many diverse friends, colleagues, and influences in my life.

          • yeah, people make erroneous snap judgements all the time. I’ve been told by a reader that they wouldn’t read my works because I work for Fox News Radio affiliate. Their loss. FNR is what I do, not who I am.

    • I like creating governments and religions best, any hierarchy really. Any area that involves math always trips me up; I had to research ship speed and distance recently and that drove me crazy. Thankfully I found an online calculator that saved me.

    • The trick is in making it all come together and feel organic. It is easy to design one piece of the puzzle but writers have to remember that all the elements of worldbuilding influence each other. Culture is influenced by geography and history and so on. And then people manipulate their environments based on the culture that has arisen out of those environments. World building is a big job!

      • I totally feel ya! It’s like instead of focusing on any one thing, you have to broaden the entire picture to give the world it’s shape and color.

  4. As was already mentioned, many writers do tend to do a lot of backstory for their worlds that never actually appears in the book but is important to setting cohesion. What are some key elements that you feel need to be addressed when engaging in world-building? Sort of the “behind the scenes” stuff that may not be obvious to the reader when they are reading the story, but are essential to the story setting being believable?

    • For me it’s sensory. We all have that childhood place we still dream of. Trees that smelled like freedom, rivers that told us secrets. Allowing the setting to be a part of who the character is often makes it very real for me.

    • Consistency is the key. If you’ve established a world, then there has to be a good reason for a character or group to go against that world – and it had better be believable.

      I think the basic socioeconomic tenants have to be there: government, currency, twist, etc. Since I have a human behavior degree, I usually draw on a principle of established mores: My society is based on renumeration, or hedonism, or many of the many social theories.

        • I’d have to say so. I have degrees in Human Behavior, Community Development, and Computer Systems and Applications.

          I figure once I finish up my graduate degree in Social Justice, I’ll have the trifecta. 🙂

    • Everyday stuff like meals, travel, jobs, etc. all has to be worked out. And how stuff works, like chimneys, door knobs vs. door handles, how fast do sea monsters travel, has to be researched.

    • A lot of history and government stuff probably belongs in the background unless you’re telling a story with a lot of political elements. For the middle grade I am working on, I had to make a believable government for this all to work but I do NOT want to burden 9-12 year-olds with political minutia. I’ll dole out info as needed, but having that structure in place makes my story feel realistic and consistent.

      • My children and I appreciate that. haha Some stories need a bit of government, but too much always turns me off.

  5. How much research goes into your setting? Is it something you spend a lot of time on in advance, or do you only start researching when you hit a point that you aren’t sure if something makes sense?

    • Don’t tell anyone this, but for the most part, I just make stuff up until someone calls me on my [crap].

      My historical fiction on the other hand, I do crazy research. I went abroad for the research on Champion Standing & Nala’s Story, including talking to present-day Chinese nationals.

    • Ooo, that depends on the story. I love starting from scratch, which takes less research but more creativity. Although, I do have a story coming up in a Crystal Lake anthology that is a historical dark fantasy with Annie Oakley.

      To write her properly I had to research her entire life and the people in it. I wanted to do them all justice and create something I think they would enjoy if they lived to read it. Part of my issue with Marvel lately (I know, I know) is that I doubt the Vikings would appreciate how their Gods are being portrayed. haha

      • But I myself have Viking blood in me, so maybe that’s just a personal issue. haha

    • A bit of both for me. I do research in the plotting stage, but a fair amount happens when I have a question while drafting. I find I often don’t know what I need to know until I need to know it.

    • I almost always fill that in after the rough draft. Since I’m a panther (I think the cool kids call it “discovery writing,” I often have to make changes to fill in future plot points. I like to write what’s cool to me, then backfill.

    • Much of my stuff is history and myth based, so I start with whichever time period and culture I’m using as inspiration, and quite often I throw in bits from other history to mix things up. My latest started with Greek mythology, I added 18th century seafaring, with a side order of Viking and Celtic culture.

    • I’m in the world-building phase of a new story right now, so this is what I’m thinking about: what kind of world fits my goals (plot goals and theme goals) for this story while remaining age-appropriate? (This is a middle grade book.) And what kind of world would create maximum fun for the reader?

    • Well, since your characters have to have a place to inhabit, that world need built. Obviously near-future is easier, or alt history, but alien planets, generation ships, or Skyrim, they all gotta have history.

    • Building a world entails a full scope. When we talk about world-building it means the author has thought up all the details, given their characters a place that we ourselves feel like we could step into.

    • Basically: Figuring out how the stuff works in my fantasy worlds. Are their guns, swords, what religions are there, governments, classes do they have music, etc.? All the while knowing most of it will never end up in the book.

    • It is a term with a pretty big scope. World building involves set design of unusual imagined places and even character’s wardrobes, cultures, or species, as well as how technology or magic is in this world and politics and government.

  6. As an RPG designer, world-building is a particular area of interest for me so I’m personally excited about our panel today. And while a strong sense of place and setting is important in all fiction, I think it can be particularly important in the speculative genres where you are often creating entire new worlds. All of our panelists today work in the speculative genres, so this should be a fun conversation.

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