Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Mechanics of Setting

(Posted for P.I. Barrington)

I've learned a lot since I seriously started to write science fiction. Things like some readers love minimal setting description while others believe if the setting isn't detailed enough the book isn't satisfactorily complete. Yes, I've been told both by everyone from non-writing readers to reviewers and even my own co-author.

"The story is massive," she's said to me more than once. "You're trying to condense an epic!"  Readers have told me, "I love it that there's not too much detail, it's not overly written!"

So, where to draw the line? Some authors will tell you half and half; some will insist you must describe the fumes from an alien aircraft. Me? I mix it up. I'll put in what needs to be there and keep out what doesn't—sounds simple huh? It isn't. There are thousand comments on this discussion out there and many new and even seasoned authors get confused from time to time. Yet there is help and it's in the form of worksheets and generators!

And no, it's not cheating I don't care what you've heard or believe. Sometimes you'll have story with many characters, races, subplots, planets, ships, pretty much any and everything you can think up. In fact you're so deep into the story that you haven't taken the time to delve deeply into developing those items mentioned above or spent enough time creating names for places, characters, planets etc. Worksheets and generators help you out in these areas; they don't write the book for you. In fact, they'll probably kick start your own imagination!

I've culled what I think are the best worksheet and generator links and I think you should take a quick look at them. The worksheets cover everything from civilizations in detail to quick character lists to (my fave!) names of races, planets, religions…you name it. I hope these links will help you out and I hope you think they're as much fun as I do!

1.           Seventh Sanctum: This is one of the best for science fiction and magic and if you have some development skills you can even contribute your generator for others to use! Highly recommended!
2.           ChaoticShiny: This is the other best generator, especially for fantasy based on RPG and is for "people who write game or live in fantasy worlds of their own creation". Highly recommended for fantasy & alternate history writing.
3.           ScaldCrow: Interesting but limited and limited to actual RPG rather than directed at writers.
4.           Squid: Intense generator with real and imagined world generators (Afghanistan, Egypt, France, Japan and Congo to name just a few!). Definitely worth checking out!
5.           Serendipity: Revamped and based a lot on Les Mis but specifically for fantasy authors! Serendipity has name generators from French to Japanese and bonus villain names. Recommended.

**The next four links are excellent for
character/civilization/food chain/planetary worksheets: Highly recommended***


One of my favorites is a classic world building worksheet that is astounding in the details it covers. It is the World Building form from Patricia Wrede—each link within this link opens up a whole world of information you create yourself—but as Patricia will tell you—if a section doesn't work for you, don't use it! Not only that but this link is the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America site which you should probably investigate anyway.

And below this is a link FULL OF LINKS on fantasy mapping, creating, guidelines for the genre'! It's almost got it all!

If you're a purist, you can always spend time inventing your world in detail with copious notes or creating your own character or world building worksheets, there's nothing at all wrong with that and believe me, just filling out worksheets can be a blast on their own but if you're stuck for the name of a certain weapon or town and don't have a lot of time to research it or think it up, try out a generator or two. You may just get an idea for the next world you build!

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