Worldbuilding in the Story Grid Methodology

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about worldbuilding and the Story Grid Methodology. Oftentimes, I have been told by writers that you can’t use the Story Grid Methodology on Science Fiction and Fantasy books because these books are too complicated. While it may be easier to figure out the global genre for a Terry Pratchett Discworld novel than Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones or The Name of the Wind you can still figure out the global genre. Certified Story Grid Editor Leslie Watts wrote a great article on how to find the global genre in epic SF and Fantasy fiction. You can read it here.

This article will go over how to use your worldbuilding to enhance your global genre in the speculative fiction realm. First, we are going to go over what worldbuilding is and isn’t. Second, we are going to look at two examples that use worldbuilding to enhance their global genres. We will look at one book in an external genre (Crime) and a second book in an internal global genre (Morality). Third, we will look at how each of the Twelve Genres lend themselves to specific worldbuilding. It should be noted that this is a brief overview of all of the genres and how you need to worldbuild your character’s internal beliefs first. Let’s dive in!

Let’s Worldbuild

So, what is worldbuilding? Worldbuilding is the process of constructing an imaginary world. Sometimes this pertains to creating a whole fictional universe like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series or Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Worldbuilding examines the belief structure, geography, ecology, history, etc.

Most people worldbuild their geography first. Geography should be the last thing you should think about. You want to write a desert science fiction? Good. Figure out where Mt. Doom is going to be later on. You don’t need to figure out how many miles Mt. Doom is away from Temple X or Town XYZ. That is not going to help your story. What is going to help your story is figuring out the internal heartbeat of your novel and that is ultimately tied to your characters.

Characters are what readers latch onto. When readers see a despicable character go from being bad (or evil) to being selfless, they fall in love. Readers love to love and love to hate characters. We root for them, and we cheer when our favorite villains get their just due.

Readers also know when a story doesn’t work. Look at the drama behind the last season of Game of Thrones, and you will see that most viewers will tell you the season was too rushed and needed more time to develop the set-up for the finale.

In the end, you are looking for the living heartbeat of your story. That heartbeat exists in your characters and it is externalized in your fictional world. The axis of this heartbeat in worldbuilding is not going to be found in the geography, but in the belief structure of this world.

People in real life (and characters in novels) get the most upset when they believe that their beliefs are being attacked. Beliefs are the backbone of a human being. Values are what drive people to do one thing or the other. For example, if a person believes in pro-choice they won’t understand if their sister is pro-life. Both grew up in the same household, but both hold different values (neither good or bad) and those values drive them in life.

These two characters (pro-choice and pro-life) will be at odds and may get into some fights throughout the course of a novel as they try and understand (or persuade and/or defeat) the other sister.

The same with your characters. One character will harbor one belief system and will be put up against another belief system. This will lead to conflict. Let’s look at real-life examples.

Real-life Examples

 In the Judeo-Christian faith there is a story concerning Abraham. According to the story, Abraham is one of the Patriarchs of the Bible (Christian), Torah (Jewish) and Koran (Islam). He married Sarah. They tried to have a child, but she never conceived. According to legend, an angel appeared to them and foretold that he would be a “Father of Great Nations” and Sarah would eventually conceive. Fast forward many years, Sarah is now an old woman and has never had a child. She doesn’t believe that it isn’t fair that Abraham will not have a son to inherit. She decides to give her handmaid – Hagar – to Abraham so he can have a son.

Hagar does not want to be a concubine. Eventually, Hagar bears a son to Abraham who was named Ishmael. Sarah became jealous of Hagar. After Sarah bore a son (Isaac) to Abraham, she convinced Abraham to cast Hagar and Ishmael out of their camp and into the desert. She didn’t want Ishmael inheriting from Abraham instead of her son.

Ishmael and Hagar were cast out into the desert, saved from death by an angel, and eventually found success later on in life. Ishmael became the great ancestor of Muhammed the Prophet who is the founder of Islam.Isaac became the great ancestor of Joseph, the foster father of Jesus. Joseph was a Jew, as were a lot of people during that time period in Israel.

