Creating Reality for Fun and Profit — Does World-building Make One a God?
I can only speak from personal experience, but hell yes, worldbuilding does make one a god.
All the gods I’ve ever met are considered divine because they create universes and fill them with worlds of self-sustaining, evolving life. They make rules to govern the physical properties of their realities and invest their sentient creations with a moral code.
If some character decides to break that moral code, these gods have the ability to turn their lives into a great, steaming pile of suck. Sometimes these divine pranksters will screw with the lives of their creations just for kicks, ’cause from what I hear, immortality gets pretty tedious. And right or wrong, gods get away with bloody murder. Why?
Because they are gods and they make all the rules.
Writers of *speculative fiction create reality as well. We call it worldbuiliding And just like the divine ladies and gents I mentioned above, the worldbuilder creates worlds and fills them with all sorts of life. We also screw with the fates of our creations. In typical bored higher being fashion, we make things hardest and most tragic for the characters we love most. Because it’s more interesting that way. We make rules pertaining to the laws of nature that differ — sometimes drastically — from the physical laws written by whomever scribed the story of our universe.
In my construction of The Thirteen Kingdoms — the world that debuts in the first book of The Stormbringer Revelation, Full-Blood Half-Breed — I had to manage all sorts of details like star constellations, geographic economics, even the types of shoes most likely to be worn by a poor immigrant living in the eastern quadrant of the fictional city Santuario del Guerrero. You have no idea how much minutiae a god must work through to make his or her world a kick-ass realm where all the kids want to go hang.
For life to succeed, it must be able to reproduce and adapt to its environment. The writer-god, if he or she is successful, creates life that does this. Our creatures and characters procreate. The elf is the perfect example of this. As far as we know, the elf was born of ancient folklore, but has endured through the years, showing up time and again in literature and popular media and evolving into several distinctive families. Tolkien’s elves mark a huge step in the evolution of this creature. Legolas and his kin are to their ancient folksy forbears as modern humanity is the Cro Magnon. Even in my world of the Thirteen Kingdoms, there exists a race of graceful creatures called, the duende, which are descended of Tolkien’s lithe and beautiful elves. It was Tolkien’s ideas that impregnated my imagination, giving birth to my duende, just as the creatures of European folklore impregnated his imagination, giving birth to the first children of Eru. As worldbuilders, the lives we imagine beget other imaginary life.
Finally, gods make up physical laws to regulate nature in the worlds they create. Whomever wrote the story of our existence, created the laws of physics and those laws cannot be broken. At least not without really wreaking havoc with the fabric of existence and perhaps completely annihilating reality as we know it. Which would suck.
Writers, likewise create rules to govern the natural worlds we imagine. We incorporate physics but alter it to accommodate our magic systems. Don’t roll your eyes Sci-Fi fans, your stories have magic systems as well. You call it future science/technology but it serves the same purpose as spell-based sorcery or potions-based witchcraft or the elemental-based system of Full-Blood Half-Breed. To break the laws of magic we have established is to betray the reader who has invested years in our worlds and characters. It typically destroys the universe for the reader. And that really sucks.
So, with my tongue quite firmly in my cheek, and speaking on behalf of my fellow worldbuilding gods, I ask only that you acknowledge our literary divinity. Worship us if you must, but we would much rather you simply enjoyed the worlds we’ve built for your enjoyment and the characters keeping them safe for you. If you’re looking for a world to enjoy, I highly recommend the Thirteen kingdoms. There is a Full-Blood Half-Breed residing there whose life just took a turn toward the epic, and the story of his adventures is one kick-ass read. Really. You can trust me.
I am, after all, a god.
*Speculative Fiction is an umbrella term encompassing the more fantastical fiction genres, specifically science fiction, fantasy, horror, weird fiction, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history in literature as well as related static, motion, and virtual arts.
**Originally written for Suvudu, the Science Fiction/Fantasy website for Penguin Random House, Feb 2014