Kameron Hurley’s epic fantasy The Mirror Empire was recently released by Angry Robot Books, and it’s been getting quite the buzz in the SF/Fantasy world. All the big review publications have been giving it starred reviews, and well-known authors and bloggers alike have had a lot to say about this imaginative, dense, and violent story. My reaction? I honestly had mixed feelings about it (you can read my review here), but there is no denying that Hurley has some pretty solid world-building chops. She’s pulled out all the stops in The Mirror Empire, and if you’ve read the book, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m thrilled to have Kameron visiting the blog today to discuss her tips for creating amazing worlds. So without further ado, please welcome Kameron Hurley to Books, Bones & Buffy!
Making the Familiar Extraordinary:
5 Tips for Creating Worlds We’ve Never Seen
I recently stopped by Charlie Stross’s blog to discuss how making the familiar extraordinary plays a big part in creating successful, creative ideas for fiction. Building creative worlds is much the same way: it’s about finding all those things that delight and amuse and awe and surprise you in real life, pushing them together in new ways, and seeing what comes out the other side. Much of the time, what you create when you really put in the effort is truly extraordinary.
- Read widely. You might think this is a “duh” thing, but you’d be surprised how many people who want to be writers don’t read books, or only read books in the genre they want to publish in. If you don’t know what other people are doing, or worse, have only ever seen worlds built in the same way, you’re going to end up writing work that’s exactly like it. It’s not just that “the market” is buying those rolling Tolkien knockoffs, it’s that we’re writing an incredible glut of them. The more you read, the more you’ll know what’s possible.
- Travel. Can’t travel? Hit the books again. Plenty of great writers never made it more than fifty miles from their homes. But what they did do is spend a great deal of time reading nonfiction: especially history. Read travelogues. Read biographies, autobiographies, creative nonfiction. If you’re able to travel, be sure to keep your eyes open. One of the sad things about a lot of traveling experiences is that so many people will sit in their hotel rooms doing the safe, expected things, only hanging out with other tourists, and only doing the approved tourist things. Stray from the beaten path. You’ll bring that experience back with you to write about.
- Put stuff together that doesn’t go together. This one is huge. We’re used to seeing milk and cookies, peanut butter and jelly. Start flipping the script. What’s the weirdest thing you can think of to drive the technology of a world? Bugs? Milk? Dirt? Garbage? Throw it in and see if it works. Then figure out how that one change will have ramifications across the whole world. I decided in The Mirror Empire that I wanted to use flesh-eating, semi-sentient plants as a big set piece in the book. I then had to figure out how that would affect things: how did people travel between spaces with this sort of danger? Did plants count as living creatures to pacifists? How were plants being used for medicinal and technological uses?
- People live very differently. Fictional people should too. It’s often difficult to get across to folks that we haven’t all lived in these two person, strictly gendered households for all time. In fact, the nuclear family really only became a thing in the 50’s. Generational family living still happens, but was even more typical a hundred years ago, where you’ve got parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and in many places, uncles, aunts nieces and nephews in the same spaces. It’s still quite common in many cultures outside our Western-centric one, too. Group marriages, polygamy, polygyny, are all documented ways folks create social contracts and relationships. I’d also consider thinking about what friendship means, and how sexual friendship, especially same-sex relationships like this, have also been considered pretty standard depending on one’s culture and place in time. Think it through. Don’t just do what everyone else does.
- Don’t forget the butterfly effect. Remember number three, when I said to consider the ramifications of the technology or landscaping you’re putting in? That goes for everything you do. Geology, history, social relations – all of these things feed into everything else. Your protagonists are going to have been intimately changed and affected by world and social events. Think about your own life, and the big political and social changes in the wider culture that affected you. I know where I was when the Challenger space ship blew up. It was the minute I reconsidered being an astronaut. It was the minute I realized it was possible for everything, no matter how well planned, to go wrong. Big events, technologies, wars, culture, will bleed into everything your protagonist does, what they think is normal, what they think is smart, what they think is weird. Don’t forget that for a new world to really live, it needs to be totally integrated.
About the author:
Kameron Hurley is the author of The Mirror Empire, as well as the award-winning God’s War Trilogy, comprising the books God’s War, Infidel, and Rapture. She has won the Hugo Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. Hurley has also been a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Nebula Award, the Locus Award, BFS Award, and the BSFA Award for Best Novel. Her short fiction has appeared in Lightspeed Magazine, Year’s Best SF, EscapePod, The Lowest Heaven, and the upcoming Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women.
Big thanks to Kameron for visiting today! Do you want a chance to win a copy of The Mirror Empire? Please enter by filling out the form below. One entry per person, please! One U.S. resident will be randomly drawn. Entries will close on September 25th. Good luck!