Hence, Abraham is considered to be the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. However, there is great adversity that occurs even today among these three branches of faith partly extending back towards the story of Hagar and Ishmael and concerning who was supposed to be inherit. There is also contention concerning who is the right God and who is the Messiah.

This is conflict among religious faiths and belief systems.

You can even divide this further among the three branches. For example, in Ireland there was (and still is in some parts) a lot of tension and violence between the Catholics and Protestants. At first glance, you wouldn’t think that there would be a lot of contention because both branches are Christian and believe in the fundamental beliefs of Jesus. However, the small differences dating back to the Reformation period when the Catholic church was selling indulgences.

This is similar to the dissention in Islam between the Sunnis and the Shiite. The schism between the two sects began after the death of Muhammad the Prophet in 632 A.D. concerning who was going to be the heir and leader of Islam.

  • The Sunnis believe that Muhammad had no rightful heir.
    • The best person that is fit for the job should get it. The person should be voted and elected.
      • Note: this is similar to the Catholic Pope. The cardinals pray and vote who should be the next Pope. The majority wins.
    • Believe that Muhammad’s followers chose Abu Bakr (a close friend and adviser to the Prophet) as his successor.
    • The majority of today’s Muslims belong to this sect.
  • The Shiites believe that only Allah, the God of the Islam faith, can select religious leaders.
    • The leader of Islam should be direct descendants of Mohammad’s family.
    • Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, was his rightful heir.
    • Today, this is the minority of believers. Only 10 percent are Shiite. The only countries that have a Shiite majority in the ME are Iraq, the Gulf Island state of Bahrain and Iran.

Ok, so belief systems drive conflict both externally and internally in both real life and in stories but does it mean the fictional belief system has to be based on religion? No! Belief systems also extend to your political affiliation or your own value system.

Republicans and Democrats are two different political parties in the United States. Both have adopted different value systems and people join each party according to their value system. Those on the far right or far left exhibit the extreme beliefs, and those in the middle embody more moderate beliefs.

A real-life example of beliefs in conflict is the American Civil War. The American Civil War concerned African-American slavery and the preserving of the American Union. The war put the Northern and the Southern states at odds and pit brother against brother. The Civil War is the bloodiest war in American history (i.e. the Battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest). The unprecedented violence of battles such as Shiloh, Antietam, Stones River, and Gettysburg shocked citizens and international observers. Nearly as many men died in captivity during the Civil War as were killed in the whole Vietnam War.

It should be noted that historians have observed that those who belong to a same fraction (religion, nationality, etc.) and experience contention will have the bloodiest battles. This can be seen in:

  • The Sunnis vs. The Shiites
  • The Protestants vs. The Catholics in Ireland
  • The North vs. The South in the United States Civil War

This is conflict and conflict leads to excellent storytelling! And in the end, stories (specifically in the SF&F realm) are a battle of different belief systems. How?

George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 are books that are about different belief systems.. These two books are dystopian allegories about the individual vs. tyranny.

In the end, you need to worldbuild from the inside out. Ask yourself what your characters believe in.

  • Justice vs. injustice?
  • Individual vs. Group?
  • Freedom?

What are the internal beliefs of this world? How can externalize these beliefs?

So, what is a belief system?

Every person has a value system. This value system is a complex belief structure of what that person believes is right or wrong. Some beliefs are controversial (i.e. pro-life vs. pro-choice).

In the end, when you are thinking about the concept of worldbuilding you are trying to enhance the conflict in your Global and secondary genres. Worldbuilding is meant to enhance the character change (positively or negatively) and enhance the character’s wants and needs (not necessarily the same thing). Let’s look a couple of examples (one in an external genre and another in an internal genre) to see how this works.

Charles Dickens is the author of the iconic A Christmas Carol which is a Morality Story. On the other end of the spectrum, J.D. Robb’s novel science-fiction novel Naked in Death is a Crime Story with a Love Story as the secondary genre. Both authors use their worldbuilding in their novel to enhance their Global genres (morality and crime). Let’s dive into each of their novels to see how this works.

The Morality Genre

The Morality Genre is an internal genre that focuses on a singular protagonist whose inner moral compass dramatically shifts over the course of the novel. There are three subgenres in the morality genre. They are: Punitive, Redemption and Testing (Triumph or Surrender).

