Why I Wrote It: Cities And Worldbuilding

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Cities and Worldbuilding” was my book to coach writers by asking the right questions about their fictional cities. The reason I wrote it, however, is a mix of practical and personal.

First, the practical: Cities are damned complicated things to write.

Many stories take place in cities. Even when they’re not in cities, they’re city-adjacent, or cities are part of the backstory. Cities are everywhere in our imagined worlds – which makes sense because they’re everywhere in our world.

Because they’re so prominent and because we’re used to them, it’s vital to envision them properly. A poorly-imagined city may make a story or game less believable, breaking the tale’s power for us. When an author constructs a city that “feels wrong,” we know because we know cities by sheer familiarity.

When we try to create believable cities, we also find cities are incredibly complex. They take up space, both rely on and change the environment, and grow like living creatures. Cities both require resources and can churn out products and other resources. Finally, they draw upon, rely on, and change people as well – cities are giant social organizations.

I couldn’t avoid writing a book about cities. In fact . . .

There was a personal factor in this as well. That factor is cities fascinate me.

I’ve lived in many cities with long histories, large and small. I’ve watched them grow and change and occasionally make very frustrating construction choices. When I was looking for a job nationally, I visited many cities across America, each different.

Sometimes I like just walking through a city or town and getting a feel for it.

As I’ve provided career advice before, I also kept up on cities and economic choices. That is a soap opera drama all its own, with battles over zoning, public transport, and more. Sure this was important for my job and to help others, but it was also really neat.

Finally, my fiction works in the past, and my current Avenoth series are city-centric. Fantastical cities also interest me as they take all of the above and let you experience cities in new ways. The economics of magic or the culture of an interplanetary crossroads is the kind of thing that gets my attention.

This book was practical and personal, and thus very enjoyable to write. I hope it helps others as well.

Steven Savage

Why I Wrote It: Fashion And Worldbuilding

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Clothes are something people need to think about. I fell down a well-dressed rabbit hole, and I had to share it with people, so I wrote a book about it.

So “Fashion and Worldbuilding” is today’s subject, my book on the role of fashion in setting development. I didn’t mean high fashion, but more clothes and ornamentation and uniforms, all the things we’re used to. Well, used to until you design a new setting – like I did.

When I was working on A Bridge To The Quiet Planet, my techno-fantasy adventure, fashion quickly came into play. Thinking over a space-age world rooted in what is basically a JRPG/mid-level fantasy setting requires you to think about clothes in fantasy worlds. Uniforms and holy outfits, flowing robes and enchanted armors, all require you to ask why do people dress this way? Then you have to ask how did this translate to a modern world?

I had a lot about fashion and clothes.

You’ve got over-organized sorceress Marigold Rel-Domau, a sorceress who is legally required to dress in Guild robes to show she’s a walking weapon. Cleric Beacon Rindle is expected to wear the colors and symbols of his goddess who might send him emails to remind him. A long-suffering team of Military specialists have to dive in and out of “Military Blue” depending on how undercover they’re hoping they’re being. Fashion became important.

So I of course realized it was time to write a book. I’d thought about clothes and fashion in worldbuilding, but not like this. In turn, I then realized how many times fashion had affected my life, my writing, or come up in both fiction and the real world. I’d thought about this alot over the years, from game design to watching Tim Gunn analyze comic book superheroes.

In the end? A book came out of it, turning my own experiences into helpful coaching questions.

A lesson for me here is that you may need a more visceral, hands-on experience to create something. These experiences don’t just inform you or make you aware, they also collect thoughts and experiences to let you write. You might be surprised what you know and what you’ve thought of and what you can do – once you have the right experience.

Steven Savage

Why I Wrote It: Conspiracies And Worldbuilding

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Conspiracies and Worldbuilding is a book that is more than it seems, both in content and in origin. It would seem simple to write a book on “here’s how to put conspiracies in your fictional” world – and that’s the problem.

Conspiracies aren’t simple to write.

I love a good conspiracy in a book, from political intrigue to a murder mystery (which is just a tiny conspiracy). It’s fun to figure out what’s going on, and who doesn’t love a puzzle? The problem is that most people’s ideas of conspiracies come from Conspiracy Theories, and that’s dangerous.

Conspiracy Theories are everywhere because humans try to make sense of the world. In turn, they work our way into our popular culture because they are recognizable and often fascinating. A quick perusal of fiction will find multiple Illuminatis, a heavy dose of Lizard People, and a decent sprinkling of alien technology.

But this isn’t just fun. Conspiracy Theories and taking them seriously (in the wrong way) promotes several alarming trends, and this book was to address that in part.

First, many Conspiracy Theories are just window dressing on biases, old or new. When we recycle them into our fiction, we promote those biases and even give voice to promoters who have ulterior motives. A cursory examination of many a conspiratorial belief quickly uncovers racism, sexism, bigotry, and more. I wanted people to avoid spreading these ideas as if they were innocent.

Secondly, many Conspiracy Theories lead to bad story ideas because they’re so unlikely and impossible. Most Conspiracy Theories suppose impossible organizations, dubious motivations, and terrible resource management. I wanted people to write more likely conspiracies – as those are more fun to read or watch!

Third and finally, fiction too often ignores that Conspiracy Theories and Conspiracies go hand in hand. If you have nefarious plans, the easiest way to get away with it is to turn people against someone else. They’re busy attacking phantoms and innocent people so you can get away with your own dark goals. I wanted more fictional conspiracies that were good at evil machinations and wanted to cover this.

In the internet age, I saw more spread of biased conspiracy theories, more foolish leaps of logic, and more muddling of Conspiracy Theory and Conspiracies. So I wanted to do a book on how to handle these subjects in fiction better. From avoiding spreading bigotry to creating more believable (and thus thought-provoking) settings, I figured it was a win-win.

So far, it seems the book has sold pretty well, and I hope I’m reaching people. Let’s make good stories, good conspiracies, and spend less time promoting bigotry and the unlikely. Please give me a conspiracy that chills me as it seems so real and a story that helps me see how prejudices are puppet strings.

Steven Savage