The scale of a world is an interesting facet to explore. Is the world of the book the normal everyday or does it delve into a microcosm, or travel across the universe? Variations on scale can create and define a world of wonder, limited only by the imagination.

The Universe

The scale of  human comfort is probably something that can be measured – a days travel for instance. But what if your people travel the universe- how can such vast distances be comprehended or made familiar? Star Trek does it by defining distinct areas – the Gamma Quadrant, the Neutral Zone, or Galorndon Core. Within these, battles, various space phenomena or restricted areas can be mapped into familiarity.

To travel the distances one needs to invent warp drives, spore drives or rely on multi-generational ships, or a long sleep hibernation. ‘The Watch Below’ by James White has a multi-generational crew with the added complication of a sleeping crew. The same species, one the original, the other mutated by generations of living on board a ship increasingly less able to support life.

Going Small

There are a number of stories about the small aspects of our world, and different ways to explore the theme. The world may be ours, but pinpointing a section of it – for instance delving into the world of ants, as in ‘Rustle in the Grass’ by Robin Hawdon. A realistic world, yet unfamiliar because it looks at things from a vastly different scale. A fantasy element enters in with any number of animal community books such as ‘Brambly Hedge’ by Jill Barklem, or ‘The Rats of NIHM’ by Robert O’Brien. Animals doing people things on their own scale, often using large things in a different way.

A variation on this is the visitor to a smaller world. A number of scifi books explore this, including Asimov’s ‘Fantastic Voyage’ – a journey inside the body by people in a spacecraft. The movie ‘The Ant Bully’ is another version. A trip into the shlock pulps of the 60’s reveals ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ by Richard Matheson. The title probably doesn’t do it any favours, as it is a fascinating exploration of a man shrinking out of our world, and venturing into the unknown.  Worth a read, unlike some similar titles such as ‘The Incredible Melting Man’, which is just ghastly. More recent books include ‘Micro’ by Michael Crichton.

Small in a big World

Another variation is perhaps more well known – that of being normal size in a giant world. Many authors  have explored this one – CS Lewis in ‘The Silver Chair’, ‘Gullivers Travel’s by Jonathon Swift, Enid Blyton in several adventures involving the Faraway Tree and Piers Anthony in his space travelling dentist in ‘Prostho Plus’. It is also a rich theme for movies and TV – think Land of the Giants, Jurassic Park, Mysterious Island and the interesting Downsizing.

The advantage of this idea is it is a mine of ideas to repurpose big things into new, and show both the writer’s imagination and hence the ingenuity and courage of the characters. Use a safety pin and cotton as an abseiling tool? No problem!

Big visits Average

A large creature or person in our average size world. More often the province of monster movies, it can be used to add an element of fear. A known thing is suddenly larger – the innocent becomes capable of menace. King Kong, The Attack of the 40ft Woman, and any number of Godzilla movies have entrenched this concept into horror. Heinlein explores massive bug aliens in ‘Starship Troopers.’

It’s a way of exploring the idea of being out of place, perhaps the creature is as scared as the people? Frankenstein almost makes it into this category, a large monster innocent until tormented, and never really understanding the world they find themselves in. the story ‘The Fly’ by George Langelaan, a man is accidentally transfigured into part fly, a horror in our world, and one of extreme danger in the fly’s world.

So all of these examples are ways of seeing the world in a different light – forcing the reader into a world that is both familiar and unsettling. Adventure can adapt to any setting, and so must the characters.

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World building: Scale
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