World building has different effects on different writers and authors. Some writers openly say they have difficulties keeping up with the world, the details and that it was taking too much time – time they could use to write the plot, or work more on characterization. On the other hand, other writers say the opposite, and describe the process of world building as an enjoyable task. It is different for every writer, and no matter which group you fall into, there are some ways that world building and setting can be used, and below, we have shown some of them. Additionally, world building is not just a backdrop to your story, and often, the world blends seamlessly into the plot, just as the plot leaves consequences in the world your story takes place in.
1. The importance of tiny details
The tiny details of the world your story takes place in makes your story very rich. Of course, in the course and structure of your scenes, long paragraphs of description should be avoided, unless what you’re describing is very important – in which case, a minimal description can work better, because the reader will be prone to forget about the small detail, object or moment and later on be surprised when its importance is revealed. On the other hand, small details have a cumulative effect of enriching a story. The streets of the city, the house your characters inhabit, the clothes they wear, their jewelry and shoes, they are all details that don’t necessarily need to come into play later on, because their purpose is to be the fabric of your world, the platform upon which your story takes place. And they should never be omitted from the world.
2. The effects of story upon the world
The best way to describe this is with an example. Let’s say that there is a major fight scene, where two or more people fight against one another. Put that scene into a major metropolis, in the middle of a busy street. What does that mean for the world? First of all, in the modern world of today, a fight like that will not go unnoticed. If guns or magical powers are involved, then there is bound to be destruction, and even the possibility of casual passersby getting hurt. The police will be there within minutes, and they might encounter your characters if the fight goes on for too long. It draws attention. Maybe the villain escapes and the protagonist is held back. What can he do? Well, if you’re following the rules of cause and effect, he can evade the aftermath, or he can be detained by the police. In either case, the protagonist needs to pay attention to it. And maybe later have to deal with the police due to the attention he has drawn. However, in no situation should the protagonist simply walk away and face no consequences. It wouldn’t be realistic. The world may be a backdrop to the story, but it is not a two dimensional screen unaffected by the events of the plot.
3. Write what you don’t know
Write what you know is a kind of writing “rule” that really doesn’t work when you need to write a fantasy story, or use a city you’ve never visited in your life. This can be bypassed by research. We can even remake the rule into “Write using good research.” Do not let yourself be held back from writing a medieval epic fantasy simply because you were not born during medieval times. Research everything about the setting you need for your story, and look at it through the lens of creativity. You do not need to use every bit of information you’ve gathered, just bits and pieces that you need. Leave the rest to your imagination, and remember: most of your readers haven’t been to the city your story takes place in, so taking some liberties with minimal things, like cafes, stores, etc. will not hurt anyone.
4. Story before world
While the world needs to be taken into account during the sequence chain of cause and effect, it shouldn’t influence your story. Instead, the world needs to serve the story and the plot. Think of your world as another character of your story. Remember, characters can go wild and be unpredictable, and while it is not a bad idea to allow them to do so, when it comes to the world, there need to be some limits, especially if you’re writing fantasy or science fiction. In other words, do not allow your world to get out of control and create inconsistencies. Avoid solutions that could have worked at the beginning of the book but didn’t, and now work for no reason, and leave out other inconceivable details you’re tempted to put in to make the world more interesting. Hold back instead, and use logic to determine whether that specific world building detail is necessary or not.
5. Avoid cultural stereotypes
A large portion of world building will be cultures, people and their behavior. Avoid using common stereotypes (which can happen by accident – we are surrounded by stereotypes of all kind today) and if you want to present a culture that is not your own, make sure to research it deeply and thoroughly before proceeding. Mistakes are very easy to make in this regard, and remember that if you don’t feel like you know enough about a certain culture, then it is better to create a new one, or not have it as a part of your world at all.
Image credit: Pixabay
Georgina Roy wants to live in a world filled with magic. As an art student, she’s moonlighting as a writer and is content to fill notebooks and sketchbooks with magical creatures and amazing new worlds. When she is not at school, or scribbling away in a notebook, you can usually find her curled up, reading a good urban fantasy novel, or writing on her laptop, trying to create her own.