A big welcome to author Karina Fabian, who has generously answered some of my questions about worldbuilding. Thanks so much for stopping by!
Now, on to the interview. . .
How do you begin? and where do you start?
I begin with an idea, usually for a character. For example, my dragon detective Vern. I knew I wanted a noir-style dragon private investigator. (Think Sam Spade as a North African Faerie Wyvern.) From there, I start determining needs and asking questions, and build the world on the answers and speculations. Here are some examples (Keep in mind that these are summaries of the question upon question I'd ask myself.):
--Needs a reason to be cynical: Cursed by the Faerie St. George. Instead of dying, he had all his dragon powers, including his size, taken away and has to earn them back serving sentient creatures.
--Needs a niche for his sleuthing: His world, Faerie, is connected to the non-magical world, Mundane through a gap between the two universes. Magic and technology don't mix as well as folks would like; he's there to clean up the messes, find the baddies who want the tech/magic advantage, and save the universes as necessary.
--How is the Faerie world different from all the other fantasy worlds? Here, clichés and legends run similar to those of the Mundane, but with differences or exaggerations that are bizarre to hilarious.
From there, I started building the worlds.
Do you have a specific method or formula that you follow, or just wing it?
I have a general method I teach in my worldbuilding workshop, but I must admit, my own work is very synergistic. Each story builds upon the world, and the world gives birth to new stories.
In general, I examine the world on several levels: physical (looking at the laws of physics as well as the geography), biological, sentient beings, then the cultural, historical, religious, military, etc.
One thing I always emphasize is that not all of these elements are important to--or even mentioned in--every story. Politics may have nothing to do with your story; leave it out, no matter how interesting it is. You may want to have a general idea about the political state of your world, but if it doesn’t matter, don't overthink it.
At what point do you stop building and get busy writing?
When the story is ready to write. You may worldbuild as you go, too. My DragonEye, PI, universe continues to grow in complexity with each new mystery I write. For example, the Faerie Catholic Church was just an easy way to get St. George mentioned in the first story, "Dragon Eye, PI" (Firestorm of Dragons, www.firestormofdragons.com). However, from that tidbit, I suddenly found Vern's new partner, a nun/mage, Sister Grace. Since she's a main character, the Church became much more present in the stories--and thus, I've had to do more thinking. In Live and Let Fly (coming late 2009 from Swimming Kangaroo), I hint at a benign world theocracy, where local/national governments run their day-to-day affairs, but when it comes to the moral protection of the people, they bow to the Church. It's leading to some interesting Interdimensional situations, which I hope to pursue in later books.
Do you find that world building leads to plotting or story ideas you hadn't planned on?
Definitely. In Magic, Mensa and Mayhem, I wrote how the artificial flavoring scanatine affects the time-perception of the High Elves. I plan on using that as the crux of my evil villain plot in the next DragonEye, PI, novel, GapMan!
How do you see the relationship between world building and your characters? Do you find that decisions about the world help define characters? Or do your character ideas lead to decisions about the world itself? both?
It's a symbiotic relationship, definitely. That might be in part because I write "seat-of-the-pants." I know other authors have their worlds far more carefully plotted, so I'd guess their characters and plots come from the world more than the other way around.
It can be a little annoying not to have a fully-developed world, incidentally. I try to check that any new ideas I get don't contradict things I've already said. However, I'm sure one day, I'll make an error. My dream, of course, is to someday have to write a book about the Faerie/Mundane world. In fact, I already know who I want for my co-author: Ann Lewis, who wrote The New Essential Guide to Alien Species (Star Wars). And if someone would make me some maps! Ah, I can dream!
Can you recommend any resources or references on building to my readers?
I found this terrific workshop by Holly Lisle, one of the greats in SFF, about worldbuilding. http://hollylisle.com/fm/Workshops/how-much-do-i-build-workshop.html
http://pegasus.cityofveils.com/worldbuilding.phtml by Yoon Ha Lee, who has had several stories published in Fantasy & SF and other magazines and anthologies
The Science of Aliens by Clifford Pickover: http://www.amazon.com/Science-Aliens-Clifford-Pickover/dp/0465073158/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1205018387&sr=8-1: Excellent Book! He looks at the incredible, unbelievable weirdness of earth life and extrapolates to what we could find beyond. With examples for SF tossed in, it's a fun must-read.
...and of course, I recommend my own worldbuilding class. Check on www.fabianspace.com for the next time it come up.