Welcome to another great installment of World Builders! Today I welcome science fiction and space opera author A.C. Weston.
Her husband, Alex, earns his “A” in A.C. Weston by providing big-picture organizational edits, adding descriptions here and there, and serving as a source of historical knowledge for world-building ideas. They have two gorgeous daughters who are, at various times, an astronaut princess, Cinderella Wonder Woman, and a creature who has been alive for a thousand years who took over this child’s body and is wearing her skin (that one threw Mom and Dad for a loop, to be honest).
Cara has a degree in biology and almost a master’s degree in public health. She currently works at the Minnesota Department of Health doing long-term follow-up for children with hearing loss. She has a freelance art business which you can find here: Perpetual West on Etsy.
She also illustrated her first children’s book this year. (I’m Growing with CAH!) She hopes there will be more children’s books to illustrate in her future.
In the meantime, she really hopes she’ll get her first science fiction book, She Is the End, published through Inkshares.
I became of fan of Cara’s work as soon as I had a chance to read her opening chapter on Inkshares. I also love her quirky, creative trailer for the book, which in my opinion was brilliantly put together!
Here are Cara’s answers to my questions on how she approach the task of building the unique world of her story.
I’m going to be honest: I don’t really like world-building. It’s hard and complicated and I can never remember all the stuff I make up. I’m all about characters – everything I develop for world-building stems from work on character development and relationships. For example, I started off with the goal of giving each character a reason to hate or stay away from every other character, and a reason for each character to bond with each other character. Some of these reasons were class-related, some were race/ethnicity-related, and some were due to previous conflicts between their peoples. My ace in the hole (because he’s the “A” in A.C., get it) is my historian husband. I can ask him, “Do you know of any battles in history where a smaller group with fewer resources beat a bigger group with more resources?” and he’ll say, “Oh, yeah, there was this naval battle in the 1400’s…” or something and I’ll be inspired. It’s very helpful!
I think, as far as plot goes, you just have to decide what sort of story you are trying to tell. You can make whoever you want “right”, and just set up the world and use the tropes we know to portray them as right. I far, far prefer worlds where there is no clear “good and evil”, but each side in a conflict has good, genuine, sincere people, and each individual person is capable of good or evil. The world you build is less simple if you don’t just declare, “All aliens are evil!” and leave it at that, and I think that’s a good thing. Building in societal and cultural differences has really helped me make my characters more real – for example, the meaning and importance of physical contact is very, very different for the people of Eray than the people of Kilani, and that causes significant problems between Relai and Milo, my two main characters.
What aspects of the world do you have to figure out before you start a story? What do you allow to unfold as you write?
I’m a pantser – I don’t plan anything out. I just started writing this thing with very little plan beyond, “It’s a space adventure! With a space princess!” Then again, the first iteration of this book began when I was sixteen, when two friends and I decided to invent a made-up world and each write stories in it. Part of the foundation of the Vada Chronicles universe was invented by them, and I don’t even remember the logic behind it. When I started over, I had to decide what to keep and what to cut – I kept the mysterious element of metalock (least we didn’t call it Unobtainium), but I cut Relai’s best friend because she made everything so much easier on Relai and I wanted her to suffer a bit. The most important things were the dynamics between the characters, because that’s the foundation of my books.
So, I knew about the four planets and their general political structures, but I didn’t know what kind of people lived there or what the geography was like or what resources they traded. These are all things I had to come up with later.
Do you have a technique for keeping track of world building as you go? How do you ensure your material is easily retrievable and easy to modify?
I have separate running documents for Geography/Locations, Language and Gestures, and Historical Context. Ctrl+F is my friend when it comes to retrieving things; I also regularly review my documents and notes to remind myself of all the little things I came up with that might end up being relevant to the plot. You will always have way more as a foundation than what makes it into your book, and that’s not only good, it’s essential. People can tell if the world you’re writing is underdeveloped.
What are some fundamental rules to world building you would say are important to every writer in the sci fi / fantasy genres?
