Original VS Derivative: Original Worlds

So last week I talked about the reasons why you, or the author of the book you’ve recently been bashing to your friends, might choose to write a book set in a world that is merely derivative, showing little in the way of original thought as far as world building goes. To summarize, there are plenty of good reasons to choose a derivative world over an original one. So why choose to build an original world at all?

Well, there’s several things in favor of original worlds.

For example, if the theme of your story is exploration it’s important that your readers share in the wonder and excitement of something new. The easiest way to do that is to make sure the reader has never seen the world(s) you’re exploring before, and the easiest way to do that is to build them yourself. While it’s nearly impossible to come up with totally new ideas that have never been done before (a lot of fiction is published every year, after all, and that’s without taking movies and television into account) there’s still plenty of room to innovate and combine unusual ideas. Sometimes all you need to do is take two ideas and combine them to find a totally different world waiting for you.

Another possible reason is that you are looking to really emphasize some particular aspect of human nature or society. A great example of this is if there’s some aspect of technology you want to put at the forefront (see Asimov’s robot novels highlighting AI, or any number of modern stories looking at genetic engineering or nanotechnology).

But the biggest reason is that it’s fun. It’s more fun for you*, it’s more fun for the reader. On some level all stories are about discovery. Discovering how things work, discovering how people think and feel, discovering how the story turns out. Discover is what keeps people turning the pages. When there’s nothing left to discover, the story is over. Having a world remarkably different from anything they’ve seen before gets readers excited and gives them another reason to keep turning those pages. Of course, like any aspect of story world building can’t carry the show on its own. Don’t count on your phenomenal story setting to replace good plot or good characters. But still, a vivid backdrop helps a lot more than having a bland one.

If you want to see some books with solid, original world building, I recommend Taylor Anderson’s Destroyermen series or any of the works of Timothy Zahn set in original world but especially the Quadrail series and the Conqueror’s Trilogy.


*Unless you don’t like writing all this stuff down. In which case might I suggest thinking about a different profession?


One response to “Original VS Derivative: Original Worlds

  1. Pingback: World Building: Start with the Basics | Nate Chen Publications

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