08 May 2007

Internal Consistency

When you write a novel, you create a world.

I have it on good authority readers kinda like it when that world plays by rules they can comprehend. It can be a reasonable facsimile of the world readers live in, or it can be an entirely new place spawned from that wacky dream you had back in February when you were feverish and taking cold medications.

Either way, the world you build in your novel needs internal consistency. Oh, it needs character motivation consistency, timeline consistency, and so on, but today I want to focus on worldbuilding consistency -- a well-constructed setting and mythology for your speculative novel.

If your heroine has brown eyes on page three, unless she undergoes a significant biological change (which I hear shapeshifters do!), her eyes need to be brown on page two hundred and three. If your hover cars can’t travel beyond the city limits due to mechanical limitation, then don’t include a hover car chase through the rural terrain of Terra Prime. If vampires aren’t harmed by silver bullets any more than they are by regular bullets, it’s not very consistent if silver knives burn their flesh.

This is especially important for authors of speculative fiction who arguably have more details to track. Since the spec content of their stories has facts known only to the author, uniformity of worldbuilding might not be as instinctive as it would for a contemporary author. The contemporary author, while she’s researched her protagonists’ professions, geographical locations, and so on, doesn’t have to fret about the color of the grass, the length of the lunar cycle, and how, exactly, magic works. The level of worldbuilding a lot of spec fic authors juggle is even more than an historical author deals with. But with all authors (Lewis Carroll excepted), consistency is the key to authenticity.

Not that this is some great revelation! We know what creates a convincing and fascinating world because we’re readers, too. Facts that get established and then seemingly ignored (I’m looking at you, LOST!), jolt us out of that pleasurable reading trance.

In my WIP, a light urban fantasy set in the now, I’ve got a plethora of unusual information to catalog. Many of my characters are empowered, and then there’s the political, economic and social system of how these particular individuals coexist with the norms. As I write, I highlight details I think are critical (or that I fear I might forget!) until I can transfer them to a master notes document. I have character descriptions of everyone in the story, a list of powers and who has them, and explanations of how each power works.

With my novel A SPELL FOR SUSANNAH, due out in 2008 from Samhain, my world is a fairy tale flavored fantasy construct, so I added maps, dictionaries, world histories, and a “setting” outline, where instead of plot I focus on what worldbuilding minutiae I reveal in each chapter.

There are plenty of articles and books out there about creating worlds, but what about keeping track of your creation> If you’re a writer, what do you do when you’re WIPing to ensure your world is consistent? If you’re a reader--which we all are!--what types of setting or worldbuilding irregularities really throw you out of a story?

Jody W.
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