Everyone calls it “world-building,” the set up by which your world functions. In thrillers, there’s a typically a little bit of license taken, for example, because the world, like life, is a bit more boring in reality than a thriller demands. For example, I just re-watched the under-known Ronin (1998) with its oddly quiet script and star-studded cast, and there’s this car chase. We’ve all seen this car chase – whether it was this movie, one of the Bourne films, or anything shot in San Francisco. To watch a thriller on the screen suggests that car chases are rampant in life – can you imagine the headlines or the news reports given the number of cars that pile up during The Blues Brothers epic scene? To read a thriller suggests that serial killers lurk in every neighborhood, you just don’t know which one.
Car chases, vampires, serial killers, and prophecies are the narrative staples that we work by, and writers seem as enchanted as readers do, given the overwhelming number of them in our literature. (I’ve just finished Kiersten White‘s Supernaturally, in which she treats vampires much like Joss Whedon – deadly, but much more run-of-the-mill dangers than special or spectacular).
I’m trying to avoid the obvious staples. Here are some of my rules.
In the first group, everyone can do magic. If you’ve got enough imagination, persistence, and drive, you can empower a talisman. Once you make your first, a teacher will show up to guide you through the other two so’s you don’t kill yourself.
In the second group, only special people can do magic by making contracts and giving part of themselves to the creatures or forces outside themselves.
The first group shares their knowledge, albeit subtly, and investigates like scientists. Their work is dangerous and slightly unstable. They focus their work through three talismans: the lens that makes things happen (like a wand, but nobody chooses a wand); the translator for analyzing and understanding; and the receptacle, for storing knowledge and organizing their thoughts. The longer the talismans are around, the stronger they become. It’s very rare that all three survive the death of their creators.
The second group is more secretive, more about oral tradition, and tends to go a bit crazy. On the other hand, they know what they’re doing more than the first group does.
The two camps have a history of conflict, if not instigated then certainly kept strong by the second group.
The world that the two camps come from is ours, twenty-first century, so I don’t have to create a culture – I just have to figure out how people who do magic of whatever sort live side by side with the rest of us.
What do you say? Is the premise of the world interesting? What else would you want to know?