The Two Ingredients for a Believable Fantasy World
July 24, 2014
When I first set out to create the future planet Mars in my book Ice Red, I kept two things in mind at all times—first, the physical rules of my imaginary universe, and second, the social history of the people who live in it.
The laws of physics that govern Ice Red are simple to remember, because they are the same as the laws that govern real life. My characters have to deal with Mars’s low gravity, they can’t travel faster than the speed of light, and so on. If my hero Cesare suddenly pulled out a shrink ray to zap the villains, that would break the rules established for the world of the book. When that happens, the suspended disbelief of the reader comes crashing down with a thump, or worse, a laugh.
As with the physical reality the characters inhabit, their social reality has to be well established. Just as I had to be aware of how life in low gravity affected my characters, I had to understand their society’s political and economic structures. My hero and heroine Cesare and Bianca don’t think or act like twenty-first century Americans because their history and culture is different from mine. For example, Santa Claus is not part of Bianca’s mental landscape, but little green men are.
Details like that give an imagined world texture and heft. Even if most of the history or the physical rules of the world never make it into the text, they still need to be there in the background informing the assumptions and actions of all the characters. Ultimately, showing how the characters experience their reality is what makes an imagined world seem real.