World Building Through Questions

No, this isn’t part of the World Building Questions series. Except in that it’s about world building and the power of doing so through questions and answers.

Once upon a time I was working on a novel set in or around the singularity, about 70 years into the future in an almost unrecognizable Northern Virginia. I had ideas on how big chunks of the world worked and changed, but I wanted to make sure I was focusing on the right elements of the world. So I wrote it all out, handed it out as copies to my writers’ group, and sat down with a pen and paper ready to take the questions they asked about it. What parts of the world were they curious about? What did I not have answers for? By the end of the session I had several hand written pages of questions, notes, bits and pieces of the world that people wanted to know about but I’d not thought about.

Were they all important? Yes and no.

When it comes to crafting a narrative there are two categories of information: what the reader would like to know and what they need to know. The latter are the essential details, the former are fun little additions to the story. They don’t directly influence the story, but a setting is just like any other character in that the author needs to know far more than every appears on the paper. This becomes more and more true as the setting is more and more alien to the reader. A non-magical story set yesterday, down the street from the reader? He or she knows the place well. Around the world? Perhaps less so. A century ago? A century from now? A spaceship? An alien world?

Unfortunately I don’t meet with my writers’ group as much as I once did. It’s one of those things that there’s just less time for with a baby in the house. So instead, I’m turning to you, dear readers of this blog. All three of you. After the break is a brief rundown of what I know about the GS Sarah Constant. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s those details that I think best paint a broad picture of the vessel and life on board. Then I’d be open to questions. If I know the answer, I’ll let you know. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll thank you for your question, and copy it into the part of my Scrivener file dedicated to things I don’t yet know about my setting.

Let’s begin.

The GS Sarah Constant is a generation ship launched from earth with an initial population around 20,000. The general design of the ship is a segmented cylinder, with progressive sections of the cylinder opening up as population stresses require them. The birthrate on the ship is controlled to allow for a gradually increasing population intended not to tax the full capacity of the ship before it arrives at its destination in roughly 1150 years.

Passengers on the ship break into three broad categories. The command line of the ship includes the officers in charge of making sure the ship is going where it’s supposed to go and maintain general order. The passengers are those individuals and families who have paid to live a life of luxury on the ship and receive preferential treatment on board. Then there’s everyone else, the people who do the grunt work, keep the ship operational, and keep the passenger class happy.

Within each segment, settlement is limited to a few apartment-like buildings with most of the land set aside for agricultural purposes. The entire craft is spinning to generate artificial gravity (I did the math for that here if you want to see it).

I know more details than these, but this is probably enough to get y’all started. So…what do you want to know about how this ship works? Let me know in the comments.

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