What else does one consider in world building? The actual planet exists now, it’s mapped and divided into its countries including exports and climate, we know what everyone believes in and even what they are keeping as pets… what’s left?
Well, ‘uniqueness’ would be my answer. Fantasy is a huge and sprawling genre full of multiple sub-genres and an absolute ton of wonderful authors with a whole range of ideas and oddities in their work.
It seems to me at least that what makes some settings really stand out from the crowd… is their ‘unique’ factor. Some element that isn’t necessarily in every other work, which when combined with the voice and prose of the author hit that sweet spot of ‘interesting’.
Sadly, one doesn’t get to choose whether they have hit that sweet spot – that’s up to readers and the general public/publishing industry to judge. I hope that I do, but only time will tell.
What I can say is that I know what I think makes my setting a bit different from generic fantasy 101.
First of all, I knew early on I didn’t want to write high fantasy. Nothing wrong with that genre, but it wasn’t for me. I’ve done a lot of work in ‘pure’ fantasy settings over the years, and a read a lot of it… and realized that I had nothing to add in that field. If I wasn’t going to be passionate about the work myself, no one else would be, so high fantasy was right out.
On the other hand, modern real-world fantasy wasn’t going to work either. Working within the constraints of actuality isn’t something I felt I could excel at, so that particular baby also went out with the bath water.
But… I do love me some science and some history, and I have a particular fascination with the Victorian era, so Steam seemed like it might be a good idea.
On the other other hand… I am not a lover of the antiquated speech and writing style of the real-world Victorian era, so it would mean having to make the decision to either embrace the more common style of these kinds of works… or steadfastly glue myself to my own preferences.
I went with the latter.
Not Technically Punk
Steampunk has been on the rise in the last decade. ‘Antique reality crossed with imagination’ is a good way of describing it that I have come across, and in terms of that… Hevna almost fits. It’s not our world, of course, but the technology and fashion pretty much is. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the genre:
Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. (Ok so far).
Steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century’s British Victorian era (nope) or American “Wild West” (Also nope), in a future during which steam power has maintained mainstream usage, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power. (Yes, for this last bit)
But I am always wary of that ‘punk’ element in Steampunk. Really, the way we ended up with this name for the genre has caused more problems than it has solved, seeing as the term is derived from cyberpunk, working backwards to the Steam Age, and the ‘ urban, raw, ugly, obnoxious, disillusioned, and disenchanted’ connotation of ‘punk’ really doesn’t fit. It’s much more about appreciating the grimy and gritty nature of the technology for being interesting and ‘cool’ despite being urban and grungy.
Even then, Hevna isn’t really about that. While I’m sure areas of my world will indeed be having their Steampunk moments, I am keenly aware that IF my work were ever to gain some traction and make it into the world, many lovers of Steampunk are very likely to look at my works and make the (reasonable) accusation that ‘this isn’t Steampunk’. (I’m not sure anyone really knows exactly what elements you must have for Steampunk anyway).
This is why I refer to Hevna as a setting of Steam Fantasy – Steam Age technology, Fantasy story. Which brings me to my true uniqueness…
Hevna has aether. At the same time I was first conceiving the world, one of the core ideas that got me started on all this was the ‘other’ element, which I chose to name aether. It is magic.
I knew from line one, page one, of my draft document that the world I was making had magic, it traveled in storms, and no one would ever call it magic in setting, because it follows rules, which ‘magic’ doesn’t necessarily have to, in its broadest terms.
Aether makes my world go round.
It provides unique powers to some people, changed the environment, the culture, the religions and the very evolution of species by its presence. It alters the weather, drives revolution and absolutely dominates industry.
Without aether, Hevna is just another Earth-like planet, hanging in its own sky like a theater stage missing its lights. Aether gives Hevna its pop, its pizzazz and I really hope… its appeal.
Aether can be stored, it can be traded, it can be used. It is raw potential, able to be expressed as exothermic, endothermic or even fulgurtheric effects, from fireballs to healing. But like gravity, electromagnetism and other elements of our real world, it has rules.
It cannot reanimate dead tissue. Once ‘activated’, it cannot be banished or returned to a state of pure potential, as it is already ‘realized’. It cannot pierce through copper, though it is drawn to it (a grounding mechanism). It cannot fail to exist entirely, either, thus large storm fronts crossing a country may cause weather to bunch up and areas of low and high pressure to spawn.
Aether is quantum – it has a lot of potentials, but ultimately it is a real force and once a probability has narrowed down to ‘1’, it is bound to the result of that observation and action.
Not everyone can use this unusual element of my world, and I have notes on just why that is, but for both them and those adept in its manifestation, aether makes their world unique and function in a way many others may not.
I don’t think I’ve done something entirely new or special with my work, and I would never be so arrogant as to assume some level of genius or insight in what I do, but I do like to think my love of world building has turned Hevna into a vibrant and interesting setting, that one day others might enjoy as much as I have.
Hopefully, this series of posts has provided some insights into my process and been of some amusement. Next week, I’ll be reviewing a favorite book from three different settings, and talking about what makes those worlds stand out, to me.