Designing a World

A while ago I had a conversation with a friend about world building. We discussed whether the world should come first or the story. We basically deiced that both ways have merit.

Let’s start off with a premise: A group of extremists break in to a school and hold the teachers and students captive. The school is attended by the children of important people. All of the parents are: ambassadors, politicians, CEOs, news executives, Generals, Admirals, Air Marshals, and so on.

That premise could be used in a story set today. It could be set in the far future. It could be a world of magic. What the world is like would dictate how the situation is dealt with.

If we were in a science fiction setting what would be the solution? Just beam the hostages out? That would be a very short and boring book. So maybe transports don’t exist – or perhaps the terrorists have an anti-transporter device.

If the would is designed first then you have limiters built in. You know what the characters are prepared to do and you know what technology will allowed them to do. Are the terrorists really prepared to kill children to get what they want? Or is it a bluff? Will the negotiator (perhaps an FBI agent) decided to pump gas in to knock everyone out – risking everyone’s lives? Perhaps there is a completely safe anesthetic¬† and the story then is about how to get close enough to deploy it.

It can be interesting to write with limitations. You can start with the school. Its built on an island. It has a group of five attack helicopters and a contingent of Royal Marines. Then you have to decided how the terrorists overcame this. Was their an insider?

If the story is designed first all parts of the story can be decided – pretty much as you go along. You might deiced from the get go that two children will die but the others will be saved. This method might require a lot of reworking. It’s important to beware of logical hiccups.

I’ve already alluded to Star Trek and it is an example of the world being designed first. I.e the transporters were there from the beginning and so were a staple for every episode. However if you could just beam captured crew aboard at any time it wouldn’t be dramatic. Therefore the transport can’t work in certain conditions. Arguably it would have been better not to have transporters. It starts to look silly if they can’t be used too often.

In my own science fiction I’ve tried to develop the world first. I’ve hit a bit of brick wall. Looking at current technologies its possible that something akin to an Avatar might be possible. Not a blue skinned critter but a mechanical device. We already have the technology to control bionic arms across the room – requiring an implant. So give it 1000 years and you could send avatars, robot like devices, down to a planet. These would be controlled from the ship. If anything goes wrong you’ve only lost hardware and not people.

This could create a story problem as the crew are never actually at risk. It is tempting to change the world of the story. I could invent a reason why this technology doesn’t exist. However I feel it is somewhat more interesting to decided that the technology does exist. Doing that means I have to be more creative. I have to work to bring in tension. Also having these devices sets it apart from Star Trek. In Star Trek they go down to planets with nothing but a phaser and a tricorder.


Would consoles explode? No. Okay I can’t say that for sure. I’ve decided though that consoles won’t explode. I love Star Trek but that’s just silly. A few sparks maybe – so perhaps a few electrical burns – but not a toss you across the room explosion!

I understand why they do explode like that. It gives tension to the bridge scenes. In reality the bridge of a starship would be deep inside the ship. The ship would probably shake but not much more than that.

I’m a writer not a physicist.

Deciding that the consoles won’t explode does beg the question of how to make battles exciting. I guess that is my challenge.

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