Warning: This post contains minor spoilers.
I’ve spent the past couple weeks worldbuilding for a new story, and sometimes it’s helpful to find examples of authors who have successfully built and presented imaginative worlds in their books. Creating a world can be hard enough, but weaving information into your story without the use of info dumps forms another challenge in itself. Marie Lu does a fantastic job with both tasks in her latest book, Warcross.
Warcross takes place in the not-too-distant future of earth, specifically in New York City and Tokyo. In this future, virtual reality and a game known as Warcross form a primary component of daily life and culture for many people. Warcross itself becomes a spectator sport, and the virtual reality devices connected to it allow people to experience life around them in a different way—decorated buildings, eccentric fashion, virtual pets, and the like. Real life and virtual life exist together, one on top of the other.
We experience this world through Emika Chen, a bounty hunter whose hacking ability earns her a place in the Warcross Championship, during which Hideo Tanaka, the creator of Warcross, wants her to uncover a security problem. Lu reveals aspects of her futuristic earth in a casual and easily digestible manner. The various interactions with virtual reality technology and its effects on daily life pop up regularly, but not all at once. Most people have Warcross glasses, people use Warcross as a source of income in both legal and illegal ways, the glasses allow users to store memories, and virtual reality can alter the appearances of people and buildings. This consistent introduction of information forms an overall image of Emika’s society, which is a believable future version of our own.
Beyond the depiction of virtual reality’s impact on regular life, Lu’s creation of the virtual world itself reveals her skill with worldbuilding. As a player in the Warcross Championship, Emika enters multiple games, each in a different setting with varying aspects of gameplay: a glacier landscape with enormous beasts trapped inside towers of ice, a sunken city, and a fighting ring for mecha robots. Lu combines these unique settings with the creative power-ups used in gameplay to produce well-paced and intriguing scenes.
Within the legal and popular worlds of Warcross exists the Dark World, location of the Pirate’s Den and Emerald Emporium, where people go to place illegal bets on games, purchase rare power-ups, partake in identity theft, and even hire assassins. Just as with the real world and the world of Warcross, Lu introduces the atmospheric Dark World and the danger surrounding it throughout Emika’s visits. The Dark World becomes a different view of how people utilize Warcross’s virtual reality technology. It makes sense that it exists in this world, and it plays an important role in Emika’s story.
Warcross by Marie Lu serves as a great example of the use of worldbuilding in storytelling. Lu creates an interesting future for earth, and executes it in both a digestible and believable way. This world contains a mix of good and bad, and forms a solid stage for a cast of gray characters. If you have yet to read Warcross, I highly recommend it, for its developed main character, its multiple plot twists, and its well-constructed world.
What are your thoughts? If you haven’t read Warcross, head to your local library or bookstore, or find it online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or another seller. Also check out Marie Lu’s other work on her website.
If you are in the process of worldbuilding, here is a list of fantasy worldbuilding questions by Patricia C. Wrede to help you out.
Although this post directly speaks to writers, I believe it applies to many other people as well.
I’ve spent more and more time among other writers in the past year, whether online or in-person, and it’s becoming more and more evident how prevalent self-deprecation is in the community. I see or hear writers spout overly humble if not purely critical judgments of their stories and writing skills on a daily basis, and I think it’s important to fight against this growing habit.
Writing is a critical hobby and profession. Criticism is not only unavoidable, but necessary for the growth of one’s story and writing skills. Writers must be able to acknowledge flaws and work towards bettering them, again and again and again.
Nonetheless, the current prevalence of self-deprecation among writers is unnecessary if not subtly damaging. As I said, writing is already a profession that involves regular criticism and rejection. It can be very emotionally taxing and discouraging.
Don’t contribute to that pool of self-doubt. Fight back.
Just as writing is critical, it’s also very difficult. It requires hours upon hours of brainstorming, writing, re-writing, editing, reading, and researching. Even if your short story or manuscript isn’t to its full potential yet, or you aren’t represented by an agent, or you have yet to make a book deal, you should be proud of the work you have put in. Not everyone can or is willing to do what you do, so take a moment to acknowledge the importance of that effort—and then pat yourself on the back.
Furthermore, writers have their own unique skills. Maybe one writer excels in dialogue while another masters character development. Instead of focusing solely on what you cannot yet do, take a moment to consider what you can. What makes you unique as a writer? What makes your stories unique? What do you enjoy about writing? What do you have to be confident about?
We live in a society that often villainizes confidence, but try not to fall into that trap. Confidence is key. It will keep you going through the difficult days of rejection, and it will be necessary when it comes to finding an agent or publicizing your books. If you aren’t confident in your own writing, why should someone else be?
Don’t fall into a trap of self-deprecation. Just as it is necessary to acknowledge and edit faults in writing, it is also important to recognize the good and feel confident in it. Find your reasons to be confident, and then share that confidence.
As I’ve recently started brainstorming and worldbuilding for a new story, I’ve thought a lot about antagonists. Where, when, and how does my antagonist come into the story? What does my antagonist want? How does that conflict with my protagonist? How do I make my antagonist multi-faceted and interesting, but also antagonistic?
Personally, my antagonist and corresponding conflict often take me the longest to think up. My protagonist, potential love interest, and plot hook come easily, but I spend long hours staring off into space while brainstorming an antagonist. Unsurprisingly, staring at a blank notebook or a ceiling never seems to help, so I’m going to share what eventually does—and then how to get to know your antagonist once he/she/they have a place in your imagination.
The antagonist and protagonist are closely tied together, so if you are already in the process of getting to know your protagonist, start there. Who is your protagonist? What does your protagonist want? What drives that character within your story? What scares him/her/them?
Now, what kind of antagonist would stand in the way of those goals or fuel those fears? What might your antagonist want that conflicts with the wants of your protagonist? These wants cannot coexist, hence the conflict.
If your protagonist wants to win a competition, does your antagonist want to beat them? Or end the competition entirely? If your protagonist wishes to procure a magical artifact in order to heal a friend or lover, why might your antagonist stand in the way of that goal? By asking these questions, you can evolve your antagonist alongside your protagonist.
If looking directly at your protagonist does not reveal your antagonist, consider the world in which your story takes place. What sort of society exists in this setting? What is the history? What is the conflict? How might social and historical conflicts breed an antagonist? Does your antagonist want a new social order? Or a return to an older one?
Once you have an idea of who your antagonist is, you should spend time thinking about what he/she/they want and why. Don’t let your antagonist be a one-sided trope. The best antagonists are those that the readers can learn to understand or even sympathize with, although they stand against the protagonist.
My best advice for getting to know your antagonist is to write a scene or chapter from your antagonist’s perspective. This exercise does not ever have to go into your actual manuscript, but it forces you to think through your antagonist. What is your antagonist’s perspective on a certain event or situation? What are his/her/their inner thoughts? How do past life events affect your antagonist's perspective, thoughts, and goals?
Hopefully, if you struggle with antagonists just as I do, this advice pushes you a little closer to discovering the right antagonist for your story. If you have your own methods for fleshing out an antagonist, make sure to share, because I would love to hear them.
I write YA fantasy and contemporary fiction. This blog is dedicated to thoughts and advice on writing and publishing, as well as various interests related to the world of Young Adult.