Creating the Fictional Universe – Part 1: Establishing the Setting
Posted by Kevin J. Villeneuve
It’s a big world out there. It looks even bigger when you have to learn everything there is to know about it. It can be fairly intimidating to open an encyclopedia and try and memorize everything from countries and politics to continents and oceans. Thankfully Google makes that task a little easier these days, but start adding planets, stars and galaxies to that lineup and you might as well just enroll in an undergraduate program at your local university.
So if it’s that much work to learn about the real world, how do authors keep up with their own fictional universes and talk about them like they’ve been studying the details for half a century? The key is creating a solid base for a fictional universe that pulls ideas from our non-fictional world and has room for plenty of expansion.
Over the next several weeks, I will be posting a special blog series that breaks down the structure behind a fictional universe. Although you can technically make up anything you want in a work of fiction, it gives much more value to the readers when they can place themselves in the story and understand what is going on around the characters. My preferred word for this type of information is “backstory”. Whether it has to do with your fictional universe’s history, geography, astronomy, or even social structures and politics, fans of your work are certain to ask “why” and attempt to discover the past, present, and future of your characters and the world around them. As the ultimate creator behind that universe, it’s your job to provide them with that information when they ask for it. If it doesn’t exist yet, make it up on the spot and give it to them in a way that makes perfect sense in your world. That’s the greatest part about fiction writing- the truth is synonymous to your own imagination. Who says pigs can’t fly? They can if you want them to!
This first step to creating a solid fictional universe is to determine the setting. Are your stories taking place in the past or distant future? Can your characters experience the real world (Earth) in some way, or are they off in a completely different realm? Build a base of operations in that setting to live and breathe with your potential characters- figuratively- and see the universe you’re creating from their point of view. Would the world make sense to your characters the way you’re planning it? If it does, it will likely make sense to your readers as well. For example, in my latest series, The Adventures of Nick and O-Zone, I opted for a blend of fact and fiction to give my characters the opportunity to have real world experiences on Earth, as well as play in a fictional part of the universe- one foot in, one foot out. Establishing a solid base setting will not only establish your genre, but also give you a great starting point from which you can infinitely expand.
In Part 2, we’ll touch on the subject of geography and mapping.