The Global Value in the Morality Genre is Selfishness and Altruism or Good vs. Evil. On the negative side is selfishness and on the positive side is self-sacrifice. A story will explore the different levels in this global genre different according to how the author writes them.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is a Morality Redemption story. Ebenezer Scrooge starts off as an embodiment of greed and at the end of the novella embodies the Christmas Spirit.

Scrooge, an elderly miser, is visited by his former business partner Jacob Marley who tells him that he will be visited by three Christmas Spirits who will show Ebenezer the error of his ways.

           Each of these ghosts appear to Scrooge and help him differently. What is very interesting about these ghosts is that they also help Scrooge come to term with his character wound that he had received when he was a little boy. Let’s first look at how the worldbuilding helped shape the obligatory scenes and conventions of the novella. They are:

Obligatory Scenes:

  • A shock upsets the hibernating authentic self.
    • Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by Jacob Marley who tells him that he will be visited by three ghosts: The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present, and The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.
    • Jacob Marley appears to Ebenezer as a ghost with chains. Marley is forced to wander the Earth seeing all of the suffering he could have helped but refused.
  • The Protagonist expresses inner darkness with an overt refusal of the Hero’s Journey call to change.
    • Ebenezer rebels against Jacob Marley and views it as a dream. When the ghosts start to appear, he doesn’t want to change. He rebels against the thought of redemption and tricks himself that he is happy where he is.
  •  Protagonist faces an All Is Lost Moment and either discovers their inner moral code or chooses the immoral path.
    • Ebenezer sees that Tiny Tim is going to die.
    • Ebenezer is shown his grave and that no one will mourn him and people will go through his things when he is dead.
  • Protagonist actively sacrifices self in service of an individual, a group, or humanity (positive) or consciously chooses to remain selfish (negative)
    • Ebenezer changes and gives a large donation to a charity he refused before.
    • He becomes a second father to Tiny Tim.
  • Protagonist faces literal or metaphorical death and either loses the battle but gains self-respect, meaning and peace; or wins the battle but loses those things.
    • The old Scrooge dies with the three Christmas Spirits and a new Scrooge is resurrected.
    • He gains peace.

Conventions:

  • Despicable protagonist begins at his/her worst
    • Ebenezer Scrooge is an old miser. He covets his money and pays his employee Bob Cratchit very little.
    • He refuses to give any money to the poor.
    • He refuses to be kind or generous to his only nephew.
  • Spiritual mentor/sidekick
    • Jacob Marley sends three Christmas Spirits to help Ebenezer change his life.
  • Seemingly impossible external conflict.
    • Ebenezer embodies extreme greed and an unwillingness to help others.
    • He won’t budge in changing his ways.
  • Ghosts from protagonist’s past torment him/her
    • Jacob Marley sends three Christmas Spirits to help his former partner change and become the person he was meant to be.
    • The Ghost of Christmas Past makes him relive his childhood (more on this later), his former love, and his first job.
    • The Ghost of Christmas Present reveals to Ebenezer how he is today, how sick Tiny Tim is, and what people think of him.
    • The Ghost of Christmas Future reveals to Ebenezer. He will die a lonely death and won’t be mourned by anyone.
      • Tiny Tim will die.
  • Aid from unexpected sources
    • The Ghosts and Jacob Marley.

How does this apply to the Belief Structure of the novel?

Charles Dickens used his worldbuilding of the three ghosts and Jacob Marley’s warning to enhance Scrooge’s character arc. Scrooge goes from being a despicable miser to a man who embodied the essence of the Christmas Spirit.

A very interesting part of the novella is the concept of Scrooge’s wound. All characters are wounded. Everyone experiences emotionally traumatic events in their life. This can be homelessness, being unloved, war, etc. For Ebenezer Scrooge, his character wound occurred when he was a small boy and had been basically abandoned by his father. Ebenezer was forced to live at a boarding school. His father never sent for him to come home not even at Christmas time. His only saving grace was his sister Fran, who died later on in life.

When someone feels unloved and abandoned by a parental figure, they will feel like they had done something wrong. They will also feel like that if they had only done this, maybe they would have received love.

