What Makes A World

What makes a fictional world distinct and different from our real one? I have been thinking about this a lot as I work on my Weed serial– how one event, development or difference can create a fictional world. In Weed, like other superhero stories, people possess extraordinary powers, metahuman abilities. Sometimes, as is the case with Weed, something happened to effect that change. The cause could be a mutation, technological development, or an ultra-rich someone with sufficient motive to become a highly skilled vigilante crime fighter.

In science fiction it’s often a new invention or scientific discovery that makes a fictional world distinct from our own. In urban fantasy, supernatural creatures exist, often accompanied by magic but regardless the simple fact that vampires, werewolves, demons etc. exist changes the world, even if as is often the case many average folks have no idea that such beings walk among them. In the steampunk genre it’s a technology that exists beyond what actually did in the Victorian period, from mechanical men to airships and ray guns.

In the Lord of the Rings, the difference is that Middle Earth, possibly an ancient precursor to our own, has magic. More specifically for the trilogy, the change is that the magic is fading now, and that Sauron, the Dark Lord, by placing his essence into a ring, gave himself a way to linger once the magic began to leave, and yet, like the serpent swallowing its own tail, that wasn’t why he did it. He did it for power.

In the recent television series Dollhouse a technology is developed which allows people to be programmed, the “dolls” of the title, who can be loaded with a persona and skills to match and be used for a variety of purposes.  This provides the basis for the series main character, Echo, and her realizing who she is.

In Weed, “metas”, individuals with extraordinary powers, sprang up in the early 1960s, the result of a sudden onset of mutations that effected 1 in ten million or so individuals, a very slow number, but resulting in a few hundred super-powered individuals.

That one thing, a point of divergence, an event, or change from our own world, from that one thing springs everything that makes the world different. In Dollhouse the brain wiping and loading tech was exploited by a very powerful corporation for its own ends. In Lord of the Rings, Sauron’s ring is what keeps the magic in the world, destroying the ring releases that magic to fade away entirely. In Weed, it’s that there’s a secret at the heart of why metas exist, a very dangerous secret.

What is your favorite “one difference” in a fantasy or science fiction novel, movie or graphic novel series? Please share in comments.

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