Secondary World Settings

Oh, Beneath Ceaseless Skies. You’re such a cool publication, but I have a real mental block against writing fantasy with a secondary world setting. I’ve tried. I really have.

Here’s the thing. I just can’t seem to get away from writing contemporary/urban fantasy. There’s just something about plopping fantasy elements down in the middle of regular ol’ modern life that I find endlessly appealing.

I guess, for me, fantasy relies on contrast. The power of fantasy comes from the mundane. We like elves and magic and dragons because we don’t trip over them walking to work in the morning. Their appeal is contingent upon their oddity, their otherness.

So, I can’t seem to resist the temptation to build the mundane/fantasy comparison right into my narrative. Put them side by side on the page. I love that stuff. Show the slog of the morning commute. The obnoxious bumper sticker on the car blocking the passing lane. Then, BLAM, let the fantasy intrude upon the recognizable/familiar and you’ve got your fantastical sucker-punch. Or regular punch. Anyway, it’s a punch.

That said, I can’t seriously suggest that your Lord of the Rings type secondary world setting can’t pack the same fantasy-wallop. It can. It does. No question. Did I mention that Beneath Ceaseless Skies kicks ass?

Secondary world settings are awesome. The fault is mine.

When I start to write secondary world, I get lost in world-building. I think to myself, “well, this isn’t Earth, I better explain things until the reader hates the story and me personally.” I lose sight of the “yeah, we get it” principle that I easily apply in my contemporary fantasy writing. I belabor. I explain. I make the fantastical tedious.

At the same time, I feel like if you don’t do enough world-building in the secondary world setting, then why set a story there at all? Why isn’t this story taking place in Akron, Ohio? Just because you wanted to rename squirrels “poof-tailed wood-scurriers”?

So, the secondary world setting needs to be robust, unique, and invisible all at once. That’s some high-level writing kung fu and I admire the hell out of the writers who pull it off. I’m just not one of them. Yet.

Until then, I’ll make do with this world. A simple place where killer robots patrol the skies and giant squids roam the oceans. Also, this happens (see below):


One thought on “Secondary World Settings

  1. You should write what you’re comfortable with. But maybe you could learn to stretch yourself gradually. Start with a short fantasy story with a set word count limit so you don’t go overboard on world building.

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