Last week I finished reading and talked all about the fantastic book Lex Talionis by R.S.A. Garcia. I seriously enjoyed the book. As a writer, I’m not just enjoying books from a reader/fan perspective though. The craft that goes into a novel is a whole additional layer of enjoyment for me when I read. The craft of Lex impressed me just as much as all the other aspects of the story.
I love talking shop (duh) and had all sorts of stuff I wanted to talk about with Garcia so I invited her over to this here blog for some shop talk about one of my most fascinating topics, worldbuilding. Every novel revolves around its story, and every good story is driven by the characters. More so in science fiction than any other flavor of genre, the set dressing and world building can become a character unto itself. There are an endless amount of ways that authors go about it and I always love to compare notes on this.
So without any further rambling, I’m going to let Garcia take the stage and share how she went about building the world of Lex Talionis.
Worldbuilding is a topic that I find endlessly fascinating and have heard dozens of different approaches to it. In other interviews, I saw you mention that you weren’t much of an outliner but the entire time I was reading Lex, I felt there was huge detailed galaxy out there. The reader in me loves it. The writer in me is impressed with this world packed full of depth that still never distracted from the story. How did you go about this?
I swallowed a galaxy before I started writing, obviously. That’s how all the best god-heads do it. Bow down to my skills, puny human!
Well, okay, maybe not.
First off, thanks for the compliments! I did work hard to try and set up a vast universe without writing every bit of it all down. Growing up, I preferred to visualize what a author wrote and I was no fan of standard assists like maps. I appreciate the work that goes into it, and I know people love stuff like that, but I hated having to stop the story to go look up a mountain range, and I idolized writers who could take me there with words alone. So I worked hard at using all the senses–sight, taste, smell, sound and touch–to paint a complete picture.
I’ve always been a pantser. With me though, when I write, I see the world and I add what I see to the database in my head. I like to follow ideas wherever they lead and one thought usually leads to another, so if I know I have a planet with an atmosphere poisonous to humans, I will ask myself what WILL survive there, and then bam! I have an alien species. If I made more notes, I wouldn’t have to flip back so often to see what I decided to call my floating jellyfish aliens, but when those aliens show up, they tend to walk in dragging their people’s history and their old boyfriends with them. Then I just write it down.
Did the world Lex inhabits come from years of marinating in your head or did it just appear like Athena, fully formed bursting out of your head?
Very few parts marinated over the years, mostly to do with Lex herself and her background. The rest of the world formed as I wrote and asked myself questions ‘what if’ questions. The first one was, ‘what if aliens found us instead of us finding them–and they just wanted to trade?’ I would ask myself questions about why some things and places were the way they were and the answers formed the basis of the world.
My approach was also influenced by how technology changed over the years, of course, so some things did come fully formed, birthed by some random tech articles or a sentence in a new article. But I didn’t have any of it burst from my head, which sounds really painful, by the way. I doubt there’s enough Excedrin in the world for that!
Did the level of worldbuilding change as you progressed through drafts, i.e. cutting parts out or filling in more detail?
Oh, for sure! I started writing Lex years ago, so a lot had to change. I grew up, got better at writing, started filling in more detail, experienced a lot more life. Those factors and others helped change the world I was building. It started out a lot more light-hearted, less gritty. That changed when I started asking the ‘what if’ questions I mentioned.
I cut an entire book to write Lex, if you can believe it. The sequel to Lex is actually the book I was working on first. But I asked myself how this woman I was writing came to be, and it turned out I needed a book to answer that. It also turned out I needed a few books to work out all the trouble that came with her. Should have just left her alone in the first place–would have been much quieter in my head.
Is your worldbuilding approach going to evolve as you work on the sequel and/or other unnamed projects?
Definitely. The database in my brain is getting obsolete, like all good tech eventually does. I need to start making notes now so I don’t have to flip through all the manuscripts I write looking for the name of some street. I’m exploring writing software to help with that–I heard Scrivener’s good. I want to make sure my other books can be written without me getting eye-strain and cramps from clicking through the pages.
My plan was always to advance the tech in my world as the years pass, so the reader can see the world’s evolution as they go. Technology is proceeding at such a pace these days that it’s going to be a tall order writing a science fiction novel that Elon Musk hasn’t rendered archaic by the time it goes to print. But we’re also closing the gap between finishing a novel and publishing it to satisfy this new generation of ravenous readers, so perhaps I have a better chance of getting away with that now than before.
Either way, I hope to keep changing, improving on my worldbuilding and writing better stories as I go. Otherwise I’ll be forced to return to my galaxy swallowing ways and believe me, only the Children of Cthulhu want that *gives everyone the evil eye*.
RSA Garcia lives and works on the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean with a large family and too many dogs–not that any of them belong to her.
She decided to be an author when she discovered that Louisa May Alcott had been published at the age of 8. Determined to waste no more time, she finished her first collection of stories at 10. She has not stopped writing since, and indulged herself in a deep love of all speculative fiction despite the best advice of every English teacher she has ever had.
Lex Talionis is her debut novel available now from all the major players. Learn more about her and her novel over at rsagarcia.com.