Thursday, July 24, 2014

Some Views on World Building

This October I’m giving a seminar on world building at a writer’s retreat. That has got me thinking.

My first thoughts on the topic brought to mind a traditional image of authors writing a speculative science fiction novel and creating their own completely imaginary worlds. You know, the kind where you have to do copious research on the internet so that when you introduce two suns, or multiple moons, or green skin, you had better make certain you have all the details correct. You don’t want outraged readers pointing out that your creation would have thousand foot tides and continuous volcanic activity. Unless, of course, you wrote it deliberately that way.

I guess that is why I write mainly fantasy. I could easily lose myself in research. I want to get right into writing the actual story so that I find out how it ends. But even there, while you can blame magic for some of your world’s quirks, you have to always be consistent, and somewhat logical. What do your people eat? Where do they live? What does the neighborhood look like? I have one still unpublished “what-if” story where I spent a lot of time creating the back-story and background surroundings. I used very little of that in my 140,000 word tale, but I can defend my assumptions, and I know what is happening elsewhere in that world. The background, set out properly, can give your story a depth it might not otherwise have.

In thinking about world building, I’ve decided that it certainly applies outside of the above forms of fiction. No matter what you are writing, a proper world setting adds to the enjoyment. In horror, the haunted house becomes almost another character. In a historical romance, the details of the time period add to the enjoyment and believability of the adventure. Consider something as ordinary as a family history or memoire. Does the author capture the surroundings and background events of the story? If not, does it just become a flat recital of the facts without any context which would make it far more interesting?

I’m not certain where the line comes between my broad definition of world building, and the setting. Is world building the broad background picture, and setting the immediate scene? Probably, but I’m going to ignore the hair splitting. The readers will forgive a few sins in your manuscript if you get the little details right. Someone far clever than I, whose name has of course escaped me, once said that if you can include three facts about something in your story, the reader will accept you as an expert on that topic. So, when you are writing that whatever-kind-of-tale, set in your backyard community, be sure to include those little trifles that bring the place to life. Your story will be the richer for it.


The Dark Lady - February 2012 published
Dark Days - March 2014 published
Dark Knights – coming August 2014

The Queen=s Pawn - April 2013 published and working on book two of three (I think)

The Housetrap Chronicles Volume One - Jan 2014 published and includes the first three in the six novella series. Currently working on novella #7


Big Mike said...

Yeah, I luv to build worlds in my SF stories. Nothing like imagining what mind be out there. Given I'll never really know, there is no limit to my imagination.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Interesting.I thought people "world built" so they wouldn' have to do research.

Thanks for straightening me out.

Anonymous said...

Julie, me too. I write fantasy because I don't have to research the world. It has 2 moons, so what. It's my world. Not all Earth physics apply.
What is important is to be consistent. If in one story, the representatives of a certain nation have curly blue hair and live in close-knit, horse-raising clans, I'd better remember that for the next story set in the same world and not give any of them blond straight tresses or put them on a family fruit farm.