Worldbuilding 2: the Points of Departure

by johannespunkt

Last post in this series:

(I think people who write fan fiction use this term when referring to the relationship between their worlds and the canon, so, apologies to fanficpeople for appropriating your very useful phrase.)

You need points of departure in any world you build. If you’re making a TV-series about a copper in a well-known English town, you need to first establish that space is weird so that people don’t get confused when the copper runs into an alley in the south end of town, and out of an alley in the north end.

Seriously though, if you don’t point the strangeness of your world out, readers will (rightfully) assume that the world you write in is the same world as they live in. The underlying rules are still there. This happens on Earth … Rome is still in Italy … physics still work … entities that have selves still feel entitlement – the prejudices run deep! This is as it is, because you can’t rasa a tabula, not really. It’ll still be it-shaped.

The best introductions are often the ones that only show the main point of departure from the world in which the reader exists. I like to achieve this by, er, talking to the reader as if they are of a third, unseen world. For example, the time I explained Stephen King to people who would surely know about Stephen King. That was fun.

When you’re writing high fantasy, you can often get the point of departure by just having a map in the beginning of the book. Lots of points-of-departure are in the paratext (defined by TvTropes as ‘[e]verything that is an element of the whole package immediately encompassing the text and not part of the text itself’). But it’s good to have it in the text too, otherwise things get confusing when you send the thing off to someone to read simply the manuscript, before you’ve got the book deal and stuff. (Almost entirely unpublished, am I, so I’m not speaking from experience but assumption.)

There are of course lots and lots of points of departure in your work of any fiction. But you’ll probably have a main one. The one that causes all the consequences.


So! I need points of departure too, for this world! Obviously the poisonbeasts are a difference. But why is the world suddenly killing humans? (And other animals?) Did they do something wrong?

I think they set fire to the atmosphere.

(When asked what could go wrong during the first nuclear test, the American scientists responded that there was a tiny risk they’d set fire to Earth’s atmosphere. But at least that’s better than the Russians doing it.)

And as the fire burnt and left behind it some form of really terrible nuclear poison, the poisonbeasts appeared.

This has the consequences of: killing 40% of the human race (look, the poisonbeasts are good at what they do). Hitler is dead, along with most of the world leaders, because of reasons.

I think they set fire to the atmosphere, and then something else happened, but we’re not entirely sure what.