Tips for Sci-Fi World Building by Laura Brooke Robson


[Note from Frolic: Today, we’re so excited to have author Laura Brooke Robson guest posting on the site. She has some great tips for any science fiction writer. Take it away, Laura!]

So, you want to do some world-building for your speculative fiction novel? Here’s how!

1) Fill out an extremely detailed world-building form.

2) Just kidding.

3) Seriously, please do not.

4) Figure out your theme instead.

On the list of writerly buzzwords, “theme” and “world-building” are not often allowed to sit at the same cafeteria table. “Theme” is wearing a wool coat and reading James Joyce (“No, I swear, I’m really enjoying Ulysses.“) “World-building” is hanging with the nerds planning the next Dungeons and Dragons campaign.

I, for one, think they should be friends.

This is a somewhat new revelation for me. Before my debut, GIRLS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, I didn’t think much about theme, and I definitely didn’t consider how it informed world-building. Here’s a list of things I did think I needed to know: How are full moons celebrated? Do characters wave at each other? What is the population per square mile of the largest city?

Maybe there’s a time and a place to figure all this out. Maybe full moons will be crucial to your plot. But I promise–this isn’t the place to start.

Theme is the reason you’re writing this story. It’s the thing that keeps you up at night. “The commodification of women’s bodies,” or, “our growing dissociation with nature,” or, “the staying power of stories.” In GIRLS, I knew I wanted to talk about all of these themes. To examine the commodification of women’s bodies, I made sure the world my characters inhabited shared features of our world that connect to this commodification–reproductive policing, the erasure of sexual liberty, economic inequality. To examine the staying power of stories, I created a world with an important religious text and important fables, seemingly at odds but with a surprising amount in common. When you know what you want the reader to walk away feeling, the little details fall into place.

The way I see it, speculative fiction and theme are a perfect pair: in speculative fiction, you can turn the metaphorical into the literal.

But here’s my bonus secret: Theme isn’t just useful because it helps you figure out whether or not your characters howl at full moons. It’s useful because it keeps you going. Writing a book is a long endeavor; editing and publishing it, even longer. During that time, you’ll ask yourself a thousand times if what you’re writing matters. If anyone will care. If you care. And if you’re writing from a place of theme–if you’re writing from a place of resonance, love, fear, and attention–then you’ll always have a touchstone to help you find the path forward.

About the Author:

Laura Brooke Robson grew up in Bend, Oregon and moved to California to study English at Stanford University. She currently lives in Melbourne, Australia, where she enjoys drinking too much coffee and swimming in places she’s probably not supposed to swim. Girls at the Edge of the World is her debut novel.

Girls at the Edge of the World by Laura Brooke Robson, out now!

In a world bound for an epic flood, only a chosen few are guaranteed safe passage into the new world once the waters recede. The Kostrovian royal court will be saved, of course, along with their guards. But the fate of the court’s Royal Flyers, a lauded fleet of aerial silk performers, is less certain. Hell-bent on survival, Principal Flyer, Natasha Koskinen, will do anything to save the flyers, who are the only family she’s ever known. Even if “anything” means molding herself into the type of girl who could be courted by Prince Nikolai. But unbeknownst to Natasha, her newest recruit, Ella Neves, is driven less by her desire to survive the floods than her thirst for revenge. And Ella’s mission could put everything Natasha has worked for in peril.

As the oceans rise, so too does an undeniable spark between the two flyers. With the end of the world looming, and dark secrets about the Kostrovian court coming to light, Ella and Natasha can either give in to despair . . . or find a new reason to live.

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