*Guest Post by writer and author Jared Hammer
For most people, a bus is just a bus. Biking to work or school is simply a good way to save gas. And a walk from one office building to another is nothing more than a nice excuse to get up and stretch.
My mind works a little differently.
My mind is always somewhere else: beneath the surface of the ocean, soaring over a foreign land, far away on a different planet. The bus I’m on turns into a plane, a plane turns into a spaceship, and a trail up a mountain becomes a journey on a never-before-seen world. It’s just the way I’ve been since I was little. To quote Hugh Jackman, “a million dreams are keeping me awake.”
I grew up in a tiny apartment in the back of my grandpa’s drainage and sprinkler company. The apartment itself was pretty small—not much more than a main room about the size of a twenty-foot-long hallway with ladders leading up to three double-sized lofts—but the attached warehouse and office space were huge, and they were filled with all sorts of my grandpa’s equipment and company trucks. Most of my time was spent riding excavators, or flying to Mars in a dump truck, or pretending that a large industrial PVC pipe was a submarine.
Even though I got older over the years, I never stopped pretending, and as I grew up my imagined worlds became larger and more complex. One day, when I was in college sitting behind the desk of my music library job, I got tired of letting my imagined worlds slip away, so I decided to write them down. Now, I only got through about ten pages of what would eventually become The Alpine Insurrection before I got busy with school and work, but more importantly, I discovered a fire inside of me that I had never known existed.
Not everyone, though, has the time or the lack of focus to always live in a different galaxy, and building a world from nothing can often be a daunting and discouraging task. Just remember, not even Rome was built in a day. But here are a few tricks I’ve learned that can help make the process more fun and more manageable.
1. Start from the ground up, or the heavens down, whatever you prefer.
b. Heavens down: Maybe you don’t know those small details yet, so start off big. What is your sphere of influence? Will anyone care about what your galaxy looks like if your story takes place entirely within a small town? Are the number of planets in the solar system important? Whatever your sphere of influence is, just go one step bigger. I always find that makes it easier to build more once you get further down the road. My story took place across an entire planet, so I built its star system first (I know, I said I went ground up in the last paragraph, but in reality I kind of did both at the same time). I decided its distance from its star, how many moons it had, its nearest neighbor. That helped me discover my planet’s climate and size and length of year, and from there what kind of regions were cool or hot, and so on.
2. Make a record.
Consistency is key! Write down what you come up with. Make a map, create a fake Wikipedia entry, do a couple unrelated short stories with the same setting. Your world should be as real to you as the one you live in. That way you don’t have to worry about creating something new every chapter; your records will do the heavy lifting for you. Back when I was a teacher, I gave my Earth Science students the project to create their own made-up planet fact sheet, so I took my own planet from my book and made a fact sheet to give them as an example. It was fun, and they thought I was a dork. They’re not wrong.
3. Be a kid.
Finally, don’t be afraid to make-believe! Go pretend, be a kid, dare to dream of something great. Go live in the world you’ve created and love it. You’ll start discovering things about it that you never knew were there before.
Now, if you were to see my first draft, it would look nothing like the story I have today: different characters, different plot, different scenery. But that’s okay. The most important part about writing, and the best part about writing, is that nothing is ever truly done. There’s always more to a story and to its world than can ever be put on our primitive, limited resources of pen and paper. The imagination will always be the most pivotal and most beautiful part of a journey, both for you and for the people who will one day step foot onto your world.