If only I could accomplish this, then maybe he will love me.

Scrooge as a child wants the love of his father. He needs to realize that his self-worth is not tied to what his father may or may not think of him. This is the wound he sustained in childhood.

Scrooge begins to think that money will fix all of his problems. The more money he has, the more important he will become. The more important he will become, the more people will see his worth.

Eventually, he becomes a bitter miser who hates charity and like the Grinch hates Christmas. Later in life, Ebenezer wants money and more prestige. He enjoys holding power over others. Ebenezer needs to reconcile with his past and prepare for the future.

Charles Dickens used worldbuilding to create this character arc and help him grow. It’s tied to Scrooge’s need. Let’s look at the belief structure:

Belief structure:

Ultimately, The Christmas Carol isn’t a story about what the character wants it is a story about what Ebenezer needs. He needs to transcend and deal with the wound he sustained in childhood from his unloving father.          

Ok, so that is how the worldbuilding effects the Morality genre and the character change in The Christmas Carol. Let’s move on and look at how the worldbuilding effects an external genre.

The Crime Genre

The Crime Genre is an external genre that focuses on justice and injustice. This section is going to examine Naked in Death by J.D. Robb a science-fiction crime story with a love story woven into it. As before with The Christmas Carol, this section holds spoilers for the novel. The Crime Story’s global value goes from justice (positive) to injustice/tyranny (negative). The master detective wants to bring justice to a crime.

Let’s look at Naked in Death.

 Genre:

Primary: Crime, Detective (from injustice to justice)

Secondary: Love, Courtship (from indifference to commitment)

Structure: Arch

Style: Drama

Reality: Fantasy Time: Long

OBLIGATORY SCENES:

An inciting crime: Sharon DeBlass, a licensed companion (a legal prostitute) and granddaughter of Senator DeBlass of the Conservative Party is murdered.

A speech in praise of the villain: Eve Dallas praises the villain at the first crime scene because of his use of antique (and illegal) firearms.

Discovering or understanding the antagonist’s MacGuffin: Eve develops a psychological profile of the killer: someone who thinks poorly of women and gets pleasure from the sexual power of using them and killing them after. More than likely the killer will also have access to a lot of money and an appreciation of firearms.

Progressively complicated Following of the Clues:

  • Firearms are illegal, yet they are used in the murders of the prostitutes.
    • The firearms are linked to Roarke (Eve’s love interest) who is very wealthy. However, he is continually cleared and Eve has a passionate affair with him.
  • Two more murders happen.
  • Eve finds out that the Senator was having an incestual affair with his granddaughter Sharon. He started raping her when she young (10 years old) and the effects of that had ultimately led Sharon to become a licensed companion.

Exposure of the Criminal: Eve arrests Senator DeBlass (who she believes is the culprit) and goes back to her apartment and finds Rockman (the senator’s assistant) there waiting for her. He reveals that the Senator killed Sharon in a fit of passion and then allowed Rockman to kill other prostitutes to lead investigators astray.

Brought to Justice: Rockman is captured by the police and brought to justice.

CONVENTIONS

MacGuffin (villain’s object of desire):

  • Rockman: sex, power, admiration for the senator, believes in morality and that prostitutes/licensed companions should be killed and used.
  • Senator DeBlass: obsessed with his granddaughter and underage sex, portrays himself as a moral person.

Shapeshifters:

  • Senator DeBlass: DeBlass portrays himself as a righteous man and the perfect candidate for politics, however he has been having an incestual affair with his granddaughter (Sharon) for years.
  • Roarke: Eve’s prime suspect who transforms into her love interest.

Investigative red herrings:

  • All of the investigative clues point to Roarke, the love interest.
  • Two more prostitutes are murdered.
    • When more clues point to Roarke, Eve phones him and he states that he is off-planet. She has the computer verify this during mid-call.
      • This is an excellent tool of worldbuilding. The reason is because it both emphases the Crime Story (Roarke has been framed) and also adds to the Sci-fi feel of the world.
  • The use of firearms belonging to Roarke that were stolen.

