"Setting" is vital to all fiction, but creating the world in which your characters interact is never more important than in science fiction and, by extension, science fiction romance, where that world must be made up out of the whole cloth of the writer's imagination. After all, that world doesn't exist (yet, or at all, or hopefully ever) except in the author's mind, and it's up to her to make it real for the reader.
For this year's SFR Brigade Midsummer Blog Hop, two of Spacefreighters' regulars -- RITA-nominated author Sharon Lynn Fisher and Donna S. Frelick, 2012 Golden Heart Double Finalist, consider "worldbuilding" in science fiction romance.
DONNA: Well, you'd have to say the way we've done things so far in our novels couldn't be more different, huh, Sharon? You have that beautifully evocative, eerily ALIVE Ghost Planet, and I have, well, Earth. Mostly. At least in my first novel, Unchained Memory, most of the action takes place here and now, with only a few scenes set off-planet to give readers a feel for the trauma my heroine has gone through at the hands of her alien abductors. I did have to invent a means of interstellar travel (through wormholes) and the whole galactic battle between slavers and their staunch (sexy) abolitionist opponents.
In my second novel, Trouble in Mind, more of the book takes place on distant planets in the series universe -- the aliens' home planet, particularly -- and on ships in space. In order to write that one, I had to think through what kind of universe my Earth existed in -- not only one in which alien slavers took people from Earth regularly to use as they willed, and are opposed by our heroes, but also one in which there exists a colony of returned slaves (Terrene); several other alien races, with their own characteristics and home planets and languages (mostly curse words!); and a whole race of warlike telepathic aliens and their culture that is central to the plot. Oh, and something about Navajo culture, too.
For the third book, Fools Rush In, I had to add more about ships and space travel, particularly traveling through jump nodes (wormholes) to various places. That made my brain hurt.
Keeping all this straight is a challenge. More than once I've though of actually writing a "Bible" for the Interstellar Rescue series universe. Right now that exists in notes in my computer, on scraps of paper in my inbox and in random thoughts in my sieve of a brain. Not so good!
SHARON: I think Unchained Memory's world was a great way to start your series, Donna. We've talked a lot on this blog and others about the level of acceptance for science fiction-y elements among the romance reading community. I think sometimes the perception is that our worlds will be too cold and uninviting, with too much tech talk. I think whether intentionally or not, you and I both kept our first-book worldbuilding pretty accessible. Though Ghost Planet is set off-world and has some seriously alien components, the world itself is earth-like and easy to visualize without requiring a ton of description (leaving plenty of room for developing the romance).
My second Tor book, The Ophelia Prophecy, has a near-future Earth setting. It's post-apocalyptic, which readers are familiar with thanks to the popularity of TV shows like The Walking Dead and the book and movie, The Hunger Games. Thanks to those previous works (and countless others) an author doesn’t have to really spend much time talking about what a post-apoc setting is like. Ophelia does have some fairly fantastical worldbuilding that is driven by science, but should feel familiar due to the fact it was inspired by artist Antonio Gaudi.
I think it's a balancing act, though. Even if we choose to keep our worldbuilding accessible and force it to share the stage with character and relationship development, it's critical for it to feel rich and believable.
Did you think at all about accessibility in writing your series, Donna?
DONNA: Ooh, Gaudi! You mean the guy who designed the Barcelona cathedral, right? That should be interesting!
Yes, I think about accessibility a lot, and if I happen to forget it for a moment, my critique partner, Linda, who is not an SF fan, reminds me pretty quickly! The original idea of my series was to gradually lure readers new to SF further and further away from what was most familiar to them. I felt if they liked the little bit of otherworldly stuff I gave them in Unchained Memory, they would be willing to accept the wilder stuff I gave them in Trouble in Mind. By the time they picked up Fools Rush In, they would be willing to head out into space with me.
This premise, though, is all founded on the solid foundation of my characters and their stories. If my readers don't love them and want to follow them, I'm sunk! All of my books are companion novels, with characters who show up in more than one book. You can read them in any order, really, but if you like a secondary character in one book, chances are that character will get his or her own book some day.
I agree with you that the post-apocalyptic future is one many readers are familiar with. Did you have trouble setting a romance in that kind of a bleak world?
SHARON: I think that's a great strategy. Once a reader connects with an author's voice, I think they are likely to follow them anywhere. Or at least that's what we hope! The Ophelia Prophecy also is heavier on the SF elements, with a slower-to-develop romance. But definitely has a big payoff at the end.
And yes, Gaudi is the Sagrada Familia guy. Which leads in nicely to answering your question: I managed the bleakness factor by setting the last two-thirds of the book in a world that is far from bleak. The genetically modified, conquering race has made Granada, Spain, (home of the Alhambra) their capital city. The ancient architecture itself is beautiful, but with the Gaudi-like embellishments the post-biowar city is transformed into something vibrant and whimsical.
Okay, time for you guys to chime in! Here are a couple of questions -- answer the one you like best.
- Favorite type of SFR setting? (ship in space, distant planet, alternate universe, near-future/Earth, post-apocalyptic)
- Favorite world? (SFR preferred, but SF works too!)
BLOG HOP PRIZES
Spacefreighters is giving away a copy of Ghost Planet to one commenter -- print, Kindle, or Nook. Folks in the US or Canada have the option of choosing a signed print copy. If you want to be excluded from the drawing for this, please let us know in the comments. Thanks!
Following are the main blog hop prizes:
- $150 Amazon or B&N gift card (winner's choice)
- An ebook bundle -- Ghost in the Machine, Bayne, Recast Book 1:Wither, Recast Book 2:Clash, Alien Adoration, Switched, Reckless Rescue, Wreck of the Nebula Dream, Keir, Terms & Conditions Apply, The Key, The Plan, Starburst, Marya, The Iron Admiral, Sasha’s Calling, Trouble at the Hotel Baba Ghanoush, Winter in Paradise, Once Upon a Time in Space, the Telomere trilogy, Winter Fusion, Blue Nebula, Demential, Wytchfire, Maven, Fires of Justice, Interface, Girl Under Glass, Breakout
- Bonus books - Ghost Planet, The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy and Deception, Games of Command
- $50 Amazon or B&N gift card (winner's choice)
- Four $25 Amazon or B&N gift cards (given to separate winners and their choice)
Don't forget, you must leave a comment with your email address AND sign into the Rafflecopter to win the prizes. And to increase your chances, hop along to the other blogs!