World building can be a daunting task, or it can be fun. Some of the most famous science fiction stories only take a step or two away from our world. In what became the movie Blade Runner, Philip K. Dick created new science that complicated people's lives in a large, crowded city. He didn't erect new building types or a new city itself. Yet creating new cities is common in science fiction. The movie poster for Tomorrowland has an image of a futuristic city that epitomizes how we imagine ideal future worlds look: organized, shining, and nearly symmetrical.
I couldn't use a classic distance shot of a futuristic city when I sent Chloe, the heroine of my novel, Temporary Superheroine, to a different universe, because the characters arrived at street level in midtown Manhattan. Chloe and her companion needed to know immediately that they weren't in our familiar universe anymore. How could I tell my characters (and the readers) they were in a different place? I made two simple world-building moves at once, one big and one little.
I put a highway in the sky. Not like the real ones that still exist in a few U.S. cities, that at most are as high as a very elevated train platform. No, my highway was way, way up and freestanding. Since the technology to create such a sky highway does not exist in our universe, seeing one told the characters right off that they'd traveled to a different place. Additionally, highways in the sky—or at least, very high extended overpasses—are a common feature in classic depictions of futuristic cities. Putting one in my story was shorthand telling the reader that some elements of this new universe would correspond to familiar flights of fancy made popular in 20th century movies. Also, the sky highway suggested that this unknown universe was more utopia than dystopia. That's a lot of world building for the price of one mention of a sky highway.
The little piece of world building I did was make all the people dress like it was 1962, in much more formal clothing than we see on the streets today. They wore familiar clothes styles, not the attempt at "futuristic" garb typical in scifi movies during the 20th century that consisted mostly of skintight uniforms for the men and short skirts for the women. I could have invented some new piece of clothing that everyone in my new universe wore, but that would have built a different kind of world. Instead, I made the men wear hats, and the women, too. Ordinary hats such as were worn fifty to sixty years ago.
World-building details that are different from our own world should have some bearing on the plot. Otherwise, we're just painting the walls. True to the dramatic principles of Anton Chekhov, my heroine eventually takes the sky highway—and hats play an unexpected role in the story.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are solely those of Irene Vartanoff and not the SFR Brigade.
I dreamt I was a superheroine...
but what if it was more than a dream?
Blurb: Chloe Cole, struggling webcomics artist, is tormented by crazy dreams, mysterious e-mails, and ominous sightings of a supervillain on the loose. In her dreams, she's a superheroine. Could those dreams have been responsible for unleashing ultimate chaos?
When Chloe goes to New York looking for answers, dreams crash with reality and comic book fiction turns to fact. Driven to undertake a desperate quest, Chloe must unravel the mystery of her parentage while navigating a bizarre mirror universe. Can she and her ragtag team—her comics fanboy ex-boyfriend, an enigmatic and powerful comic book company executive, an elderly comics icon, and an eccentric artist with a grudge against society—possibly be enough to vanquish a fearsome foe?
Bio: Irene Vartanoff started reading romances, comic books, science fiction, ERB, and more as a teenager. Writing comic books and working on staff at Marvel Comics and DC Comics absorbed her early career years, aspects of which are gently spoofed in Temporary Superheroine. After being a freelance editor in the romance field, Irene switched to writing romances. To her surprise, some of her lighthearted romance ideas turned into women's fiction novels about serious topics such as dementia, hoarding, and cancer. Others, such as Captive of the Cattle Baron, a sweet ranch romance out June 2015, are twists on old school romance clichés. Temporary Superheroine has a sequel to be published in 2015. Irene has more manuscripts in the hopper, including paranormal adventures, historical novels, and a cozy murder mystery. She's having a ball.
Contact Irene at http://www.irenevartanoff.com
Nook Press: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/temporary-superheroine-irene-vartanoff/1121441695?ean=2940151432238