I probably should have posted this last week but anyway. While I was back at Cambridge, one of the lectures I attended was focused on worldbuilding and how to build fictional worlds in any genre. The guest lecturer, Natasha Pulley, introduced a ton of great concepts that I want to share with you now that I’m back. This lecture has definitely changed how I look at my own writing as I continue writing fantasy and delve deeper into different types of sci-fi.
Also, many thanks to Natasha Pulley for her amazing lecture! Information about her books and more can be found below!
I mentioned in the post I did about worldbuilding that there are different types of worldbuilding, depending on the genre or what you want to accomplish with your writing. Well, Natasha Pulley explained this concept much better than I did, so I’m going to repeat it here. She described how all genres build their worlds in their own way because there’s always going to be information the reader needs to know. The worldbuilding becomes more obvious in genre like sci-fi and fantasy given there’s more of a difference from our reality and therefore more to learn.
The story in the world then has three key components: a sense of place, the rules of the society, and the basic laws of physics. How much you focus on each area depends on your setting. For example, if your story is set in modern London, the same rules of physics apply there as they do in the real world, unless otherwise stated. You don’t have to worry about explaining how gravity works there. Readers already know. If you have a fantasy setting drastically different from ours, it’s important readers understand the setting your characters are in, the rules of the society you created that’s different from ours, and how the mechanics of that world work. Natasha Pulley described the three as like a Christmas tree (which is pretty perfect). Trees with little information that needs to be conveyed are green, then they progress to white depending on how much information you need to explain.
Once you know lay down what’s different and what the reader needs to know, that information needs to be laid down efficiently. However, feel free to take your time. If there’s a lot to introduce, the plot itself may take longer to pick up and progress, but that’s OK! People have a bigger attention span than we think. If they’re interested, they’ll stick around, wanting to learn more.
The Novum: What Is It?
The next major facet of worldbuilding Natasha Pulley discussed was the novum. Think of it as the fantastical object that affects the story, the “new thing” of the world. When it comes to inventing magic systems, the fantasy object (or idea, event, etc.) has a huge bearing on what happens in the story. Think the Ring from Tolkien’s Middle Earth or the Northern Lights and their connection to people in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. This seemingly small thing opens up a bigger expanse, one that all your characters and every major and minor event exists in that you develop within.
So ask yourself what you want your novum to be. Then start asking bigger questions. Where does it come from? What does it do? How is it used? What is its effect? When you establish this, it opens up the gates for the rest of your worldbuilding, as you now know what info you need to explain and how the novum/magic impacts that info and drives the story.
Now that you have the basic components down, it’s time to apply what rules you’ve established. As you start moving forward with the plot, keep in mind that the plot needs to arc cohesively as you explain more information, your setting develops, and your characters grow in the setting you’ve provided. With the novum, Natasha Pulley explained, the plot arc first establishes it as a small thing that develops into a big thing in term of affecting the story. It has big consequences for how the story plays out. With that as the foundation, everything else moves and grows with it essentially. So once you have those basic ideas, you’re ready to get started.
A brief bio and thanks: Natasha Pulley is a British author of several fantasy books, including The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, which won a Betty Trask Award. You can find out more about her writing and events coming up on her author website here. Many thanks to her amazing advice on worldbuilding and her amazing work!
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