Joy V. Smith has been writing stories since she was a kid and made her own little books. After college, she worked at a newspaper and later had her own shop, The Frog Pond. Still later, she built two houses (one for her mother) and remodeled two--with the help of contractors. (That's her and Xena at the new house.) Her stories and articles have been published in print magazines, ezines, and anthologies; and her SF has been published in two audiobooks, including Sugar Time. Her books include Taboo Tech, Strike Three; Sugar Time; Detour Trail; Building a Cool House for Hot Times without Scorching the Pocketbook; a collection of her published short stories: The Doorway and Other Stories ; and several e-books: Velvet of Swords (SF), Hidebound (SF romance/adventure), Pretty Pink Planet (SF), Hot Yellow Planet (the sequel), Cold New Planet, The Doorway and Other Stories (14 SF and fantasy reprints), and Remodelling: Buying and Updating a Foreclosure. She lives in Florida with Blizzard the Snow Princess, Pemberley the tortoiseshell cat, and Samwise the Chihuahua cross puppy..
Shared World Anthologies
Joy V. Smith
With a shared world, your ideas are handed to you on a plate, more or less. When I was invited to join the Magistria (fantasy) series, I knew it was a world of sorcerers, which began with a goddess/star exploding into a multitude of pieces which scattered everywhere... The editor had a list of sorcerer types, and I picked plants. Yes! A plant mage!! I've written stories with sentient and genetically engineered plants. I love them! My first story--for Magistria: Realm of the Sorcerer--was Seedlings (plants and children). My second story--for Magistria: Shards of the Goddess--was Crystal Quest, which built on the first story.]However, Magistria 2 was never published; and Seedlings and Crystal Quest were combined in Issue 17 Of Mystic Signals.]
For another shared world anthology, Tales from the Big Black (SF), again I had the background, but with all of space to work in... My first story was Cold New Planet; the second story, Gridlock, built on the first story and focused on the colonizing of the planet. [Tales from the Big Black never made it out of the starting gate, btw.]
Some of my favorite shared world series include Larry Niven's Man-Kzin Wars anthologies and Keith Laumer's Bolos anthologies. The Man-Kzn Wars series is up to volume 14 (upcoming). The longer the series run, the more background has to be taken into consideration. I believe some series have a background bible to study. Otherwise you have to be on top of the series or be given guidelines.
Btw, because I enjoyed the Man-Kzin Wars anthologies so much, I interviewed two of the authors: Hal Colebatch and Matthew Joseph Harrington. You can find those interviews in Tales of the Talisman (Voume VI, #1).
Straight on Until a New Planet
by Joy V. Smith
I love SF, and some of my favorite stories are about other worlds, including Andre Norton's Witch World stories, Anne McCaffrey's Pern series, Keith Laumer's Retief series, C. J. Cherryh's Chanur series, and the Liaden series.
I usually start out with a story and then fit in the background--planet and culture, though some of my stories are set completely on Earth. While my main characters are usually Americans in stories set on Earth, elsewhere I often give Terrans backgrounds of other countries and cultures to make them more interesting.
Some planets are simple, with little description of the moon(s), wildlife, etc. (I don't want to worry about tides or how things evolved). I spent more time inventing planets like Snakebite in Hidebound, which also included the hero's planet (one even nastier than Snakebite so that the humanoids evolved physical protection); I made this planet interdicted. The planet in Velvet of Swords (more nasty flora and fauna as the result of genetic engineering) was colonized by humans and aliens, with the humans recreating old Terran cultures.
Other interesting planets are found in What Price a Friendly Freep to explain the aliens; Pretty Pink Planet and Hot Yellow Planet, which was begun, as I recall, as an experiment in writing a series story with similar titles (I had fun with the colors in Pretty Pink Planet, and I love the cover art created for it in an audiobook anthology); and Royal Guardians (I think this is an alternate universe). Time/space portals from Terra to other planets or time machines to other times are fun too.
There are books (see Writer's Digest Book Club listings) and websites on world-building; I haven't spent much time there, but I've discussed various ideas on the old AOL writing boards, where writers often ask for input when trying to solve a story problem. I asked about missiles and subs in the Zap Gun folder (SF/Fantasy board), where we also discussed Keith Laumer's Bolo (super tanks) series.
For some stories, I had to create maps to keep track of where my characters are running amuck and keep track of directions and distances. If you're writing a story about Mars or the moon, however, you can use NASA maps, available in books, on websites, or even as posters. There are also Mars and moon globes. Nowadays, there is less invention in stories set there.
So, you can find the blocks for building your world in the far corners of the universe of the mind, but for decorating and landscaping, you may want to research other planets and other cultures (I think the Celtic culture is way over-used in fantasy), found in fiction and non-fiction books; then you put your own twist on a planet, an animal, or an intelligent being. And don't hesitate to use a tentacled alien; they're not passe if you can add something new.