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Picturing a World

Tiny floating worlds

A post by James Gurney on Painting Fantasy on Location immediately brought to mind Kathleen Jennings' Floating Islands. I've also just finished rereading A Sudden Wild Magic by Diana Wynne Jones in which a pocket world the size of a giant fortress orbits a planet in its own universe while being connected by magic to its counterpart in another. And then there's Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Petit Prince, surely the most delicious story and artwork ever set on an asteroid. In short, the whole idea of tiny floating worlds has set me thinking about how to approach a story set on one.

Those of you with artistic talents may want to try Gurney's shortcut to inventing a fantasy world: Isolate some element in the world in front of you—a building, a stairway in a park, a grove of trees—and transform it into a freestanding little world.

As an exercise for visual artists, the invention of these charmers is sufficient in and of itself. But writers must extend the exercise. We can start out the same way without having to draw well since nobody else is ever going to see our picture. It will exist only to spark imagination.

With a picture in hand, the next step though is to start exploring and expanding it.

  1. Look out the window and choose the nearest house, structure, or natural feature that strikes your fancy.
  2. Sketch it roughly.
  3. Add a rocky substructure to the ground it stands on. Does this world point downward in a rough cone? Is it flat? Is it a sphere? Can anyone climb to the bottom?
  4. Is it tethered to a larger world? If so, how?
  5. Does it float above a larger version of itself? above a blasted and ruined older world? out in space?
  6. If it is in space, is it enveloped in a bubble atmosphere or are the inhabitants forced to live inside and venture to the surface only in space suits? Or is this such a whimsical place that you don't have to worry about ordinary physics?
  7. What is the next thing visible—empty air or more buildings, a garden, a forest, a beach?
  8. How far can you go till you come to the end of the world?
  9. Who lives here? How many species?
  10. How big are they—the size of humans or the size of ants?
  11. Does your main character wish to protect and maintain the place or escape it?
  12. What threatens your main character? Is he or she a prisoner or a free agent?
  13. Does something threaten the very existence of the world?
  14. To begin the action, let your main character notices something odd. What? Does he first retreat or immediately press on? Does she tell anybody else about it?
  15. What happens as a result of this first change?

You can shortcut the shortcut by using another artist's drawing.

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