I was going to call this post ‘Universe-Building’, but I then thought I’d make an untimely Eurovision reference for no reason. Enjoy.
We sci-fi and fantasy writers all know about the struggles of world-building; the fight between having no development in your crappy Star Trek ripoff populated entirely by Planets of Hats or your crappy Lord of the Rings ripoff filled with tree-hugging elves and gold-digging dwarves… and creating a detailed new world which demands you insert infodump after infodump between dialogue to explain those details, making the plot of your story more difficult to find than a bra that actually fits me comfortably.
TMI? Probably TMI. Moving on.
Personally, I know I err on the side of infodumps, however much I rail against them, but I try to pretend that my readers already live in the universe I’m writing the book in, so I don’t end up with too many of those infodumps. For example, if I was writing a book set in this universe, and I wrote that a character walked into a church, I wouldn’t then explain what a church was and give a few paragraphs on the history of Christianity–the reader presumably already knows what a church is.
Thus if my character walks into the temple of Shol-Flaerfrith, I trust my reader understands from context that this is a place of religious worship, and that they have the patience to wait until information about Shol-Flaerfrith comes out naturally in the story, without needing a paragraph of exposition explaining who Shol-Flaerfrith is right away. I also have to accept some readers don’t have that patience, and that I’m likely not the writer for them.
Today, however, I’m writing about my experience in Universe-Building, where every part of the world you build has a whole other world behind it. This is ‘518’ again, a world in which Humans have been absorbed into an alien empire. But that empire has 32 other intelligent species under its control, there are ten other empires/alliances with hundreds more species under their control, plus 23 independant intelligent species, and hundreds more planets without indigenous intelligent species that have been colonised.
Every single one of these planets has a whole other world behind them. Vastly different biologies. Many different cultures. Millennia of history. Complicated relationships with each other as well as amongst themselves. How do I get that across in a fast-paced action novel, when giving some idea as to how Earth has changed after being taken over by aliens is difficult enough for most writers?
The obvious answer is not to try. Most of the stuff going on in the universe has no impact on the plot. I might know that one of my Wyken characters is a dancer, but as Wyken dancing isn’t important in the story, there’s no need to go into it. I was thinking of making this one a series, after all, so there’ll be other books to explore the depths of this universe. For now I’m adding in information only as it becomes relevant–but that also means I do have to actually have this information at the ready. So here’s a glimpse of my universe in the form of a diagram:
This is a rather simplistic representation that doesn’t include any of the independant planets. As you can see, there are three separate groups controlled by a species called the Bani, two empires and one alliance, and one group called the ‘Conglomerate’ is made up of eight species which together control 112 others, making them the largest group in terms of species. The others are a little more standard.
My diagram here represents the different relationships among the eleven groups. Black lines represent open war. Blue lines are firm alliances. Dotted black lines indicate hostile feelings and dotted blue lines are for treaties that can be said to represent some friendly feeling.
Now, I drew in most of these lines at random (though not all), but it still helps me formulate an understanding of these inter-species relationship that I can then build on and explore. For instance; no one likes the Abonn (when the book is finished, you’ll see why). The Forthern and the Bizar by contrast have a lot of alliances, but are both at war with the second Bani empire. I decided this was because they were the two weakest empires, and didn’t want to risk the Bani calling on their allies for help during the war; they also have a ‘special relationship’ with each other.
The Bani alliance, the Icantri and the Kricto represent the three non-imperial alliances and together form something known as the Triumvirate, but they don’t disdain the imperialists too much as they have several alliances with them. Similarly, several empires have made alliances with two groups, despite those groups being at war with each other. Of course, the nature of all these relationships is much more complex than a simple line could indicate, and as you’ll also see in the book, elements within these groups often don’t feel the same way as their governors.
But this is just a tiny bit of information about the Universe of 518. Hopefully it’s a Universe that will feel grand and complex, but not too confusing to be a part of, and read more like a novel than a textbook.
And maybe, just maybe, one of these days… somewhere out there in this vast, eternal universe…
I’ll find the bra for me.
Also remember to buy my YA dystopian novel, ‘Rooks of the Knot’ from Amazon and Kindle.