There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as that feeling of breaking new ground in an unfamiliar world. Terra incognita, as the saying goes; land you don’t know. Land that doesn’t know you.
It’s the perfect metaphor to describe the making of fictional worlds. And it doesn’t matter how many pages you devote to that world: it exists, hanging complete and real, somewhere out of reach.
For me, it’s the mapping of those worlds that gives me so much pleasure.
I’m devoting a great deal of my time right now to creating a world set slightly in the future, a world tilted towards utter destruction. I should be worrying for my characters lives. Instead, I’m utterly distracted by the little questions: what do people do in this world? Do they go to dances? Do they like to eat spaghetti? Do they pull at heavy pyjamas as they sleep in snug houses, or simply fall asleep, dressed and wary, in the middle of the street?
What I find is that through the process of mapping this new world, this terra incognita, I recognize myself. Here is the world I imagined as a child – that fantastical world of computerized newspapers and robot-strewn yards. Here is the hectic, tragic place I have stuffed all my fears like old, moth-eaten clothes in a trunk.
What becomes apparent with each stroke of my proverbial pen is that in getting to know our own dark lands we set free something mystical. Maybe twins with magic blood in their veins or someone who can sniff out the secrets of immortality. Perhaps we become children again, taking better paths towards old age. I become a part of this, my realm of infinite possibilities. And why not?
Land is a most sacred thing, after all. Even when it is imaginary.