Keep everything organized! Your life will be easier for it. And you have to step back periodically and ask yourself: is this cliché? Is this a stereotype? Am I just writing what feels natural without questioning anything? Readers will be more interested if you give them a new take on something and actually explore the implications of it, instead of just regurgitating the same stuff you previously took in. We have a lot of really comforting themes and tropes in science fiction and fantasy, but I encourage you to actually think. Think and question, then challenge yourself to make it better. Do your research, and listen to voices different than your own.
Are you modifying your world building process? Do you have any particular things you’d like to improve on?
I need to keep better track of all the little tidbits I come up with while I’m walking to get coffee or waiting for the bus. I have a notebook full of notes which I hope will be worth a ton after the Vada Chronicles takes off and/or I die, but in the meantime I just need to work harder at transferring these things into my digital files.
In your opinion, what is it that makes a believable and immersive world for a sci fi / fantasy story?
I’m all about the characters. Different people look for different things in their stories, so you can’t expect your book to please everyone. The more you try to please everyone, the more bland it will be. (If you want to write something bland, go for it – just be aware of what you’re doing.) I enjoy worlds that explore the logical consequences of the fantastical or science fiction elements; for example, I haven’t read the Divergent series* because I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief for a world where everyone only has one personality trait. I get that it’s a story and it’s not real, but that idea is so absurd that I have a hard time taking it seriously. I could give it a chance and maybe all this is explained in the narrative, but I only have so much time on my hands and I have other books to read.
(*It’s a very successful series, obviously, so that just goes to show you that different people like different things, and that’s okay!)
Describe your world and some of the considerations behind it that you feel give your stories a solid sense of realism:
She Is the End is set in present day on Earth. Human aliens have been living among us for decades; they initially saw Earth as a quaint “sleeping” planet that doesn’t know about extra-terrestrial life, but everyone realizes that, as Earth advances, the aliens aren’t going to be able to hide much longer. Earth’s gonna wake up, one way or another; the question on every political mind in the coalition between the four other populated planets in our galaxy – Arden, Oeyla, Gastred, and Titus – is who gets to take over Earth when she wakes? Things come to a head when an oppressed vigilante tracks down the head of the Vada Coalition, Relai Aydor, to a secret alien base on Earth in an attempt to bring her to justice. Instead, he and his suspiciously cavalier friend free her from captivity, and they go on the run to take back her crown.
I wanted to ease people who might not read sci-fi into the more “out there” elements, so as far as we know everyone starts off as human, too. Readers don’t have to learn too many new vocabulary words to get into the story … and then things get weirder and crazier as the book progresses. We learn there are supernatural abilities and non-human aliens and prophecies and all sorts of stuff. By the time we get there, though, the reader should know my characters and care about them enough to enjoy watching them react to some of these things. I also found myself pairing supernatural abilities with technological advances, with the idea that people who don’t have those abilities would always be striving to compete with those they see as having an advantage. It’s an important plot point at the end of the book when a character realizes another character isn’t simply using technology, but has a supernatural ability. It’s important to the overarching plot, to these characters, AND it gets a guy naked, so that’s all good. (Not in a sexy way though, sorry.) I also thought it would be interesting to explore how technology and supernatural abilities might intersect in powerful or dangerous ways, so there’s some of that in there, too.
What tips do you have for aspiring fantasy writers on how to create a solid, believable world?
Read a lot. Write a lot. Then question everything and make it better.
I just love that motto! Thanks, Cara, for sharing your insights on world building. Now, here’s a bit about her novel, She is the End:
She ditched a throne, a planet, and a galactic coalition for a quiet life on Earth when her father showed her just how worthless he thought she was. Now, five years later, she wakes with her father dead and a bounty on her head. She’ll need a lot of help to get home and take back her crown from the tyrants who kidnapped her and started killing in her name.
She’s not a princess, but she could be a queen.
Milo might be called a terrorist now, but if he overthrows Relai he’ll get to pick his own title—and his people will finally be free. But when he tracks down his tyrant queen and ends up springing her from captivity instead, they begin a tense journey from Earth to their home planet of Arden to cut down the true villains. They won’t make it far without the help of a spoiled teenage soldier, a beleaguered tech genius, and a bartender who definitely only tagged along for the fun of it, no other reason, none at all…
Now they just need to catch a ride off-planet.
