The Terraforming Mars Model Of Building A Story World

Create a writing landscape previously thought uninhabitable

Matt Nagin
The Book Mechanic
3 min readDec 11, 2020

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When writing a novel there is often the opportunity to create a unique world. Certainly this is the case in sci-fi and fantasy, but even in historical fiction there often needs to be elaborate world-building.

To grasp what needs to take place let’s look at the famed red planet. One day, mostly through the aid of various sophisticated robots (who learn via neural networks), Mars will be terraformed.

To initiate the process, Elon Musk has suggested nuking the polar caps to release the carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Sounds crazy. But this could begin a self-perpetuating cycle of heating the planet (a highly-productive form of global warming).

There are other ideas to heat the planet, such as focusing lasers on the polar ice, employing orbital mirrors, redirecting an asteroid towards the surface of Mars, and creating greenhouse gas factories. Regardless of what technique is employed, we will eventually raise the temperatures on Mars to the point where it is covered in oceans and is far more habitable.

Still, we will need robots to help colonize and irrigate the planet, since they can withstand the elements more easily than humans (radiation, dust storms, freezing temperatures etc.). They will build large edifices and factories to protect us from the elements. Perhaps there will even be self-producing robots, futuristic Von Neuman machines of sorts, creating a veritable army of workers that no longer require human intervention.

Eventually, Mars will be habitable for large groups of humans and function as a waystation for further space adventures (perhaps next to Jupiter’s moons). This may even take place within a hundred years.

Why mention this? Because this process is similar to the world building writer’s need to undertake to create a compelling novel. The most dynamic world building in novels takes place when the writer starts at a place no one else would dare go. When they generate a world from the ground up. When they start with some explosive event that changes this world and makes it teem with vibrancy.

Next they generally have to colonize and alter that world so it seems habitable. The world has to be inviting enough for some sort of civilization, some characters of the imagination, to thrive. It needs rules and regulations and governing principles. It also needs to be capable of evolving and pointing the way to the future.

Yes, the process of world building is really akin to terraforming our imagination. You are making an amorphous mass solid. Building out tributaries and connections. Erecting skyscrapers and irrigation channels. Providing the means for a colony of characters to prosper.

Once we do this effectively it becomes a bit of a self-perpetuating cycle. Like the autonomous robots on Mars, elements we’ve built into the story will soon all but take care of themselves. Characters will speak to us instead of the other way around. The world can function at a higher level of efficiency than even we imagined possible.

Terraforming the imagination is the best way, I think, to create a novel that resonates. For everyone wants to visit a world they have yet to know. Everyone wants to explode the boundaries of our current reality. Everyone wants an adventure. Finally, everyone wants to enter this new world so completely that they end up with a deeper appreciation of all they have back home.

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Matt Nagin
The Book Mechanic

Matt Nagin is a writer, comedian, actor, and educator. His latest book, “Do Not Feed The Clown,” is available on Amazon. More at mattnagin.com.