Worldbuilding Tips: Where to Get Ideas

Many people ask me where I get my ideas. That’s always a tough question to answer, but today I’ll share some tips on where I get ideas for worldbuilding. I hope these help you to create alien creatures, futuristic technology, magic spells, new cultures, and all the trappings of building a world.

Build on Common Tropes

I wrote this post a while back about being unoriginal when creating fantasy creatures. There’s a reason that so many fantasy stories feature dragons and dwarves and goblins. And yet, the dragons and dwarves and goblins are different in every story, every world, every sub-genre. There are as many ways to add unique elements to the old standby of “large fire-breathing dragon” as there are people to write the stories. Don’t discount the old traditional classics as a great jumping-off point for original ideas.

Build on Real Things

In this post, I discuss two examples of stories that use real animals as fantasy races. Like the previous point, there’s a lot of value in starting with something familiar and then adding your own creativity to it. Whether you’re creating a race of armor-wearing polar bears, or a dystopian sci-fi world where dolphin and whales have advanced beyond humans, there’s a ton of inspiration in the real world all around. Continue reading

Love Tropes in Stories

Even though Valentine’s Day was yesterday, I feel obligated to write a Valentines-ish post, just because. Even those of us who don’t call ourselves readers of the romance genre usually enjoy a good love story. So here are a few of my favorite couples from books/movies/shows, and the different types of loves stories they represent:

The Against-All-Odds Love – Sheridan and Delenn

This couple is from the sci-fi show Babylon 5, which I’ve blogged about many times, and which I hold up as one of the best examples of storytelling in any media. The main plot of the show is war, good versus evil, and the shades of gray in between. But there’s a little romance, too. Sheridan and Delenn have everything going against them: they’re busy leading an army, trying to save their respective governments, and dealing with cultural difficulties between the two of them because they are two different species. But they fall in love anyway, determine to make it work no matter what, and their unity makes them and those who follow them stronger for it.

Continue reading

5 Little-Known Facts about Me (That Have Nothing to Do with Books or Writing)

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, then you probably know some of my favorite things: Peter Rabbit and Beatrix Potter, The Wizard of Oz, fairy gardens, Babylon 5, and world folk music, among other things. Well, just for fun, I thought I’d share five little tidbits about me that have nothing to do with writing, fantasy, or geekery in general. So if you want to get to know me better, read on!

I love rabbits

Kal-El, performing the trick known as Dead Bunny Flop. No, he was't dead here - just very relaxed. He was good at being relaxed.

Kal-El, performing the trick known as Dead Bunny Flop. No, he was’t dead here – just very relaxed. He was good at being relaxed.

I have a pet cat at the moment (and I’ve almost always had at least one cat as a personal or family pet for my entire life). But I also love pet rabbits, and I owned rabbits for a good twenty years. I’m taking a break from bunnies for a few years, because they’re really a lot of work (much more work than cats and dogs put together). But rabbits are entertaining and intelligent animals and life is never dull with bunnies in the house. (Remind me to tell you sometime about my bunny who could open doors, or my other bunny who was a climber.)

Even though I’m shy and try to avoid confrontation, I signed up for safety patrol in 5th grade and loved it

To this day, I have no idea why I did this, nor why I was apparently a successful safety patrol officer for the entire school year. Granted, I was assigned a side hallway and all I ever had to do was make sure that no one snuck out the back door to the playground. But still, I cheerfully told people not to run in the hallways, and I was never confronted by the more aggressive students. Maybe it was me acting out my desire to be acknowledged and respected? I was painfully shy, so I guess the badge and belt gave me confidence. Continue reading

5 Things Watching Sci-Fi has Taught Me about Writing

It’s no great secret that my favorite genres to read and watch are fantasy and science fiction. I’ve actually watched a lot more sci-fi than I’ve read (unless you count comic books). But anyway, I’m doing this post as a follow-up to last week’s post about things that Star Trek has taught me about writing.

For this post, I’ll branch out, and draw examples from some of my favorite sci-fi TV shows ever: Babylon 5, Stargate (all the series, but mostly SG1), and Star Trek (all the series, but mostly TNG). And don’t worry if you haven’t seen all or any of these – my point is to illustrate how good writing is good writing, regardless.