Here is what some people have had to say about She is the End:
“Quick, action-packed narrative that moves and pulls you in. A.C. Weston writes with immediacy that puts me right in the middle of the story, with no room to escape. I love it!” —Some cool guy, I don’t remember who (aka John Robin)
“Goram! This is good stuff!” –Andrew J. Ainsworth, author of These Old Bones
“I’m a sucker for a good title, but every other thing about this project is well north of Rad… As a HUGE Joseph Campbell fanboy the author pushed all of my nerd buttons.” –G. Derek Adams, author of Asteroid Made of Dragons
An excerpt, from Episode IV: Field:
At the top of the hill, Tannor whispered:
“I need to fry the transmitters in our coms.”
“You know I have that covered,” Ky breathed. He made no sound as he moved, not that it mattered with the rest of them stomping through the foliage. The world grew brighter by the minute and these trees were too sparse to hide anyone; Tannor needed to do this now.
“Yet they still found us,” she said.
Ky sucked at his teeth and shrugged.
Relai led them to a wooden home with large, dark windows overlooking the lake. Tannor wasn’t sure what kind of weapons these Earthans kept around, but Goren had fixed three gen-guns. She wasn’t worried.
Ky circled the house, creeping along like a common criminal. Milo caught up as the rest of them huddled in a copse of tall, spindly trees. Tannor watched Relai ignore him, red in her cheeks, as he thrust Goren’s jacket in the kid’s face. Then Ky returned.
“Looks good. Vehicle in the second building.” He dipped his chin as Tannor raised the ignition cell. “You gonna carve the pins out of our bones, too?”
Tannor grimaced. Along with a name and a class, every Vadan baby received a commons profile for their informatic life and a tiny pellet in their sternum to log their age. Without the profile, you couldn’t do anything—get a job, attend school, watch telay, write a note to a friend—that required electronic data use. And without the pin, it was really easy to lose track of how long your body had existed, even after only one space trip.
Tannor had no safe way to remove the pin. At least, not without a hell of a lot of pain and no way to heal it.
“I had a ceramic deflector put in when I came to live on Earth,” Relai commented, and something in her voice made Tannor look up. Relai opened the robe to point out a rod the size of a fingernail and the color of her skin stuck to her collarbone. “It stops tech from noticing my pin.” Tannor caught a flash of a soft smile on her face. “MMN sells them.”
“But…” Goren began, and they all watched in amusement as he choked on the realization that he shouldn’t be questioning his queen about the legality of her choices. Relai brushed her fingers across the bone and shrugged. “I wanted to be left alone.”
“Good for you,” Milo drawled, “but what about the rest of us?”
“She’s the only one who really matters,” Goren, the idiot, replied.
Tannor pinched the bridge of her nose and raised her voice before anyone else could reply. “Stop talking. There’s nothing I can do about the rest of our pins right now.” She turned to Ky first and brandished her ignition cell. “Kneel down. You’re too tall.”
He smirked and dropped to his knees in the brush. She held him still with fingers in his wet hair and his mouth went slack, eyes hooded, and Tannor didn’t want to contemplate the look on his face. She shocked him and turned to Relai as he hissed through the pain.
“Will it destroy the whole com?” Relai asked.
“No,” Tannor said, easing the ignition cell behind her ear. “Just the transmitter. Why?”
Relai looked at the ground. “Uh. Well. I store all my music on my com.”
Tannor fired the cell, maybe a little less gently than she should have.
If you enjoyed what you read here and would like to help bring this book to life, please go over to Inkshares cast your vote by pre-ordering a copy.
Inkshares is a crowdfunding publisher who chooses which books to publish based on whether enough readers have shown interest in them. Inkshares uses funds raised to contract traditional editing, cover, and design services for the production of a high quality book. Successful projects have been reviewed in the NYT, US Today, and Washington Post, and have been distributed to numerous bookstores across North America, including Indigo and Barnes & Noble.
Simply put, Inkshares is awesome! So if you want to see She is the End in bookstores, cast your vote as a reader by pre-ordering now.
Here is where you can connect with Cara and follow her progress:
Facebook: Page – “She Is the End”
Google Plus: Cara Weston
Other networks: Pinterest
Fan email address: cara.c.weston “at” gmail “dot” com