World Building: The Dreaming

I would often get the following advice from writing coach and founder, Marni Freedman, especially when I was feeling stressed, flustered, and blocked-up in my creative process: take some time to dream. And, of course, it’s great advice and something that I feel like I used to be good at, before I actually became a writer (but more on that some other time). I want to write about the dreaming, because it’s important and it’s something that we often overlook, especially as we get older, and life gets in the way of us exploring our creativity.

A great way to dream that specifically relates to your world-building is to place yourself in your novel. I know that writers have been doing this since Neanderthals were etching charcoal fanfic on the walls of their caves, but sometimes it’s worth remembering those things that seemed to come so naturally to us when we were just baby writers. Dreaming lets you get inside your world from your own point of view (no messy unreliable narrators to worry about) and gives you a chance to explore.

I usually create a persona to delve into my writing, and you might want to try this, too. Maybe you want to be like Melisandre from Game of Thrones, or like Q from Star Trek. I prefer to cast “myself” as someone superhuman so that I don’t die. The worlds we build as writers can be scary, and I’m not about to go running around a place I’ve created without the ability to cast a magic shield or blink into another realm. Save the problem-solving for my actual characters; I’m just there to hang out.

Now you can travel in your world and really explore. Sit down with your characters and read their fortunes in the campfire. Eat the food they’ve made. Do battle with your main antagonist using your Red Lady magic. Maybe you’re writing sci-fi, and you’re an outer-space trickster god who’s posing as a spice merchant and has a chance encounter with your protagonist at a docking station. Let yourself go. Be whoever you want to be and do whatever you want to do, as long as you’re paying attention to your world while you’re doing it.

It’s up to you if you want to take notes on this kind of stuff. Obviously, you’re not going to use other people’s characters in your work (unless you are writing fanfic, I guess), but it’s safe to write down what you’ve discovered about your world and your own characters in the process. In fact, that’s the whole point!

So get out there and dream! Finding time, though…that’s the Holy Grail of writers everywhere. If you’ve got that one figured out, feel free to drop me a line. I’ll be here, dreaming about dreaming.


“Westworld’s” Gun Problem






(Warning: contains minor spoilers)

When HBO’s Westworld first aired, my wife and I (who had been waiting to see if it lived up to the hype, like many others who are prepping for life in a post-Game-of-Thrones world), immediately checked out the first two episodes. I was pleasantly surprised (having not seen the original movie, I had no expectations going in), and of course, as we do these days, I immediately jumped on the internet to have other people tell me what to think—oops, I mean to check out what other people were saying about the show that I’d just enjoyed. And while there was a mix of the expected positive feedback and I-hate-J.J. Abrams criticism, what stood out to me was the sheer amount of forum threads dedicated to Westworld’s gun problem. It seemed like it was the only thing the folks on IMDB and Reddit wanted to talk about. This brings me to my point about world-building and those pesky little details that matter so much.

Here’s a great new show that people should be buzzing about—but instead, much of the talk is dedicated to a few things that, admittedly, don’t make a whole lot of sense. Can guests kill other guests? How is a place with shoot-outs and hookers family friendly? And how do those damn guns work? The last question was particularly sticky for many viewers. Over and over, viewers took to the internet to voice their confusion. This is human nature. Whether we’re reading a book or watching a movie or TV show, we tend to get obsessed with things that don’t make sense, even little things. Which is why it’s so important for writers—especially new writers—to pay attention to these details and get them right when building our worlds.

The robotic hosts in Westworld aren’t supposed to be able to kill guests. And since it’s the Wild West and everybody is packing a six-shooter or long gun, the way the writers handled this problem was to make the bullets not harm the guests. In the original movie, the solution was to have the guns sense body heat (apparently the robots run cooler than humans), but in the show, it seems that the bullets are “technomagically” advanced enough to tell whether it’s a person or a machine. Do the bullets trigger a fleshy explosion when they touch a robot? Do they somehow self-implode harmlessly when near human skin? What happens if a host shoots a vase and the glass shatters and gouges a human in the eye?

Viewers of the show became somewhat obsessed with this topic which took away from what should have been a more positive discussion of the show. The acting is good with a few famous names (look for James Marsden playing Kenny from South Park’s Wild West forefather, and Sir Anthony Hopkins playing definitely-not-Hannibal-Lecter) and some great lesser-known actors, too. There are interesting mysteries to be solved (who is the Man in Black?) and lots of gun-slinging action. We shouldn’t be obsessed with how the guns work (disclaimer: as of this writing the series isn’t over, and maybe they’ll explain things later, but it will be too late for the initial buzz), but we are, and that’s the power of the little things.

Now, I’m not saying these details will be the show’s undoing. Westworld will be fine. It has a massive budget, famous writers, and a cushy spot on HBO as the Game of Thrones heir-apparent. It can weather a few mistakes. But the rest of us aren’t so lucky. We need to be really, really careful of our little things. We need to get our details right and pay attention to what our first readers are confused about, because when we hand our draft to the agent or editor, we don’t want them to get distracted by these things and miss how awesome our world and our story actually are.

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