The antagonist makes the investigation personal to the protagonist:

  • Eve Dallas: After Senator DeBlass had repeatedly raped his granddaughter for years (which ultimately led to Sharon becoming a licensed companion), Eve reveals to Roarke (her love interest) that she (Eve) had also been raped by her father. Justice was never served.

POV/NARRATIVE DEVICE: Third Person, Eve Dallas’s POV

OBJECTS OF DESIRE

External Want: Truth, Justice

Internal Need: Love; meaningful connection to another human, freedom from self-loathing.

CONTROLLING IDEA

Justice prevails when Eve embraces the tragedy of her of her past, accepts it, and is able to open her heart again.

Beginning Hook

When Sharon DeBlass (a licensed prostitute) is murdered, Eve Dallas must decide whether Roarke, the suspect, is innocent or not before someone else dies. Will she find proof that clears Roarke of murder and if she does will she be able to keep her distance from him? She clears Roarke after finding proof that he wasn’t in town and begins a passionate affair with him.

Middle Build

When the chief of police forces Eve to lie at a press conference, she faces another murder and must find out the truth behind Senator DeBlass but can’t do it legally because the Senator isn’t cooperating. Will Eve turn to her love interest, Roarke, and gain information illegally? Eve partners with Roake and gets information illegally and finds out that the Senator has been harboring money illegally. She leaks it to the press.

Ending Payoff

After finding out that the Senator was having an incestual affair with his granddaughter, Sharon, Eve is faced with finding enough evidence to arrest him before another person dies. Eve starts to get threatening messages. Will Eve be able to solve the murder before someone else dies or she becomes the next victim? She finds video footage and arrests him, but then finds out that it was Rockman who killed the other two prostitutes and the Senator only killed his granddaughter. Rockman is brought to justice and the Senator commits suicide.

How does this apply to the Belief Structure of the novel?

Eve Dallas is a wreck. At the beginning of the novel, her sole purpose to find murders and bring them to justice. She is closed off from the world and she lets very few people in. When a particular gruesome murder happens, she is determined to find the killer. However, this murder not only rocks the world she lives (the external world such as the city) but also her internal world which causes her character shift.

Now the worldbuilding is very important in this story. In this world, guns are outlawed. Yet, the victim was killed by a gun. In order to get a gun in this world you have to be very rich. Guns are held in private collections.

Roarke owned the gun used to kill Sharon DeBlass. Yet, he claims that it was stolen from him.

Eve realizes that she is attracted to Roarke, but throughout the novel she is trying to put her feelings aside. She doesn’t want to be attracted to him or open up to anyone. As a little girl, Eve was sexually abused by her father and abandoned by her mother. That is a big character wound. She never received justice for the crimes that were committed against her.

Ironically, the first murdered victim Sharon DeBlass also was sexually abused but by her grandfather. The revelation of this murder causes Eve to break down and open up to Roarke about her past. The love story in the novel, shatters Eve’s external desire to be alone and safe and forces her to become open and involved with Roarke.

Let’s look at the belief structure. The Science-Fiction world Eve inhabits is dangerous and full of chaos. This chaos reflects the chaos and loneliness inside of Eve. She wants justice, not only for the murdered victims but also for herself.

J.D. Robb uses her clever worldbuilding and the Crime Story to serve as external symbol of what Eve went through as a child. The global value of justice vs. injustice can be seen the novel.

Let’s move on.

The Twelve Genres

Each of the Twelve Genres have a different value at stake. Your worldbuilding will tie into each of these global values. They are:

Let’s look at each one closer.

Action Story

The Action Story is the most primal out of all of the genres. Shawn Coyne has repeatedly told us that this is the genre of our times. One novel that embodies the Action Story is The Hunger Games. In the world of Panem, the Capital rules with an iron fist. Whatever the Capital (specifically President Snow) says – goes. No exceptions.

If you try and rebel against the Capital, you will lose your life. Panem is divided into thirteen districts. The 13th District was bombed by the Capital because they rebelled.

After Katniss volunteers as tribute in the annual Hunter Games the Capital puts on, she must kill the other contestants in order to life. All of this worldbuilding goes along the lines of Life vs. Death.

Even Katniss’s character wound is tied to life vs. death value. Katniss’s father dies in the mines (physical death). Her mother becomes weak and gives up on life (spiritual/emotional death). Katniss must provide for her family (loss of innocence/death of childhood).

