“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
― Ernest Hemingway, The Wild Years
WORLD BUILDING: Where do I start?
I learned to read before I started kindergarten. Stories have carried me around the world and to worlds unknown. I fell in love a million times, fought battles in history and in space. I have ridden dragons, horses, interacted with monsters, aliens, and the paranormal. I have gone on great quests, archeological digs, infiltrated secret societies, solved murders, and laughed my ass off. I’ve had superpowers and welded magic. That is the joy of reading.
I love fiction. My joy in reading translates into writing my own stories and worlds. I have a knack for world building. I am asked all the time, how do you worldbuild? The answer: I start with character.
World Build from the inside outward. Get inside your character's head, stand in their shoes. Let them tell you about the world they live in. Show the world through your character's eyes, emotion, and perception, along with all their flaws, fears, and angst.
This method of world building from the inside out narrows your focus. It can help stop you from overbuilding or getting lost in the creation of worlds. It keeps you focused on the character arc relationship to their world.
How all this affects the storyline determines the things I build into my worlds, and the systems I create. I admit for me character is king in drawing me into a story, so it is a big focus in my worldbuilding.
Do you need to think about government, magic systems, modern, medieval, futuristic, the mechanics of a functioning world, or systems in place for the way of life?
Yes, but think about what all those things mean to your character, their perceptions, and the restrictions the world places on them. There is more to world building than just the world, without people/character it is just an empty shell. People are the story of a living, breathing world.
THE READER EXPERIENCE
Don’t dump all the cool details of your world on the reader. They don’t care about that. They only care about what the character cares about.
Let the reader experience your world with the immediacy of living it through your character’s discovery and interactions with the world. Rule of thumb for world building details, is similar to advice about backstory.
Dribble, dribble, dribble–sprinkle, sprinkle, sprinkle.
Only show what is necessary to move the story forward and for the reader to understand the world and current scene, no more.
Readers seek the experience of the world through character emotion and consciousness. What we remember about books and movies is the way they made us feel/experience, which is why we crave another story-hit, more, more, more.
As much as we (the author) love all the neat things about our worlds, the reader doesn’t really care, unless the character cares which makes their savoir faire engaged, immediate and immersive.
Just like living in the real world affects us, shapes and molds us, so will the world of your character shape and affect them.
Let’s face it, if your goal is to publish, we write for the reader as much as we write for ourselves, because you need an audience. We want readers to read and love it, so reader experience is important.
Use your character’s emotional attachment to places, things, and feeling of home–longing, or contentment, or discontentment. World building is an external and internal journey with the character.
World building includes using all the senses, to create atmosphere, texture, and attachment: Sight, Smell, Touch, Hearing, Taste, and 6th sense.
Anne of Green Gables L. M. Montgomery uses the senses and emotions in such a way that her world is a character in itself. Read the free Project Gutenberg ebook.
Chapter 1: First paragraph:
“MRS. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies’ eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde’s Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof.”
You will notice MRS is all capitalized. Immediately we know she is important to the story. She relates the character to us via the world building (setting).
Simile and metaphor are the vehicle of setting that create visually and emotionally strong images in our minds. She uses the setting to tell the reader about the character's attitude, disposition and temperament. The further you read the more she builds on this and strengthens the scene paragraph after paragraph.
Montgomery particularly uses the river to describe and create a parallel impression of the road, specifically the people passing by MRS. Rachel Lynde’s home. MRS. is a busy body cataloging details while sitting at her window.
Through the use of a ferret, as a comparison tool, she demonstrates the trait of persistence for MRS. following every crumb in pursuit of other people’s business.
If you think about it, the senses are triggered in that paragraph even though sound is not mentioned exactly. The sound of flowing water-a river, the sound of people passing by on the road, the sound of children–it's implied, I don’t know about you but I heard it.
READING TO LEARN
Take time to go deeper when you read. Pay attention to the way writers use their worlds to convey details about character, setting, and reveal story information. It will enhance your own writing.
Here are links to books I’ve enjoyed with authors creatively using their world building intertwined with character to reveal story and world in a variety of styles.
A Darker Shade of Magic (The Collection) by V.E. Schwab
Map of Bones by James Rollins
Star Wars High Republic: Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule
Fae of Fortune by Eric Quinn Knowles
Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Claire
Ask Yourself: How does the author use each scene to show the world through active word choices and imagery?
Showing and telling both play a part in storytelling: How do they allow the reader to experience the world rather than telling them OR if they tell–how much do they reveal their character and world with the telling?
Bonus: How Actors can use 50 Senses to enhance and create better characters. Just like actors can use this so can writers to make their characters and worlds pop–vivid. (Link Augmented Actor on YouTube)
I love this article. Hope you enjoy it too. How To World Build On The Page GoldenMay.com
More about Juneta here.
Most of the world building is for the writer, not the reader, so it needs to be sprinkled in rather than dumped. And I always consider the character first as well.
@Alex, yeah I agree world building is for the writer BUT the way you deliver and reveal it to the reader in the story is for the reader.
World building can get out of control for some writers. Focusing on just the characters is a good tip.
Please read my post
Characters first, but the world they inhabit is darned important. Thank for the post!
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