Welcome to my imagination. Mutants to the left. Sword wielding mages to the right. Dragons…well, go where ever the hell you’d like.
There are shelves filled with writing reference guides devoted to the concept of World Building. It’s one of the most important things you do as a story teller. If your world is flat (flat as in dull. A pancakes shaped world might be interesting. Hmmm) the characters you’ve worked so hard to develop won’t have a proper stage to act upon. You won’t engage the reader and your book will get a big old yawn.
The world you build – whether it’s a mythical land or a small town in Kansas – has to be believable to the reader. They must be able to step out of their reality and into yours. How can you pull them into your story world? Ambient details. This is a term commonly used by computer programmers. They carefully plan user interfaces for the best possible experience in software applications. What does the screen look like when the user accesses it? Where should the buttons and links be placed for ease of use? How should the application feel – bright and airy or dark and serious? A great deal of planning goes into how a software application functions and feels before one line of code is written. Your world building needs the same amount of planning and care.
My newest urban fantasy, Pariah, was featured on a blog review tour a few months back. One of the reviewers commented she’d enjoyed the cultural differences I developed for each Seelie clan in the story. The majority of my book takes place on the Vegas Strip. In order to make my characters and their storylines believable, I had to create cultural backgrounds explaining why these clans were rivals. Each of the four clans are based in a different place: Hong Kong, Columbia, England and France. I mixed these human cultures with Seelie legends.
Key questions to ask about your characters:
Where do you live? San Diego? Norway? An Alien Planet?
When do you live? Current year? Middle Ages?
What is the climate like? Humid? No atmosphere?
How do they speak where you live? Do they use slang? Or are they Masterpiece Theater formal?
Genre Specific Questions: Can people do magic in your world (Fantasy)? Are there legendary monsters in your world (Horror. Chupacabra or the Jersey Devil)?
The character or the world? Which came first?
My writing process always begins with the characters. Jin and Gracie, the main characters in Pariah, started out as two individuals with special powers thrown into a dangerous situation. Most of the story takes place on the Vegas Strip. Their world expanded as the story developed. They needed to change in order to fit into the new world I created. Yet, their core story and personalities remained almost the same.
- Start with the characters and the basic story
- Build the world
- Expand your characters to fit into the bigger world
Ambient details are important to make your world come alive. There can be, however, too much detail. It can overwhelm and bore the reader. Balance is key. It isn’t always easy to know the right amount of description. Each story is different. The only way to master this balancing act is to practice. Write a scene and focus on the ambient details. Have your character play around in the world a bit to get a feel for the environment. You may not use the scene, but it will help to bring the world you’ve created into focus.
Next Time on DTJ: World Building continues…Some Rules Aren’t Made to Be Broken