The Capital’s belief structure is:

  • We are better than anyone else.
  • You will listen to us, or we will kill you.

In many ways, The Capital is trying to portray their world as a Utopia. A Utopia was coined by Thomas Moore as the perfect society. A dystopia world is a world that is seeped in tyranny and injustice. Many dystopia novels are disguised as Utopia novels in the beginning of the novels.

How are you going to shape your worldbuilding using the global value of Life vs. Death?

Horror Story

What is the monster you are writing about? How will the monster effect the belief structure of the characters? Shawn Coyne has said that in a horror story, to win is to survive. For instance, in The Silence of the Lambs Clarice Starling tries to figure out who kidnapped a senator’s daughter and murdered several women. Hannibal Lector is the monster, but it is clear in the novel that he knows Clarice better than she knows herself.

Even though this example takes place in the real world you can still use it to power charge the belief structure of your novel. What would push your characters to believe death would be a mercy?

In the 2010 version of The Wolfman, Lawrence Talbot is bitten by a werewolf. The werewolf turns out to be his father played by Anthony Hopkins. Later in the story, it is revealed that his father accidently killed his wife (Lawrence’s mother). When Lawrence is finally killed, his death acts as a mercy. He is finally released from the pain of knowing his father killed his mother, his childhood trauma, and knowing he killed innocent people as a werewolf.

Death is his mercy. There is no happy ending for the other characters as well. For the characters who won and defeated the werewolves, they survived but the world will never be the same.

In the end, the werewolf is an outward metaphorical symbol for the warring battle of good vs. evil that exists in all of us. The werewolf reveals the inner struggles with the beast.

What does your monster symbolize?

Crime Story

Science Fiction and Fantasy novels often have crimes in them. If you read The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher you will notice that each novel is set up as a crime novel. The worldbuilding emphases the internal conflict in the main character. Like Eve Dallas, Dresden has to deal with his own demons.

 In Dresden’s world, monsters are real. Harry Dresden works as the world’s only “consulting wizard.” He accepts cases for both human and nonhuman clients. Harry Dresden’s mission in the novels is to bring justice to paranormal crimes.

What is also interesting about this is the worldbuilding behind the novels. Harry’s father died when he was young. He was adopted at 10-years old by a dark wizard named Justin DuMorne. However, DuMorne wanted to magically enthrall and enslave Harry. Dresden’s wound:

  • pain of his biological father dying
  • pain of second father figure (DuMorne) betraying him.
  • The White Council almost executing Harry after he defended himself against DuMorne.

The worldbuilding in this novel is tied to Dresden’s wound. In many ways, Dresden never received justice for everything that happened to him when he was young. Dresden is in constant search for justice. His wound shaped the global value of the story: justice vs. injustice.

Western Story

The Western Story moves along the Freedom vs. Slavery or Individual vs. Group. Ask yourself how these global values are going enhance this worldbuilding. What is it about these values that is going to enhance your theme?

Performance Story

Respect vs. Shame. We all want respect and we desire to people look at us with esteem. No one ever wants to be ashamed or humiliated in front of another person. If you are writing a Performance SF&F novel then you need to tie the worldbuilding in with the Respect vs. Shame.

For instance, your character is in a SF universe where they have to win a big fight against the antagonist. The protagonist desires to have respect. This would fall under the Performance/Sports genre.

How are you going to worldbuild it? What would be the ultimate shame in this world?

Thriller Story

Life vs. Death. The Thriller Genre encompasses the Crime, Horror and Action Genre. The external world becomes internal. Ask yourself what your character’s wound  is and how you want to externalize that as a symbol in worldbuilding.

  • Scrooge’s wound was that he felt unloved by his father.
    • He externalized that as love for money.
  • Eve Dallas was sexually abused by her father,
    • She externalized that as her search for justice for murdered victims.

How are you going to worldbuild around the Life vs. Death value?

Society Story

 Power vs. Impotence. Who holds the power in your story? There are many similarities between the Status and the Society Genre. The Society Genre can be seen in many Dystopian novels. For instance, George Orwell and Ayn Rand frequently wrote in this genre.

