To Wainscot or Not to Wainscot, that is the question

To Wainscot or not to Wainscot– that is the question:

Whether 'tis nobler in the tale to create

The beings and world out of nothing but my page,

Or to take with some of its history

And, creatively change them. To write, to make...

Ok, that's enough at that, but as a genre writer, it is a question that crops up from time to time, and when it does, oy, what a headache.

If you don't know what wainscoting is, it is creating a paneled off world within our real world.  Think Harry Potter, or Bleach, or

  • Charmed
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Dead like Me
  • Dollhouse
  • Percy Jackson series
  • Stargate SG-1
  • Stargate Atlantis
  • Stargate Universe
  • Underworld movies

I think you get the idea.  The basic idea is that in a Wainscot story there is a secret world which is kept from the eyes of the average person.

When you are writing a sci-fi or fantasy world you have the choice between a wainscot world and a secondary or new world.  The decision is not always as easy or clear-cut.

Could Lord of the Rings take place in a wainscot world?  Yes, it honestly could.  The only part of the story that would be changed is that the story would no longer be a prehistory, unless it was set early in Earth's history.  Honestly, if you set the story during the time of Rome, and made Mount Doom into Mt Vesuvius, then the story would be just as poignant.

So why Wainscot?

Honestly, the only reason to choose a Wainscot world over an Invented world is control.

When you create a new world/cosmos, you have total control over every aspect of the world.  You get to decide what is and isn't natural, as well as extremely precise control over the cultures and histories of the people who populate your world.

A Wainscot is helpful when you want to call up cultural, ethnic, or historical references.

Why is Harry Potter a wainscot?

  1. It is easier to understand quidditch when you can reference soccer.
  1. Rowling didn't have to explain wizarding education or politics, because she could reference its British equivalence.
  1. It was easier to hide Harry outside the Wainscot than within it.

Think about it: Terry Goodkind had to put up a magical barrier in his world to hide Richard.  That is a lot more work than dropping him off with a group of muggles.

So which is better?

It depends on your audience.  Genre readers are used to flipping back and forth from between fantastical worlds, but the average reader is not.  If you look at the best sellers charts (granted they have their own problems), you will see that most of the best seller are Wainscots.

I might be suffering from a perception filter, but it really does seem that way.  Just because it is easier to mainstream a wainscot world than an invented world is not a great reason to choose to write one, but it is something to consider?

Do you have any thoughts?  Questions? Comments about wainscot stories?  If so, leave me a comment, and I will do my best to answer them.