first draft

First Draft: World Building

Where your story takes place is just as important as every other aspect of story telling. Creating a well rounded world helps your reader visualise the story better and it adds another level – hidden depth – to your story.

World building is a lot more than just describing the setting. Here are my tips on what to think about for successful world building:

Landscape

Is your story set on Earth, in space, or a fictional, fantasy world with two suns and a red sky? The reader wants to feel immersed and be able to visual your world.

Laws / Magic Systems

This can include the basic authority hierarchy as in a government system, or the laws of magic and wizardry. You set the limits in your world, and setting limits is extremely important.

For example, JK. Rowling had a wizarding government that created and executed laws so she could keep the use of magic within a realistic, manageable realm with actions and consequences.

Religion

Does religion factor in your story? Do you need to create a new religion for your fictional world? It is always a good idea to think about this, even if you don’t think religion plays a role in your narrative. It may affect other characters or play into the historical side to your world.

History

Is there folk lore or myth in your narrative that dates back in your world’s history? Was there a tyrant King that changed the economy for the worse, or a heroine Queen who saved the people from a dictatorship? Backstory is an important factor in a believable, well rounded world.

Era

Era is more than just stating what decade or century your tale is set in. It is about staying true to the time period in regards to technology, etiquette, and society etc.

Language

A lot of authors struggle when it comes to language, especially if they have to make up a whole new tongue. Knowing your language helps you weave it effortlessly through your narrative without it becoming jarring for the reader.

This topic also follows on from the point above- era. Knowing your era and the language used helps with consistency and realism.


I hope these points have given you some food for thought. As you can tell, they all link into each other, and that is exactly what you want in your world: consistency continuity, and believability.


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Guest Post

Guest Post: Dana Fraedrich on World Building

book review

I am thrilled to welcome author Dana Fraedrich to Writerly Bookish Stuff to discuss a topic that is a crucial part of any writing process: world building. Grab yourself a coffee or tea and stick around for some handy advice and tips on creating an imaginative and believable world. Over to you, Dana.


Five Rules of World Building

World building, in my opinion, is one of the most fascinating things about fiction writing, but it’s also one of the trickiest.  Coming up with a basic concept is easy—a world where cybernetic enhancements are the newest fashion trend…until a major fashion designer ends up dead by her own creations.  Boom!  Done.  When you get into the nitty-gritty details, however, things can get…squiffy.

In my experience, a lot of world building falls down because the authors haven’t worked through some of the foundational details.  “But, Dana, I’m not trying to write a Tolkien-level world history here!  I just want to write a story!”  Yeah, I know, and that’s fine.  You don’t have to get that deep, but you do need a few basic elements hammered out before you introduce your world to ours.

Nail Down the Fundamentals

Whether it takes place in a fictional universe or an alternate version of ours, to create a convincing world, you have to understand the basic functions of your characters’ society:

  • How do people get food? Do they work their farms with basic tools, in cooperation with machines, or do mechanical drones do all the work?
  • What’s the currency like and how is it exchanged? Do people need to carry physical funds on them?  Or maybe there’s some kind of credit system, either electronic or paper.  Maybe money doesn’t exist and the characters barter instead.
  • How do people communicate over long distances? Wireless communication, whether via magic stones or smart phones, completely changes the game.  If your characters rely on a postal or courier system, you’ll need to take that extra delivery time into account.

Why do we care about this?  Two reasons.  First, every decision you make as god of this realm influences the possibilities within it.  Secondly, if you don’t know these things, it’ll show.  At best, the reader will feel a little lost.  At worst, you’ll write a huge inconsistency into your story.  Now, in most cases you won’t have to do more than mention these things in passing, if that.  However, if you do end up having to explain why a character refuses scan the barcode on her wrist whilst on the run from baddies, you’ll be prepared.

Crime and Punishment

What do readers want?  Stakes.  The higher the better.  And conflict comes from characters breaking the rules.  So what will happen if your main character gets caught during the big heist or meeting with that shady so-and-so?  That’s what you need to make crystal clear to your readers.  Otherwise, they won’t fret over the fate of your characters.  Maybe a school headmaster with a grudge has the power to expel students.  Maybe it’s a good high court with bad evidence before a public execution.  No matter the situation, you need to know who’s in power, how they wield it, and what your character stands to lose.

Use the Land

You can’t paint a picture without envisioning the world first.  However, some authors bog down their readers with florid depictions of rolling hills and planetary panoramas.  Descriptions of setting should create atmosphere and further the plot.  Grand vistas and poetic descriptions create calm.  Getting over a literal mountain creates a big challenge for your traveling band of actors.  Does your severely agoraphobic character have to navigate ten NYC blocks?  Okay, use pieces of that environment to show how it affects him.  The towering buildings on either side loom, the people waiting to cross the street press, the reek of garbage bags in the summer heat suffocates.  If the setting doesn’t serve one of these purposes, you can go pretty light with the details.  Do keep your readers informed, though.  At the very least, they need to know where the action is taking place.

Magic Requires Rules

Magic is like physics.  You can’t see it, but the world operates within its laws.  If you create a world with magic in it, you must know magic’s limits, its rules, and its impact on casters.  And you must be consistent!  I cannot stress this enough: magic is not a deus ex machina that comes in and fixes everything…magically.  This steals your hero’s accomplishment.  If you want to break an established rule, write in a precedent for it.

*Super advanced technology falls under this category too because, at a certain point, technology begins to resemble magic.

Don’t Take It Too Far

Like anything in life, moderation is key.  There’s a fine line between immersion and tedium.  As a busy author, you can’t spend all your time figuring out your world’s every minute detail.  If a process or element in your fictional universe matches reality, you probably don’t need to explain it (save for the really esoteric stuff).  For anything that doesn’t match, you’ll need to make a judgment call.  Your editor and beta readers can tell you what needs more or less explanation, but the choice is yours in the end.  Too many details can catch you out in an inconsistency later, so I tend to err on the side of fewer details.  After all, your audience has imaginations of their own.  And remember, seeing something work is always more interesting than being told.

A final note: don’t sweat the small stuff.  Every great story has holes in it.  Take the Harry Potter series.  It’s one of the most beloved universes of all time, but where were cell phones, guns, and the Internet?  Muggleborns must have known about those things.  Granted, magical elements were part of what made those books so enchanting, but it’s true.  And those issues didn’t stop J.K. Rowling from selling a bazillion copies.  Happy writing!


dana auhtor pic for blogAuthor Bio: Dana Fraedrich is an independent author, dog lover, and self-professed geek. Even from a young age, she enjoyed writing down the stories that she imagined in her mind. Born and raised in Virginia, she earned her BFA from Roanoke College and is now carving out her own happily ever after in Nashville, TN with her husband and two dogs. Dana is always writing; more books are on the way!

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Permission for use of the content featured in this post must be sought from the author, Dana Fraedrich.