World-Building - Tent Pole Development

For this week's world-building post, I want to talk about tent poles. In this case, I'm not talking about the ones under a circus tent but ways of exploring the world through fiction and documentation (writing dictionary or encyclopedia entries).

Tent pole development is picking another part of the world that doesn't match the previous one and explore those differences. In my case, I started with Flight of the Scions which was set in a relatively rural area filled with forests and a biracial protagonist about to be kidnapped. When I submitted that story for eventual rejection, I decided to do a bit of world development with “just a 20k word story” about the desert because I really had no clue about Kanéko's mother's culture. I also had a cut scene where Garèo and Mioráshi talked about their own brutal coming of ages compared to Ronamar's. So, the second “pole” was to work on that contrast.

The third pole ended up being Second-Hand Dresses which was completely different than the first two since it was about Tarsan High Society and had nothing to do with fighting, survival, or traveling around the world.

The main part about setting up a new pole is that it develops the world. That's one reason I pick something different (culture, genre, country) because the entire point is not to have an entire world were everything is the same (the phrase “same-face” from art). Also, these poles have nothing to do with any other story because they are in new areas. My latest example is the short story, Looking for the Wrong Thing which helps establish a new country, culture, and everything else by trying to ignore how the other cultures were created.

The contrast are what I call fabric stories. They are associated with one of the poles and further develop concepts, riff of existing plots, and generally stretch out from the pole toward new areas of story and world. These connective stories build on each other, which is why they don't have a lot of “as everyone in the room knows” moments nor do they focus on the initial details. Sand and Blood has a lot more setting the scene than Raging Alone for that reason.

Another reason I like fabric stories is that they “reach” for another pole. Put together, they connect two separate poles together to show a spectrum of lives between two very different points.

I find setting up a new tent pole to require more thought than fabric or connective stories. There has to be a reason it's a pole, a stark difference that needs to be explored while not focusing on existing stories.

Both types of stories have their place. If I only write fabric stories, everything is just a riff off of existing areas and the world starts to look the same because they have the same starting point. If I only wrote pole stories, then nothing is interrelated and it creates a world that could be an entirely different setting. Together, you get a world that both has contrasting details but still binds together.