Wordbuilding is an important tool for any writer, particularly for science fiction. It adds depth to a book, it helps to develop character backgrounds, and it provides a pallate on which to paint your story. In Part 1 (link), I talked about the foundations of building your universe. In Part 2 (link) I talked about building worlds and star systems. Here in Part 3, I’m going to talk about those little details that really contribute to the story.
Where Does It Come From?
One of the questions I find myself asking as I read a book is where things come from. Who made the flying car, was it a fully automated factory or the hand-crafted work of a mad-genius inventor? All the “stuff” that your characters use and interact with has to come from somewhere, whether it’s the weapons they use to mow down the bad guys, the starship they use to travel from one world to another, or the hand-distilled gasoline they use to roam the wastelands. As an author, knowing who made it and how the character acquired it can be important. Maybe that ship was made by a renegade faction and they want it back, or the fuel is a rare and precious resource that people will kill over. These are world-building elements that can tie directly into plot points for your story. Knowing where it was made, who made it, and how it got into the characters hands can give you a lot of material to work with in your story.
Who Are The Big Players?
Knowing who the big players are in the universe is a key part of worldbuilding and crosses over into plotting out your novel. Knowing that the antagonist for the main character in your first novel is the henchman of a greater villain that your characters will have to fight further on down the line is a perfect example. Knowing that the ally of a player is the child of a world leader sets up some potential help or conflicts of interest down the road. Putting names in your book isn’t necessary, but it does add some depth. Knowing how those people interact and whether or not they get along also adds some depth and can help you to write your story. The main characters getting caught up in familial disputes is part of the driving element of my Children of Valor series, and its something that most people can easily relate to, in that family can often be as much a hindrance as help.
Putting It All Together
At this point, you’ve gone from the big questions all the way down to the characters that fill your universe. Hopefully you have a good grasp on how it all ties together. That’s all great news, but right now you don’t have a novel, you have a setting. Putting it all together, making things happen, requires characters.
Creating interesting and dynamic characters is much easier when you draw them from the backgrounds of the worlds they live in. A renegade heir to a corporate empire who has forsaken his family’s ill-gotten gains can be all the more real when you know that his parent’s company utilizes the equivalent of slave labor in their factories. The never-do-well mercenary with a heart of gold makes for a more dynamic and realistic character when you know that he once served in the military and was a decorated war-hero, before everything went south.
Your setting, the world you built, comes to life with characters. They bring with them all their experiences, all their background, and they are the paintbrushes with which you tell your story. Remember, also, that you’re here to tell a story, not to show every detail of the world you created. Sprinkle in those details throughout, but treat them like spices when you cook, a little bit can go a long way.