Worldbuilding For Multiple Alternate Universes
Find Some Crazy Ideas
Part 1 - Star Trek Fan Fiction
We pointed to Star Trek as an example of a TV Show whose fans created fanfic -- some writers attempting to replicate the aired-Trek universe exactly, while others embroidered freehand to create alternate-Trek universes, from which other writers spun off alternate-alternate-Trek universes.
Of course, no matter how hard they tried, fanfic writers never could replicate the aired-Trek characters and ended up with "original" Spocks, Kirks, McCoys, and Scotties (and Uhuras and so on).
Seeing that, other fanfic writers just plain grabbed the archetypes and spun themselves original characters - sometimes using the aired-Trek names, and sometimes adding new characters, or just creating.
Some of those writers soon "went pro" and sold their own original science fiction for professional publication.
You might be surprised to discover how much fiction has been published (in various genres) "inspired by" aired-Trek.
Once inspired, a writer just doesn't stop.
So at some point, the writer originates material that requires several universes, parallel or perpendicular, branching from, and time-line-corrupted -- possibly just a dreamland the Character negotiates.
All of the Main Characters' adventures as they splash through alternate universes and try to figure out "what the hell is going on" and "how do I get home from here?" -- all while rescuing each other from dire predicaments and sharing quiet moments of bonding -- have to be living a coherent path through their personal lives.
That means the essential theme has to be replicated in all the alternate universes they cross, and their responses have to generate further events (because line) consistent with the underlying premise of the alien universe.
You'll need a lot of material to create such alternate realities and lend them verisimilitude.
OK, so where do you get those crazy ideas from which to spin insane universes for your characters to traverse?
The solidity of your worldbuilding is even more important because it is not the focus, or the reason the readers are turning the pages.
Romance, and yes, Science Fiction, actually focus on the Character Arc - how the Character changes because of the impact of the plot events.
So the important thing about the Setting (which alternate universe they are in) is what they think is happening - much more than what is really happening.
What is really happening can be information the writer has but never imparts to the reader -- or even to the Characters. What is really happening is the stuff of which sequels are made.
What the Characters think is happening is the most important element in both Science Fiction and Romance because from those inferences, the Characters will launch their responses to Events. That's how Johnny gets his fanny caught in a bear trap -- the novel is about Johnny's adventures getting it out.
Show don't tell how the Characters responding to an incorrect take on the meaning of Events leads them to do things that just make matters worse. At the 3/4 point, you can let it dawn on the poor blokes just how wrong they've been, so the "worm turns" and attacks the real problem.
The real problem will yield to that head-on attack, but if you leave out some information, the real problem will die down for a satisfying ending, but then re-grow from deeply buried roots, and attack again -- making a grand sequel.
To sketch out a story-dynamic of this type, the writer has to stockpile material -- sometimes for years and years.
The adage is "write what you know" -- but who knows life on another planet, or how any couple can achieve a "Happily Ever After" in this turbulent world?
The whole point of reading Science Fiction and/or Romance is that you don't know.
That's what makes an "adventure" -- not just that the Characters don't know, but that the writer doesn't know before writing.
But it is also true that the desk drawers (and hard drives) of writers are littered with abandoned books half-written and shelved.
Those projects become abandoned when the writer had to stop writing to do research.
Or it might be that the writer didn't stop writing to do research -- and as a result created a whole universe that just won't work at all.
The way to avoid both kinds of research problems is to be an eclectic and omnivorous reader, and stockpile heaps and heaps of useless information, ideas, points of view, emotions, and all the alternatives that humans have already created down through the ages. And then just forget it all.
Absolutely forgotten - barely recognize if you ever see it again, forgotten. No way you could verbalize any explanation but you fully understand it on a non-verbal level.
Once "forgotten" this kind of information forms a compost heap to fertilize the freehand invention of whole universes.
As needed, the writer wallops out a few words to "describe" (or more accurately, evoke) the entire alternate universe the Characters pass through on their adventures. Two or three vivid details, a symbol, a souvenir or wound, and BAM, they are gone into the next alternate universe.
