One of the things that can make or break a book-reading experience for me is the world. I enjoy reading Fantasy and Dystopian Futures (what gal doesn’t?) and the occasional Sci-Fi adventure and in these types of stories it is crucial to develop a believable, well-rounded, full world. Whether or not I buy into a world determines whether or not I enjoy the book and go on to talk about it to everyone with ears and reblog quotes from it on Tumblr and review it everywhere. So let’s talk about worlds (super briefly).
Harry Potter – There are wizards? But also not wizards? And there’s a bad guy with a history? Horcruxes? Hallows? Okay, yeah, I’m in.
Hunger Games – Yearly pageant because of controlling, evil President? Districts produce things and are based on geography? Okay, I’ll buy it.
Divergent – Basically your entire life is based on one personality trait? Everyone in Dauntless is selfish and idiotic? These two people just happened to both grow up in the same Faction and both just happened to be Divergent but had never met even though she knew his dad? Where does their food come from? Their clothes? Where are all the young children and the old people? Too many questions. Don’t buy it. Sorry. Not reading anymore.
Twilight – Oh he’s a vampire. Alright, I’ll buy that. And he’s immortal. Okay, sure. And he can move really fast. Wait, what? And he sparkles in the sun. Annnddd I’m out.
The thing is, the world has to make enough sense so that its nonsensicality isn’t a distraction (as it was for me in Divergent and a bit in Maze Runner towards the end). Or the world has to own up to not making any sense so you can just ride out the madness. Most authors, I believe, are aiming for the first – to make enough sense so that the reader can settle in for the story, accepting the different qualities and aspects of the world as truth-for-now.
I read a book this past week called Regnum Stellarum: The First Wormhole War. It’s written by a guy named Wendell Mitchell Snow and get this guys – he wrote it during NaNoWriMo last year! And now it’s available for purchase! And it makes sense and everything! It even has a believable world! The story takes place in space, in two different universe timelines, which is super unique and a really clever idea, an idea I didn’t catch on to until the very last second before characters name it because that’s how I read books.
It is so clear that Snow knows this world. He knows the different stations and ships and ranks and relationships and the history and how long it takes to get from this star to this planet and where this planet is in relation to this galaxy and all kinds of stuff I don’t even understand but are necessary to know if you’re going to write about people living in this world. Throughout I was very, very impressed with the world of Regnum Stellarum.
This lady captains the ship? And these people work for her? And they’ve all been commission by a big company to do this thing? Sounds legit, what’s next? This guy is a religious leader and he lives with all these other “fanatics” and their enemies are these other fanatics and they’ve been in on-going war? Alright, yeah, I’ve got it. And there are clones and drones and wormholes? Totally, I’m in.
It makes sense! It’s all there. In fact, sometimes it was too there for my liking. Because I’m a simple gal and I like simple stories (which is why I read so much YA). The truth is, I didn’t really need to know the different names and dimensions of the different kinds of spaceships. Snow needed to know them, yes, but as the reader I’m not sure if I did. I think Snow’s just a show off trying to wave his well-developed world in the face of lazy YA world builders like me who are like, “The sun shone. The grass grew. Let’s talk dialogue.”
Snow’s world was so complete the characters had their own expressions unique to their environment. Where you or I might say, “What in the world?” the people zipping around on the Einstein said, “What in space?” because that makes much more sense. There were a couple of times when Snow might have slipped up and someone would say, “When in Rome,” even though in their universe the Earth had been completely destroyed (or all but a part? I can’t remember) or when someone referenced a cattle prod and I thought, “You know what, nobody has mentioned animals!” Would cattle prods exist in a world where everyone has a cerebral implant that they can use to communicate with each other and that tells the time and steers ships? I’m not so sure.
Earlier this year I read Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer, which is an absolute must read if you are creating imaginative fiction. Many authors and illustrators and world-builders of different types contributed to the book. It’s a cornucopia of wisdom, talent, and experience. In the chapter on revision VanderMeer describes his editing process. He recommends, as part of the entire revision experience, paragraph-level edits, focusing on paragraphs at a time. How does this read? What inconsistencies are there? How’s the word choice? How many times is someone “heading” somewhere? Then VanderMeer examines each sentence, sentence by sentence, tweaking and adding and subtracting as needed.
I don’t know for sure, but I feel pretty confident in saying that this is how Snow edited. If he didn’t, he’s just a wizard, because each sentence is perfectly constructed, using words to both show and tell. His word choice was almost exclusively on point is what I’m saying.
I have to be completely honest, there were some pages I totally skimmed because space battle was happening and I couldn’t find within me the interest. This, I believe, has very little to do with Snow’s skill or work ethic and much to do with what interests me. I mentioned Snow’s great sentences and stellar world-building and I stand by those praises. Sometimes, however, I felt a bit overwhelmed with information. I found myself asking, “Do I need to know this to understand the story? Because if I don’t need to know it, I don’t care about it.” Which, again, speaks more of my personality as a lazy reader and my tendency toward bare writing than of Snow’s goodness.
Basically, if you’re into space ships and religion (there’s a fair bit of religion I didn’t even touch on but was definitely an interesting way to design a world and to have the people interact) and sci fi and clones and wormholes and space battles, you should totally check this book out. The ebook is only $5!
If you do read it, let me know if you figure out what the Prologue has to do with everything else. I must be missing something. Also let me know if you care as little for Patel as I do. The Epilogue for me was like, “Eh, so what?” with a couple of shrugs.
NaNoWriMoers, let this be an inspiration to us all! An actual book on Amazon could be the result of this month’s hard work! We can do this!