I’ll admit, I’m a bit obsessed about checking blog stats over at my site. Numbers of visitors, hits, pages per visit, Google search terms, I eat it all up. The other day one of the Google results stood out: “what were the two reasons that north carolina entered into a period of transition?” It looked so much like a homework question that I put it back into Google. Right as rain, I came across the textbook that the question came out of, as well as sites such as Wiki Answers that had the same question posted. That put me into Grumpy Old Man David mode, so I looked up the questions two chapters further on, and decided to write a post that had entirely wrong answers for all of them.
And then on Saturday I got a hit for one of the new questions. Awesome!
I tell you that story not to gloat about catching a middle school student doing their homework on Google (bah, punk kids on my lawn), but to pass on something rather accidental that came from the exercise. When I first answered the questions, the answers were unrelated to each other. For example, I said that the two actions Congress took at the beginning of WWII that affected North Carolina were ceding the state to Germany and then immediately invading to practice for D-Day. But that didn’t work with any of the previous questions. So I went back and changed the answers until they formed a single narrative.
At which point I realized what I was doing. World building. Specifically alternate history world building. Now I want to write a story in the world I created, which is a dieselpunk time travel story with a little bit of secret history built in. It was such an unintentional thing, but it turned out to be a really fantastic approach.
In my case, I got questions out of a middle school North Carolina history text book, but that was only because that’s what got me into it with that original Google hit. I’ve not yet tried branching out, but I suspect that middle school books might be the right level for this exercise, as they focus on broader looks at history. High school history focuses on tighter details. And while I did this with a history book and turned it into an alternate history exercise, I suspect it might work with a biology or geology textbook for the purposes of different planet world building.
I’d be interested in seeing if other people have tried this approach, or might give it a try in the future, see if it’s something where I got lucky and ended up world building, or if this is a legitimate approach.