Through Andrew Warrick
Friday night at C2E2, science fiction writers Timothy Zahn (Star Wars: Thrawn), Dalila S. Dawson (Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga), JS Dewes (The last watch), and Sue burke (Semiosis) gathered for a panel to discuss world building.
Zahn chose the sci-fi genre because of “the chance to build a new world, to build a new society”, claiming that other genres, like mystery or romantic comedies, were “stuck” to the Earth .
âYou are becoming a god,â Dawson added, saying she was inspired by science fiction movies and TV shows, such as Krull and Buck rogers, watched with his father. She also called it “A super fun chance to kill your friends in print … we are all hiding names in there … I tried to kill my husband in the toilet, they didn’t kill me. never mind.”
Burke was drawn to the science fiction section of her school library and “read it all” until she ran out of books.
When asked about scientific correctness, Dewes said “this is definitely something that I am trying”, but acknowledged that it was impossible to be exhaustive. Precision is important to Burke’s ongoing work, which involves our solar system. The extraterrestrial and futuristic characteristics of Zahn’s work mean he doesn’t have to worry about current scientific capabilities, and he asserted that science fiction writers should avoid overloading their work with science. However, he once had to prove to a Analog editor that a plane landing was physically possible – which he did by calculating the numbers himself.
âI don’t care about science at all,â said Dawson, of his first set of books: A Paranormal Romance. When a reader asked her about the chemical makeup of the smoke from her steampunk train, she recalled telling them “You should read this for vampires and sex scenes.”
Dawson and Zahn wrote Star wars novels, and asked if editors limit the scope of their work. Dawson explained how writers generally get exactly what editors are looking for, however, “within those settings we usually have a lot of leeway to do all kinds of things.” However, you have to be careful not to spoil the gun, because people are “very, very upset”.
“With something like Star wars, we’re talking about internal consistency, âZahn added. âYou have to not only look at what they did, but what they didn’t do. He recalled talking to the developers at West End Games about how hyperdrive works and trying to find the correct deceleration process for the gun.
The panel then opened to questions from the public.
Asked about the hyperdrive-destruction scene in The Last Jedi, Zahn called it “a problem for me because if it works you should have seen it done in the Clone Wars … [it was] just made up for the movie without taking into account what had happened beforeâ¦ Inconsistencies drive me out of the story, whether it’s a movie or a bookâ¦ it doesn’t feel real. He noted, however, “not my circus, not my monkeys”.
When asked about her process, Dewes said she understood her main concept, how the characters and the plot worked with it, and then used world building to support everything. Typically, she adds worldbuilding in subsequent drafts. Burke’s world-building process is similar: âGo over and over again to try and put in all the details you need. “When I’m building a world, what I’m looking for is a chance to create conflict,” she explained. For his novel Semiosis, Burke used the iron found in the human body to create conflict.
Zahn starts with the basic plot, incorporates the characters needed for this story, and incorporates world-building as you go. He gave the public an acronym for culture: PERSIA (Political, Economic, Religious, Social, Intellectual, Artistic). Dawson starts with a character and creates “a world that would uniquely challenge this character and push him … you want to torture that character as much as possible.”
âYour dinners must be a lot of fun,â Zahn replied. He went on to say that a writer should avoid filling out his card because “you can suddenly decide there was a desert here, I want a volcano instead, and it’s too late.”
Dawson gave another world-building tip: Avoid monocultures where âeveryone has the same hairstyle, eats the same food, and wears the same outfit. It doesn’t really exist.
On the sequels, Dewes said “honestly I was so sick of this [her most recent] book ‘, although she wants to go back to certain characters and has a Patreon to do just that. Burke replied that the consequences depend on whether his publisher pays them or not: âI have to pay a mortgage. And if I can’t sell it, then there’s no point in writing it. Zahn remembered wanting to write a sequel to a book he wrote twenty years ago. It wasn’t until 2020 that I came up with the idea for the storyââ âI don’t want to run into the same territory again just to visit the characters. It must be something new and fresh.
âAs soon as I was done with somethingâ¦ I completely forgot about it,â Dawson said, though she revealed âI don’t think Phasma is deadâ and kicked off a sequel where the character becomes a little warlord. “My fingers crossedâ¦ I didn’t see a body.”
The next topic discussed was the exhibition. Zahn cuts him to pieces. Dewes uses dialogue. âYou want to avoid elven wars,â said Dawson, referring to The Fellowship of the RingThe long prologue, detailing how many writers are so in love with their world that they begin with twelve pages of story, leaving readers to wonder “is there a main character?” Instead, according to Dawson, one should provide exposure through his characters.
âPlease don’t let the characters explain what they both already know,â Zahn said.
An audience member asked how to handle different languages ââin their world, or even a character. Zahn gave an example: âThat’s a good question,â he said in German. ”
Another participant asked if any of the writers came up with ideas that were too crazy for even science fiction, like a dolphin on a spaceship. Dewes replied that she was stubborn and finished whatever she started. Burke never begins a story without knowing how it will end. For Zahn, it’s about making a story that reflects and builds on the characters and their choices. Dawson has admitted that many of her early stories have run out of steam, but now that she’s describing them her writing has generally crossed the finish line. She swore that if a writer is conscientious and keeps the characters consistent, “you can totally have a dolphin on a spaceship.”
Dawson explained that it’s important to write your first draft without self-criticism, comparing it to wearing warm clothes: âYou run as fast as you can to bed and drop the socks, whatever. Take the book out of you without judging yourself.
The next question concerned the visual identity of his imaginary world. Dewes tries not to get bogged down in description and lets the reader imagine things. “You don’t need a lot of descriptions,” Burke added. Zahn also sheds light on the description, saying readers are filling in the gaps.
Dawson relies on other senses, such as smells and sounds, to keep readers from getting bored. She remembers visiting the Star wars Galaxy’s Edge Theme Park before opening day, and ask the imaginaries what it smelled like. They looked at each other, wide-eyed, and said “we didn’t think about it”.
The next topic was food and fashion from her fictional world. Dawson affirmed the importance of looking at unique descriptions, keeping the reader’s experience in mind, and making sure they fit their world and its rules.
The panel ended with advice published writers would give to aspiring writers. Dewes said to read widely, across genres, and to âFind Your People,â using a writing group that responds and inspires his work. Burke replied that “the more you know about the story before you start writing, the easier it will be.” I want it to be as easy as it can be for you so that you don’t die writing. Zahn told writers to remember that while worldbuilding is important, “your story is about people.” Dawson said not to judge yourself on the first draft – “if you proofread your pages constantly looking for mistakes, you’ll never get past them … a really crappy first draft is worth over 1,000 perfect first pages” – and d ‘Avoid people who take advantage of emerging writers.
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