 George’s Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 were Society/Political novels. Each of these novels delve into rebellions against an external antagonist structure that is the embodiment of a certain belief system.

In many ways, this Global Genre is one the ultimate clash of belief system against belief system embodied in an allegorical story.

What belief systems do you want to write about?

War Story

Honor vs. Dishonor. Victory vs. Defeat.

If you are writing a War/Brotherhood story, ask yourself what binds these warriors/soldiers together. Gates of Fire is a story not only about courage, but about brotherhood and love.

How have SF&F authors used War Stories in their novels? Game of Thrones’ Jon Stark joins the Night Watch. In order to join, Jon has to agree never to lay with a woman or have any children. His life is tied to the Night Watch.

If he betrays the Night Watch, Jon will lose his life but also his honor.

Research different warrior cultures like the Greeks, Spartans, the legends of the Amazons, Ancient Romans, Vikings and Japanese Samurai. What is it about these cultures that embody the honor vs. dishonor or victory vs. defeat?

How are you going to shape the worldbuilding around those global values?

Love Story

The Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer was an international sensation. The four novels follow Edward Cullen and Bella Swan’s love life. The novels go from them meeting and falling in love and eventually marrying. While the two face many obstacles throughout the novels, the two main characters constantly

The worldbuilding (werewolves, other vampires, etc.) serve as accents to show the strength of their love.

Worldview Story

Naive vs. Sophistication.

What is going to make your character shift their worldview belief from one belief to the other? For instance, your character believes their race is better than the foreigners who are coming into their country. What is going to be the catalyst for that change? How are their viewpoint going to shift? What is going to awaken them?

How are you going to write that shift? What is going to be an external worldbuilding symbol of that change?

Status Story

 For instance, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and the movie Gladiator are status stories. Both stories deal with characters who rise with admiration. In a SF&F story, this might mean a protagonist going up against an opposing force and in order to win they have to remain faithful to their inner core in order to defeat the enemy.

Morality Story

Good vs. Evil. If you are writing a SF&F story about a character redeeming themselves or being tested you are usually dealing with some aspect of the Morality Genre. Good vs. Evil is a common theme in speculative fiction. How are you going to change your characters for better or for worse?

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Remember worldbuilding is designed to enhance to your global genre and drive your characters external want and their internal need. It is tied to your character’s wound. Great worldbuilding focuses on the living heartbeat of the story.

Again, this is a small overview of how worldbuilding ties in with the global genres. Take care and happy writing and worldbuilding. – Victoria

About the Author

Victoria R. Girmonde resides in beautiful upstate New York and believes that everyone has a story inside of them and enjoys the long-game of crafting a novel that works. She earned a B.A. in Journalism and a M.A. in Professional Writing. Visit her at www.kyrunediting.com, where she frequently blogs about worldbuilding and story craft. She specializes in fantasy, science fiction, mysteries, romance and memoirs.
Comments (6)
Author Victoria R. Girmonde

6 Comments

Cindy says:

Would I need to use the love story genre to explore a toxic relationship between two people that is not a romantic relationship?

Reply
Tanya Lovetti says:

I am really looking forward to reading this, Victoria. I have it in my daytimer 🙃

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Lewis Faulkner says:

Hey Victoria. Wow. You did a lot of research on putting this together. Also nice example with Sunnis and Shiites; had no idea that was the difference. You have so many spiritual references in here, I’m thinking (hmn…)maybe that was a minor in college? Anyway, I save the URLs for articles on the SG, here, that contain so much good stuff I don’t want to try to summarize them in my notes at home, and this one has already been sent to my home email–it is definitely one great blog post! That genre table is a keeper for me– I kind of stick to the same genre, so I kind of ignored some of them up until I saw them in table form–quite the catnip. I also really like the way you went off the high-dive and into the deep end of the pool on each of the genres with short examples–It’s like the part in McKee’s book that didn’t have deep enough examples for me 🙂

Anyway, keep up the good work! You did a great job, here. And maybe see you in the Guild.

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Leslie Watts says:

Fantastic article, Victoria! I especially appreciate your specific examples. Thanks for the shout-out too!

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