Science Fiction and Fantasy do not describe the type of plot as much as the setting – a world in which imagination changes some of the rules. It is a world in which coming of age, adventure, mystery, romance, war or philosophical musings still take place. (Science fiction and fantasy novels should really have dual genre classifications.) It is actually a world that shares much more in common with the ‘real world’ than it differs from it, or it simply would not make sense to the readers.
Before embarking on creating your own world, you need to decide exactly what those differences are, as well as the limitations imposed on them. What kind of things need to be considered? How about a brief human geography lesson:
Population: Who lives there? Are they like earth-like people, animals and plants, or something else? If they are something else, limit your species drastically to prevent writing an alternate biology book.
Settlement: What kind of places do they live in? Metropolis, cities, villages, nomadic camps or massive hives?
Culture: How do language, religion, and education differ between groups in the society?
Political: How is the state organized? Even in a small group such as a family there has to be structures of leadership and division of labor.
Economic: How do they gain sustenance, protect themselves from the elements, produce goods and trade with others? Denizens of imaginary worlds must do some kind of work to survive.
Health: The medical rules depend on the species inhabiting your world (are they like earth or not) and their level of development. Characters will have to deal with the challenges of illness and death.
Development: What is the standard of living and quality of life in your world? Is it changing…. for better or for worse?
History: This is an area that I like to spend a lot of time on which prevents me from actually writing. Most readers don’t want lengthy back stories, so it often works best just to give hints about the history as needed, unless it is a very intriguing history.
In fact, the final challenge is informing your audience of the differences without writing an alternate history for your world at the beginning of the novel. The rules of your world should be introduced sporadically but before they are actually needed. If one or more of these imaginary characteristics (especially super human powers) are going to get your characters out of a sticky problem, make sure to introduce them far enough in advance. In business just-in-time training is all the vogue, in writing just-in-time solutions are the mark of an amateur.
Artwork by S.L. Listman