BYU WIFYR #8: Brandon Sanderson, “Fantastic Fantasy: Making Worlds and Settings that Feel Alive”
[Note: I almost didn't go to this session because I don't think of myself as writing fantasy. But I'm really, really glad I did because it has got me thinking a new direction that has led to some breakthroughs on my novel. Very, very helpful session.]
Treat your setting like it is a character. It will interact with characters. It will change their actions and reactions. It should have quirks like characters.
A good setting should have Quirks, Conflict, and Blend of familiar and strange.
Conflict: look for places of intersection. Points of conflict in that setting are places to position characters. That provides plot.
Blend: something familiar with strange: “My Fair Lady meets Jackie Chan” “Pigs in Space”
Examples of elements that you could make strange:
1. Religion. What about a religion that worships handicapped people? What if deaf was considered best?
2. Economy. What is it based on? (Dune=spice. Farland=gifts.)
Once you come up with two or so new concepts, start interconnecting things. These things influence character and plot. Example: Since, in Dune, spice is center of economy, it becomes center of religion.
There’s a continuum of magic, with rule-based on one end and wonder-based on the other. (Wonder-based means that the characters themselves don’t really understand the magic. Example: Lord of the Rings, Wizard of Earthsea.)
Rule based: characters understand it and, knowing the rules, can use it. They use the magic to manipulate things and solve problems.
Your ability (as author) to use magic to solve problems is directly proportional to how well the reader understands the rules behind the magic.
1. ability: what is it?
2. Cost: what is the price of this? (example: after using magic, character is “stupid” for a period of time)
3. Visuals: how can I describe it in interesting ways?
4. Limitations. (Most interesting! Example: boy can fly, but only when in the company with his brother)