This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
When you hear the phrase ‘world building’ you may think of doorstep-thick fantasy epics or historical fiction; I know I do. However, the fact is even if you’re writing a book set in your home town circa last week, you still need to do some…
World building is setting on steroids. It’s where you hammer out the details of your world or, in the case of historical fiction or a real-world setting, where you research those details to give your setting depth and to ensure you don’t make embarrassing mistakes.
Even if you have normal settings, you need to recreate them for your reader and details count. Let’s say one of your locations is your heroine’s home, you need to decide whether it’s a flat, a house, a bungalow or a caravan. (Make sure whatever you choose is in-keeping with her level of income or have some other explanation for how she can afford it). Work out the style of the house, its location, decor, number of rooms and layout. For the last point you can even scribble a quick floor plan to get it really set in your mind.
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This might seem like overkill and a colossal waste of time but it will free you up later for pure writing. You won’t have to wonder where the heroine arrives when she walks in the front door or out of the back bedroom because you’ll know. It will also help you to keep consistency in these kinds of details, making for easier editing later on.
If this kind of planning is kryptonite to your process and you’re a ‘write fast first’ kind, then consider scribbling these notes as you go along. Once you’ve finished your first draft you’ll have a document of world building notes to help you when editing. You can use them to check details as you’re writing your first draft, too, without having to read back over your actual prose.
If your book has fantasy or historical elements then the world building becomes not just important but essential. You will need to work out details such as the system of magic and how it works, or the types of demons which exist in your world and how they came to be there. Rules are particularly important when you are asking your reader to believe in something that doesn’t exist in their own experience.
Plus, it’ll stop you from violating the rules of your world. In other words, if you’ve decided that fairies exist but they’re burned horribly if they touch metal, you are less likely to have to restructure your book when you realise that an important plot point hinges on one of them getting into a car and driving across Britain. You need absolute consistency; for everything (however ‘unbelievable’) to make sense within the world you’ve created.
Which brings me to verisimilitude. This is important for any kind of book, in any time or setting. Mistakes are not just embarrassing for you personally, they will throw your reader out of the story as they think ‘hang on, that’s not right’. Let’s say you have an exciting car chase in a particular part of London. If you’ve done your world building and its accompanying research, you’ll stop yourself from having those cars drive down pedestrianised streets with bollards at either end.
I’ll finish with a gentle word of warning – don’t let world building become a never-ending task that stops you from getting words on the page. It’s quite possible to take this too far and either kill your enthusiasm for your story completely, or to become so immersed in it (drawing maps, creating mystical runes, researching the flora and fauna of that park your hero is going to visit in chapter eight) that you never get past your first chapter.