N.K. Jemisin, Joe Hill, Marissa Meyer, and Marie Lu Talk Worldbuilding at BookCon

Day 2 of BookCon brought together a quartet of authors of impress imaginations to discuss The Magic of Worldbuilding and the worldbuilding of magic, from characters coming to N.K. Jemisin (the Broken Earth trilogy) in dreams to Marissa Meyer (Renegades) making a superhero and a supervillain fall in love. Plus, Marie Lu (Rebel) explained what she needed to write in order to return to the Legend universe, and Joe Hill (NOS4A2) pondered the really vital worldbuilding questions behind A Quiet Place.

We live-tweeted the panel, which you can also read below:

Happy Day 2 of #BookCon19! We’re at The Magic of Worldbuilding with @nkjemisin @joe_hill @marissa_meyer @Marie_Lu!

Cars named after famous vampires that run on human lives, supervillains upending the system, futures determined by gameification, and fantasy set here in NYC–lots of worldbuilding to talk about!

How do these authors begin building worlds? @nkjemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy started w/a dream “of a woman walking toward me with a furious look on her face and a mountain floating behind her.” @Marie_Lu was watching the Liam Neeson Les Mis and wanted to write a teen version.

@marissa_meyer’s Renegades series is superheroes vs. supervillains, but immediately her subconscious had questions that demanded answering: “Where did superpowers come from? Were the heroes always in control?” etc.

You want to explain how a world works in the cleanest, most elegant way possible, @joe_hill says—”because explanations suck.” But you also want to know the solutions to whatever mystery you’re setting up ahead of time.

Case in point, an anecdote from writing Locke & Key and getting advice from Alan Moore: “‘Only a jackass would start writing a story and publishing it and posing questions that they don’t know the answer to’… which is when I realized, I was that jackass.”

When do you explain vs handwaving?

@nkjemisin builds infodumps into the book; there’s a reason the character is pausing to tell you a story.

@joe_hill’s The Fireman characters ponder different explanations for their world: “They don’t know, so why does the reader need to know?”

@Marie_Lu revisits the Legend world for Rebel, but she needed to write a duology (Warcross) in-between, in order to hear the characters’ voices again, before she could understand what was going to happen in Rebel.

Renegades came about after @marissa_meyer was stuck on a Lunar Chronicles draft and said, “I just want to write about a superhero and a supervillain who fall in love! It’s all I care about, but I can only do it in one book.”

*Make that three books, but she got her wish!

How do you worldbuild in short fiction?

@joe_hill cites Clarke’s Law (“sufficiently complex science is indistinguishable from magic” + vice versa) in “All I Care About is You”: basically magic “but I figured 150 years in the future all this stuff will be possible via technology”

@nkjemisin uses her short stories as testers for novels: “Do I have enough background material? Do I have the mood right?” etc. It’s a proof-of-concept.

@Marie_Lu + @nkjemisin on creating stories within beloved franchises like (respectively) Batman and Green Lantern. In both cases, it was finding a story in relatively untreaded ground, from teenage Bruce Wayne to a female Green Lantern from a far-off sector.

How about writing a new superhero story using familiar tropes and superpowers? With Renegades @marissa_meyer tried to create or establish “a new set of ideas and personalities to these kinds of superpowers you’ve seen before.”

How do you as a writer have your characters interact with this world in a seamless, authentic way?

be choosy with language, avoid expository phrases like “as you know…”
what details are familiar/boring to characters vs readers?
tailor your POV character to the story

How do you stay out of the weeds when worldbuilding—or how do you pull yourself out?

character dialogue, forward momentum
@nkjemisin limits her research to 1-2 months
if the story starts slowing down, you’re in trouble

@joe_hill with the important worldbuilding questions about #AQuietPlace: “If one of them farts in their sleep, is it over?”

How do they come up with their characters? What comes first, chars or worlds?

@nkjemisin: “Mine come up with themselves. I don’t have a choice.”

@Marie_Lu + @marissa_meyer take notes on others’ quirks.

@joe_hill: “Idk, but if you don’t have a good one, you don’t have a story.”

That’s the end of The Magic of Worldbuilding! #BookCon19

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