Did you read our interview with R.J. Ross? If you did then you’ll know what I’m talking about when I introduce this post by saying “Today we are joined by another illustrious member of the Pen and Cape Society.” Ian Healy is the author of the Just Cause Universe, a superhero world of his own making that’s been prequeled, sequeled, side-queled, and rebooted. So of course a universe like this needs a tremendous amount of world building. Here’s some insight on how he did it.
The Foundation of Your World
(Originally published at ianthealy.com, reprinted with permission)
Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on the depth of the world I’ve built in the Just Cause Universe series, and more than once I’ve been asked how I bring about that sense of reality to the page. One of the most important aspects, I think, is to remember that your characters do not exist in a vacuum. Their world has existed for countless generations before them, and will likely exist for countless generations after (unless, of course, you as the author decide to play your Extinction-Level Event Card). All those prior generations have been filled with people who lived, loved, hated, worked, learned, made mistakes, and died. That legacy is what forms the foundation of your world. It’s not just the accomplishments of the characters or their immediate ancestors; it’s the accomplishments of untold billions.
Think about the Star Wars Universe for a minute, (and discount everything except the six movies.) Although the stories focus specifically on a single family’s adventures and the effect they have upon the galaxy at large, it’s still an entire galaxy. There are worlds that barely get a passing mention. There are countless alien races and humans in the background, coming from a wide variety of lives. Think about the citizens of Mos Eisley on Tattooine, going about their business, conducting deals, running criminal organizations and spaceports. Every one of those people is the hero of his or her or its own story, and those stories can be as fascinating to tell as the one about the Skywalkers. Your world should be like that, populated by real people with real dreams instead of cardboard cut-outs.
If you get a hundred people together, you’ll get a hundred different opinions on any given subject. People aren’t, and shouldn’t be, homogenous in their opinions, ideas, philosophies, etc. One of the places the Star Wars Universe falls down is the homogeneity of the planets. There’s a desert planet, an ice planet, a jungle planet, a forest planet, a water planet, and a city planet. None of those are realistic; pretty much any planet should have some mixture of all of these characteristics. You can have a dominant terrain, but even Tatooine has polar regions that should be much colder, and there wouldn’t have been any settlers at all on a barren planet that didn’t have at least minimal useful resources (like water!) You should put far more effort into developing your world than George Lucas did with his planets. You don’t have to fill your books with backstory and bog down the tales, but you can convey a lot of information just through the interaction your characters have with minor characters, or major characters from elsewhere in the world. Say your fantasy hero goes to buy a sword. What if the swordsmith is from a foreign country? What if she’s a racist? What if her brother is dying from Nothian Crotch Rot and it’s tearing her apart? All those factors will play into how she interacts with your hero, and that in turn fleshes out your world.
I traditionally begin most JCU book chapters with quotations. Many of them are quotes from fictional characters within the JCU that have appeared in well-known publications like Playboy Magazine or on television shows like Larry King Live. These help to give the world a sense of place and time, and subtly remind the reader that the characters don’t just exist in a vacuum.
By putting some attention to detail in your worldbuilding, you create a much more interesting place for your characters to exist, and can give them a lot more to work toward/against.
About the Author
Ian Thomas Healy is a prolific writer who dabbles in many different speculative genres. He’s a eleven-time participant and winner of National Novel Writing Month where he’s tackled such diverse subjects as sentient alien farts, competitive forklift racing, and a religion-powered rabbit-themed superhero. His popular superhero fiction series, the Just Cause Universe, is ever-expanding, as is his western fantasy epic The Pariah of Verigo. He is also the creator of the Writing Better Action Through Cinematic Techniques workshop, and created the longest-running superhero webcomic done in LEGO, The Adventures of the S-Team.
When not writing, which is rare, he enjoys watching hockey, reading comic books (and serious books, too), and living in the great state of Colorado, which he shares with his wife, children, house-pets, and approximately five million other people. Follow him on Twitter as @ianthealy and on Facebook as Author Ian Thomas Healy.
About the Giveaway
Yeah, you caught onto that word, didn’t you? Time to broaden your horizons and try (yet another!) superhero book! As it turns out, Just Cause was just rebooted at the beginning of the month! Where better to dive into a new and complex universe than in the middle of the end? We’re giving away an ecopy of Castles, Ian Healy’s newest superhero novel. To enter all you have to do it (you guessed it!) comment below with your answer to the following question:
Which supervillain scares you most, and why?
As always, “why” doesn’t have to be complicated. Just don’t say “The Joker” and walk away, because that’s just boring for everyone. Entries close at midnight local time on Friday, May 1st. Winner will be randomly selected from the commenters and awarded one fabulous superhero ebook!