If you’re anything like me, the lure of other worlds is strong. My earliest years were ever punctuated by a belief, almost a faith, in other worlds–an understanding that this world, with all its limitations and problems, was just one of many possibilities. Getting to that other world, or worlds, just meant being at the right place at the right time, or, of course, imagining it into being.

And for many of us, writers and readers a like, the call of another world has never really ceased. As much as writers of science fiction and fantasy can differ, they are all working with the same idea. We retain a certain amount of familiarity in these other worlds, of course, but there are decidedly different elements: magic, technology, religion, society. We make the changes, alter the cards, to varying degrees. Whether we’re talking about reinvisioning, like alternate history, or completely rewriting, making worlds means playing god and storyteller (each, I think, essentially mean the same thing).

The question that led to this post was posited to myself. Yes, occasionally I ask myself questions, as any writer (or person, for that matter) ought to do. I was wondering why it wasn’t I couldn’t just be happy with my own world, and write in that one. Though I certainly draw from history and religion here, I’ve never wanted to write something that takes place here, in the here in now, in a normal, usual life.

I don’t know what that says about me, or why my brain leans that way. Maybe I should try again with something rooted here on Earth–I’ve tried before, to tremendous failure. It just feels too strange, like I’m trying to write from someone else’s brain.

When I was eight, I truly believed that, if I tried hard enough, I could get to Narnia. Not sure where I’m trying to get these days, but… I think I’m still trying to find it.

Alder tree art by meConvincing writing is, as many have pointed out, in the details. And when you’re talking fantasy, science-fiction, cyberpunk, or steampunk, it’s even more important.

You don’t feel transported into another world if people do the same things they do here, unless you’re gung-ho about some sort of detail-by-detail allegory. While I do believe writers’ individual hopes and dreams do tend to bleed into their works, I don’t think novels on a “this-for-that” basis work too well.

So here’s one of the things I’ve been facing. My novel takes place in a world like our own, but not our own. It’s like Victorian England and North America, but it’s not. String theory and alternate worlds aside, this is often more difficult than it sounds. The creativity dial of cultural uniquity goes to eleven, you see, but if I turn it up the entire way, there’s always the risk of alienating the only people who will ever read it: the ones in this very world.

Because I have some Western inspirations in my book, I’ve had to consider swears a great deal. (As a funny little aside, I wrote my first few novels about Billy the Kid, and my own hero: Destiny Desert. When my dad stumbled on to my half-written manuscript and discovered I’d used a host of swears he thought were much too crass for my twelve-year old self, he was rather upset. I forgot what the stakes were, but they were quite high, and prompted me to write a three-page defense about the historical validity of said cowboys using swear words… I couldn’t very well dispute history, now could I?) But I don’t necessarily want them to use the same swears that are in our world… some writers, like Greg Keyes do a great job of this (scaet, which I love). Heck, even Battlestar Galactica does a fabulous job of this (frack!).

But, it can come off very badly. Fricatives are such that they often mean bad things, not because they were designed that way, but because they sound that way.  So why mess with it too much?

Ah, I just don’t know. Some authors pull from the real world, delving into medieval and Renaissance language to come up with alternatives. Others go way out there, and pull from their own universe. I guess there’s something to say for calling it like it is…

I suppose I still have some thinking to do.