Consistency in world-building is vital to believability

This is the most important thing that I’ve learned about writing. Whether you’re writing sci-fi or a YA contemporary romance, a short story or a 10-novel series, you must be consistent within the world of your story. Consistency helps create credibility and believability, even with a fantastical subject matter. In Star Trek, regardless of which series you’re watching, the ships always fly with a warp drive. This is one thing (of many) that the audience can always expect from any story set in the Star Trek world.

Characters are what truly make the story

Citizen G'Kar of Babylon 5 may be an exotic-looking alien, but he's also a deeply complex, and surprisingly human, character.

Citizen G’Kar of Babylon 5 may be an exotic-looking alien, but he’s also a deeply complex, and surprisingly human, character.

Of course people watch sci-fi for all the special effects, the exotic aliens, and the epic space battles. And in books – sci-fi and otherwise – the adventures, snappy action, and rich settings are important. But without fully-developed characters, all you really have is a cool travel brochure of the world you’ve created. For a story, you need plot and characters. Readers and viewers need people they can connect with.

The three sci-fi shows I mentioned – Star Trek, Babylon 5, and Stargate – have no shortage of characters. What makes an engaging story is the relationships between the characters – their friendships, the different ways they handle challenges, their enemies, their likes and dislikes. In Babylon 5, the overarching plot is war encroaching on peace. But what makes the audience keep coming back for the next episode is not just the dramatic space battles and the epic story of the Army of Light versus the Shadows. It’s the characters who make up that Army of Light, the characters who have hopes and dreams and a reason to keep fighting. If the audience didn’t care about the characters, they wouldn’t care who won the war. Continue reading

How to Write Technobabble

I’m not sure who originally came up with the term “technobabble,” but I first encountered it in reference to Star Trek. Technobabble is a staple of a lot of science fiction: the “babbling” on about fictional science and fictional technology to get characters into and out of their fictional scrapes.

So what makes for good technobabble? It needs to be believable and convincing within the fictional world you’ve created, so here are some ideas:

Use real science

A standard sci-fi technique to fixing a problem. Picard knows what's up.

A standard sci-fi technique to fixing a problem. Picard knows what’s up.

One key element that makes science fiction different from fantasy is the science. Not that every sci-fi story has to be as full of real chemistry and mathematics as, say, The Martian. But science, and along with it, logic and a degree of realism, is part of what makes sci-fi different from magic-based fantasy stories.

Even if your story is set in the far future or in a different universe entirely, learn some basic scientific concepts that will feature in your story. If you’re writing a space adventure with lots of ships traveling around the galaxy, then familiarize yourself with the difference between a red giant star and a quasar. Even if the plot doesn’t hinge on that detail, you’ll likely have readers who do know the difference and might be upset that you have a colony of people living on a planet orbiting a quasar (hint – quasars aren’t stars, to begin with). Continue reading

Strong Women of Sci-Fi – Sam Carter, from Stargate: SG-1

This is the next post in my “strong female characters” series. Last week I covered the fantasy genre (technically YA fantasy, I suppose, because I wrote about Aravis from The Chronicles of Narnia.) This week I’ll switch to sci-fi, and I’m going to switch from books to TV. (I know, shame on me).

But even though I’m a lover of books and a writer of novels, TV shows and movies are great story-telling mediums, and highly important to our modern culture. How women are portrayed on the screen is perhaps even more important than how they’re portrayed in books, because that visual medium is more pervasive.

And again, true to my penchant for not covering the newest and hottest thing, I’ll be discussing a strong female character from an older TV show. And by “older” I mean the early 2000s. So, old but not that old.

Sam Carter from Stargate: SG-1

I’m not sure if I should preface her name with “Captain,” which was her rank at the beginning, or “Colonel,” her rank by the end of the 11 seasons she was on, or “Doctor” (as in Ph.D.) Samantha Carter is one of the four headlining characters of the interstellar travel team SG1; she and her compatriots (her commanding officer in the Air Force, a nerdy archeologist, and an alien warrior – all three men) travel around the galaxy fighting bad guy aliens and saving Earth repeatedly. Classic sci-fi premise.

Traditionally, science fiction is not always a genre in which women really take the forefront as complex and valuable characters (some notable exceptions are Princess Leia from Star Wars, and Lt. Uhura from classic Star Trek). Those women are the exception rather than the rule; many women in sci-fi (if they’re even in the story at all) wind up being either the “hot space babe” or the “tough chick with the ray gun.”

Samantha Carter is neither of these. So what are some of the elements that go into making Sam a strong female character? Continue reading