So I did something very out of character this weekend: I played the sci-fi game Halo.
My boyfriend somehow managed to convince me to play Halo: Reach‘s co-op campaign with him last night. He knows I’m not a big first-person shooter fan, particularly when they involve any kind of military plot and characters (I love BioShock, on the other hand, and I’m hoping for Borderlands 2 for Christmas), so this was a little like teaching an emu to fly.
A few things happened. One, I actually had fun. I generally enjoy shooting things in video games. I thought the Grunts were adorable (in that so-ugly-they’re-cute way), even when I ran them — and the emus — over in a transport vehicle. Oh, yeah. The emus, or Moa as they’re called in Reach. The first time one came into view, I tried to shoot it (and missed, of course). But it was a great way to fool little ol’ me, who was expecting nothing more BUT to shoot enemies. It was a nice touch that endeared me to the game.
You’re probably wondering by now what the hell this has to do with writing/world-building.
Well, we exited the game at one point so I could customize my Spartan (bright red armor with blue accents, oh yeah), and when we returned, we accidentally restarted at the first mission. Only we didn’t realize it at first. So we were saying, “This looks almost exactly like the other level. Why would they do that?” And then it clicked when I saw the emu.
Lesson is, diversity is important to building any world, whether it’s in a video game or a book. If all you can visualize is the same plot of land, with the same trees and hills, then you’re not thinking big enough. And video game environments are a great model to consider when you’re trying to create a world in your writing because sometimes you have to mentally see it before you can believe it — and your reader needs to believe that it’s real.
Take two pledges: First, not to insult your reader’s interior vision; and second, to see everything before you write it. The latter may mean you’ll find yourself writing more slowly than you’ve been accustomed to doing if you’ve been passing ideas (“It was a spooky old house”) off as imagery. The former may mean more careful rewriting if you’ve been hedging your bets by over-description; you’re going to have to pick up those old pruning shears, like it or not, and start cutting back to the essentials.
Adding fun creatures like emus — silly little details like that can make a big difference in how people react to your world, especially if they’re a defining part of it. Just have fun!