My guest today is Brien Shores, author of I Think You Dropped This, currently funding on Inkshares.
Brien Shores is a science fiction author who divides his time between Buffalo, New York and his own imagination. Brien has spent a lifetime building worlds in his head and recently began sharing them by way of the written word. And the spoken word. And the drawn word. Basically, Brien will try to tell you all about what he’s created, however he can. He uses his odd, dry and pop culture infused sense of humor to lighten some of the more dark areas his mind goes to when creating a story. His first novel, I Think You Dropped This, is the result of his love of time travel stories, humor, suspense and rich character development that isn’t over the top, where you know that character is being developed but when it’s done you know a lot about them without realizing they were developed right before your eyes. He also likes to ramble.
Here now are Brien’s insights on world building.
What is the appeal of world building to you? How does it compare to the importance of character and plot?
The appeal of world building is that it’s very freeing. One thought can go in literally any direction. That thought will lead to others and it can bring you to places that you never knew you were able to go. When left unstructured as to how to begin and where you intend to go, I find a great joy in letting my mind wander, and excited when I find that wandering begin to make sense. There are very few things in this world that I enjoy more than starting from a blank page, letting chaos reign, then corralling it and giving it structure. If it needs structure.
As far as its importance compared to character and plot, I think it’s the top priority as the world influences the other two. That’s not to say that the world being created has to be the most involved step to figure out. It could be as simple as the world is the world as we know it. From that you have a basic idea as to how people will react in it, character, and what they do in it, plot. As soon as you start making changes to that world it will influence the character and plot. If you create a world from the ground up, or space up, or mystical cloud dirt that Orks stand on and do Ork things on then you have a completely original foundation to build all the other factors upon. I believe that having a clearly defined world is one of the most essential parts of storytelling.
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 figure out almost every aspect of the world before I begin writing. That’s not to say that all that is set in stone. My formal education is in fine arts and graphic design and through that, what I imagine is very visual. I picture scenes in the book as if they are scenes in a movie or comic, a lot of it is referential and intuitive for the less important aspects. If I’m thinking of a scene that takes place in an apartment I’ll decide the size, and layout as they apply to the story but then I can just fill it with stuff, tables, lamps, maybe a couch and other apartment stuff. At that point, I feel comfortable with being able to describe the setting, then comes the character involvement and how they interact with the space. A lot of this is thinking back to people I’ve observed and even how I would act, if I wanted the character to be dry and sarcastic. I build all the elements like this, but it’s not a long process. I’ve learned that the best way for me to start things is to trust my intuition and make changes as I go.
As for what I allow to unfold is whatever comes up and seems like a good idea. As with most people I, too, get genius ideas the likes of which the world has never seen and, unless they contradict the world that I’ve created, I explore and run with them. What fool would not run with a super genius idea? It’s actually not too often that something that I write ends up being what I start to write. In my novel, I Think You Dropped This, the main character was originally going to go back in time and accidentally save the life of an elementary school teacher, who would later inspire a student that would be the president in the present. Which I’m happy that I it changed because it’s kind of a lame idea for a story, but I was sleep deprived and stuck in an airport so it’s what happened. Instead, now he stumbles through time and has a much more personal journey along with a whole bunch more characters that I love that I never knew I wanted to write. I’ll usually know where a story begins and where I want it to end and I’ll just put pen to page, or finger to keyboard, and write a stream of consciousness and edit out what doesn’t work. I very much enjoy the “anything can happen” structure to my process.
How do you balance realism with magic or other world building elements that allow for departure from the ordinary?
I think this all comes down to suspension of disbelief. It’s how you can watch a Superman movie and not question that he can fly but when Lois Lane is thrown around an airplane or off a building and comes through without a bump or scratch you call BS. Suspension of disbelief isn’t arbitrary, though may be subtle. Using the Superman example the audience is told that he can do all this stuff because he’s an alien fueled by the sun, but that everything else is the world as we know it. A few things happen with that, you accept that this character can do incredible things, you can feel elevated peril of the other characters, and are taken out of the story when something incredible outside of the already justified happens.
I have to keep myself in check with this and hold to that the few fantastic elements I add are the only ones. In my novel, I Think You Dropped This, everything in the world is as we experience it except for a few people who are born with the ability to time travel. I feel like that’s a contract I’ve made with the reader and that it is binding. Periodically my mind drifts to the “wouldn’t it be cool…” area but if it doesn’t fit in the guideline that I set for the story it becomes a note. I don’t think that the more fantastical should overshadow the worlds that we create. It’s important that they’re there and that they’re used in tandem with all the other storytelling elements. I think for me, it’s all ground work for how the characters react and the plot unfolds. I’d rather write a story about people that has time travel in it rather than a time travel story with people in it. The world building and shaping of the more fantastic elements comes first but the character should be the driving element in the telling. The world building is the journey that we go on and the story arc is the journey for the reader.
