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
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.
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
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.