It is said that people read Sci-fi/Fantasy for consolation or escapism. There is just something about a secondary world that unlocks a thousand possibilities. In that latitude, we can witness what we can be or what we should avoid without the ham-fisted mallet of preachy non-fiction.
REALITY IN A SECONDARY WORLD
Rarely do writers create situations, places, or characters completely from thin air and form a secondary world. More likely, authors draw from their experiences. They recast their lives in a different setting with a familiar a person, an incident, or an emotion. The result is something completely new while also remaining accessible to readers.
For example, high-powered nuclear warheads could fall into the wrong hands in our world. Turn on the news and there are any number of publicized threats about dictators. This is hardly different from how Zod intended to use the “Nova Javelins” in Kevin J. Anderson’s The Last Days of Krypton. Come to think of it, the book also did an outstanding job on the topics of betrayal, government, politics, and the importance of science and the arts in society. Sound familiar?
USE WHAT YOU KNOW
Readers like hard information. This is information about a profession, a location, or how something works. Every society has teachers, lawyers, politicians, doctors, engineers, criminals, and entertainers. It doesn’t matter whether it is on this world, one far away, or one in a distant past.
Here’s an exercise to illustrate the transferable use of personal experience. Pick a terrible incident you had at school. It could be when you failed a test, had a run-in with bullies, or caused trouble during a boring class. Once you’ve decided which experience to pull from, reset it in a secondary world. If you’re having trouble coming up with one, try to imagine the Starfleet/Jedi Academies or what school is like in the palaces of Gondor or King’s Landing. It would be best to use your own, but sometimes it’s okay to use well-known settings for inspiration and practice.
Personal experience anchors a story in realism so that the fantastic is far more believable. It is the difference between Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker and it is essential storytelling.