What tips do you have for aspiring fantasy writers on how to create a solid, believable world?
Just make it make sense to you. It could be the most absurd creation possible, look at the Beatle’s Yellow Submarine, but if it’s grounded in its absurdity then you have something solid to work with. Set up rules for how the world works and then stick to them or change them as you need with your story. As long as contradictions aren’t made, you’re on a good track. That’s just my two cents.
Be sure to check out Brien’s sci-fi book, I Think You Dropped This:
Here is a short excerpt:
I am sitting on a rock. My name is Adam and I am still sitting on this same rock I have been for the last hour. I have been doing this for the past three years and I have prepared for everything I could think of except for boredom. At any given time I have a multi-tool, a 20ft braided cord bracelet, fire starter bracelet, hooded sweatshirt, packets of honey and this notebook. I probably should add a crossword puzzle or word search or something to the list. I’ll need more pockets.
The waves were soothing at first but now they feel like they’re mocking me. They’re free to travel all around the world while I’m just sitting here on this rock in the shadow of a black cliff. Then again they are crashing into my rock here so I guess I win. Yeah, I might be losing it. I am getting pissed at waves. What does that say about me that I am pissed at what Laffy Taffy has assured me to be “the most friendly version of water.” I am really just frustrated because I have no idea what day or time or year it is.
Movies and science fiction in general have lied to all of us. You’re supposed to be able to grab a newspaper out of a conveniently placed garbage can or front porch, look at the date, realize it is either historically important or the day before an important event and you’re off on an adventure! The fact of the matter is that sometimes, MOST of the time, when you’re pulled through all of time and space you end up sitting on a rock with your back to a cliff and getting pissed at water. My name is Adam, I am sitting on a rock and for a lack of a cooler title I am a time traveler.
The phenomenon of time travel is more common than you’d think. Assuming you never thought that it happened at all. I’ve only met one other person that could and it was only the one time. I had been drinking and couldn’t stop laughing at a man that I kept calling the “Monopoly Man.” That still confuses me because he was wearing a blazer. Not a top hat, not a tux or a monocle. Just a dark grey blazer. I might be a jackass when I’m drunk. I’ll have to run a few experiments to confirm that theory when I get back home. The Monopoly Man never gave me his name, he might have tried but I’d get why he’d want to back away from some drunk fool. I’ll never forget what he said to me though… is what I’ll tell people when I remember what he said exactly. Our conversation didn’t last long and it was mostly one sided. What I remember is that he told me that he was thrilled to meet someone else like him. He offered me some pseudo-science explanation as to how it all works about brain chemistry and the matrix layout of the neural pathways creating an “isolated gravity field that warped space-time around us.” True or not it’s more of an explanation than I was able to come up with. It did make sense though at the time. Probably how he even knew I could do this too is from the disorienting sensation I felt and I guess he did too when he was within an arm’s reach. The same dizzying feeling you get when you start to get pulled. I think back and wonder if I hadn’t been as wasted if I’d have more answers or at least someone to talk to about all this. The alcohol was probably what made it so we could have talked at all, killing brain cells and numbing the neural-matrix-whatever. All I know is that after a few minutes he was gone. No cool special effects, no smoke or shimmering lights, just gone. I’d never seen it happen before and it was pretty underwhelming. Nobody noticed though, they never do. A funny thing about people is that if they see something they don’t understand they can rationalize it away. Like a guy just disappearing in the middle of a semi crowded bar. He most likely walked out of view or someone stood in front of them or they really need to cut back on the drinks. I remember being nervous to the point of sickness thinking about how I’d explain what happened if I went away in front of someone. Three years later and it’s almost never come up. Just in case though I tell people that I’m prone to seizures. I’m never specific about what kind because the variety can be used to explain anything off when I comeback. If I’m fortunate enough to be rubber banded back to where I left.
If you’re intrigued, please go over to Inkshares to find out more.
Inkshares is a crowdfunding publisher who chooses which books to publish based on whether enough readers have shown interest in them. Successful projects have been reviewed in the NYT, US Today, and Washington Post, and have been distributed to numerous bookstores including Indigo and Barnes & Noble.
You can also connect with Brien in the following places:
Email: brienswords “at” gmail “dot” com