Writers On Writing / Terry Dowling on mastering the trade of world-building


Terry Dowling is one of Australia’s most awarded, versatile and internationally acclaimed writers of science fiction, fantasy and dark fantasy. He is the author of 13 books, among them Clowns at Midnight, the award-winning Tom Rynosseros saga, and such critically praised collections as Amberjack: Tales of Fear & Wonder, Basic Black: Tales of Appropriate Fear […]


Terry Dowling is one of Australia’s most awarded, versatile and internationally acclaimed writers of science fiction, fantasy and dark fantasy. He is the author of 13 books, among them Clowns at Midnight, the award-winning Tom Rynosseros saga, and such critically praised collections as Amberjack: Tales of Fear & Wonder, Basic Black: Tales of Appropriate Fear and Blackwater Days, as well as three best-selling computer adventures.

How did you learn to create logical, consistent worlds?
I’m fortunate to have a natural flair for what’s called euphony – the rhythm of language – in making patterns on the page. But mostly it came from reading – finding out which authors created worlds that truly lived and breathed and tended to stay with you once the story was done. By reading the masters, you learn tried and proven techniques, shorthand methods and handy shortcuts.

How much has speculative fiction changed since you began writing?
Over the past 50 years, as a flourishing youth culture with greater disposable income became the norm, marketing departments have fostered a need for safer product. Hence we get much less originality, fewer risks being taken, proven “comfort zone” products, just as it is in the movie industry. On the positive side, if you play the game you can earn your living from storytelling and contribute to the joys and dreams of many. On the negative, too often writers haven’t read widely enough to know that something is far from original or as special as they think it is.

In a culture saturated with alternative worlds, how do you make yours stand out?
By having done the reading and learned from the masters, by knowing when less can be more, by teasing and suggesting rather than over-stating, by knowing to edit and logic-test what I’ve created on the page. Paying attention to these things has allowed me to trust my instincts.

Improve your world-building skills in Terry’s course, World Building: Writing Speculative Fiction on Sunday 19 March, 10am-4pm at the NSW Writers’ Centre.


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