So what do you research to find bits to shovel into your compost pile of universes?
Actual reality makes a good start.
Theory, theme, ideas, bizarre occurrences (don't get me started on UFO stories!) and yes, even politics and religion, make grand sources of crazy ideas. Romance writers need to read a lot of non-fiction on psychology, anthropology, sociology, and history. Science Fiction writers need to read lots of science, peer-reviewed journals, but most importantly "junk science" and pie-in-the-sky theory at the tabloid level and the serious (but made-simple) kind of science reporter level.
Science Fiction Romance writers need both. The reading predates the writing by at least 10 years, if not 20, so start in elementary school.
Biographies are a good starting place, as you can discover which sciences enchant you most by reading the life story of those who have degrees in those fields. And you need to read lots of biographies to be able to craft a Character Arc that will make your Characters seem real to your readers.
So a fiction writer stocks their compost heap with non-fiction. A corollary to that is also true: a non-fiction writer stocks their compost heap with fiction.
Here is a non-fiction best seller -- stuffy academic topic; best seller status on Amazon in 2020 -- that weaves Sociology, with Politics, Anthropology, and the theory of governing HUMANS (not non-humans, mind you, so you have a lot of elbow room to create here).
It is a book ABOUT academe, but not academe itself.
It suggests a relationship (which may not be true for humans but might for some alternate universe non-humans) between the flights of fancy of academic philosophers inventing new Disciplines and courses in them, and the everyday "real world" you and I live in.
Maybe there is such a relationship, but it isn't configured the way this book suggests. Or maybe, hitherto in human history, there has never been such a relationship, but today's academics are creating that relations (so in an alternate universe, what if they succeed? What if they fail? What if the whole thing turns on them?)
Here's the book, and its description from Amazon:
Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity―and Why This Harms Everybody
------blurb from Amazon------
Have you heard that language is violence and that science is sexist? Have you read that you shouldn't practice yoga or cook Chinese food? Are you confused by these ideas and wonder how they have managed to challenge so quickly the very logic of Western society? In this probing and intrepid volume, Helen Pluckrose and James A. Lindsay document the evolution of this dogma, from its coarse origins in French postmodernism to its refinement within activist academic fields. As Pluckrose and Lindsay warn, the unchecked proliferation of these anti-Enlightenment beliefs presents a threat not only to liberal democracy but also to modernity itself. Only through a proper understanding of the evolution of these ideas can those who value science, reason, and consistently liberal ethics successfully challenge this dangerous and authoritarian orthodoxy.
Here's a quote from one of the early reviews:
....This book gives a detailed history of the movement to destroy liberal principles and replace them with Wokeness. It makes what is happening on our streets make sense. It explains the absurdity of things like the videos going around as I write this, of restaurant patrons being harassed by thugs screaming in their faces and demanding that they make a show of obedience and fealty to the mob.
This book details a neat way of looking at history -- the evolution of IDEAS -- and it lends itself to Romance so very easily.
Take a couple, one holding one view on this matter, and the other holding the opposite view, each used to hanging out with people who reinforce their views. What does she see in him? What does he see in her?
But love conquers all, right?
Can such a couple survive without killing each other, or themselves Romeo and Juliet style?
The essence of story is conflict -- and I can't see anyone reading this book without fulminating with conflict.
If the topic doesn't catch your attention, go on Amazon and put this paper copy book in your cart, then watch what Amazon recommends would interest you. Find a topic you can fulminate over, read some of the books Amazon recommends (check ABE books for used copies, you likely won't want to keep), and then just forget the whole thing.
In a few years, you will "have an idea" for a novel. Your idea will sprout from the compost heap of balderdash, bravado, and homespun nonsense you read and forgot years and years previously.
This non-fiction best seller contains the material for two, maybe three, whole alternate universes for your Characters to tromp through and fight about (and for, and against). Don't ignore these kinds of books, and don't sell them short as source material for your compost heap.