Confessions of an Accidental Worldbuilder

How does one go about writing a retrofuturistic series which is basically a crossover between Baroque painters and clandestine cartographers? Like many great things in life—almost completely by accident.

I used to write fantasy—the one which you needed to draw a map for—until I realized it was never going to stick. (What doesn’t stick, doesn’t get edited, so that was the end of my short relationship with old-school worldbuilding.) Then I wrote urban fantasy, both historical and not, which didn’t really need that much worldbuilding because I always hated doing a lot of research beforehand. Why look stuff up when you can disregard it altogether?

And then…

I wrote a story with two of my favourite things—art history and werewolves. It was written for a submission call for stories about monasteries and convents, back in the day when I actually did that. It was a twist of fate, I guess. It has been suggested to me that I translate it into English already, but… it has werewolves. I don’t want someone reading it and then go looking for furry floofers in Johnny’s Girls. (But, mostly, my biggest issue with it is that it’s alright—for a story I wrote years ago.)

Then I wrote a story set in the same universe, which emphasised another of my favourite things in fiction—war. You can actually read that one here! I think I bit off more than I could’ve chewed at the time, but it was also written for a specific submission call, and it sort of sealed my recent fascination with parallel worlds. Somewhere after this, if I remember correctly, I decided to write a dieselpunk queer trilogy with, you know, selfcest. It had in the past year or so become an open-ended series concept, thank you very much.

Thus, I brainstormed shit beforehand, named shit, placed shit in spreadsheets. I played around with temporal differences. Tried to put the worlds I’d sketched out into a GURPS-inspired tech level scale. I had fun.

But then my plots changed. I went lighter on the prison trope (shuffled it forward into book #3 or later) and heavier on the positive aspects of a retrofuturistic romance. I ditched the werewolves altogether because, by that point, it was already obvious that one werewolf series was what my brain could manage at a time. (I tell myself that there are still many werewolf worlds in the whole Ranger Paraversum, since, well, it’s an endless parallel universe setting. Until I devise a plotline which needs it not to be, if I ever do.)

Then it all got blown to pieces by my brain deciding “You never told me this was an orgy!” was a great last sentence in a chapter. And my world changed once again, into something which might be labeled as a kinky homage to Agatha Christie. (If, you know, one dared to label it so. Which I don’t.)

And my beta had a go at it. And boy, did she want to know shit. What were the charts? How did they work? What if this happened and what if that did? And the cogs in my head (the diesel-powered ones, since this is still not steampunk) got moving again, especially because she liked ‘The Canadas’ almost as much as I did.

And right now, in the first part of the first draft for the second novel in the Ranger Paraversum series, I’m researching things circa two books in, trying to decide how different than ours Lina’s world really is, and how many public library puns is too many for a book which prominently features an archival library. You know, as one does during a dieselpunk romance mystery.

I wish I could say there was a method to my madness, but… I think the story above speaks for itself. And the only problem is that I’m now literally scared to ever go worldbuilding before the actual writing again, because—who’s to say my postapocalyptic Adriatic royalty is going to stay royalty? Can anybody vouch they won’t become fishermen?

And that, in short, is why I love writing this much, over twenty years in.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash.