Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
If you write stories, you create worlds.
You also create people. And events. And new products or foods or languages.
Writers design and produce new objects every day of their lives.
Rather cool to think about, isn’t it? That writers devise tools and places and nations and holidays and world-changing historic events.
Writers are often reminded they’re like God in the way they create people and direct their lives, but they also create so much more than people.
Let’s talk a bit about world building and the writer.
Sci-fi and fantasy writers know a lot about world building because they often start from nothing and create full worlds for their stories. These worlds can have their own natural laws, standards and practices that allow characters to do what they can’t do on Earth in our own day.
Characters in these other worlds may be able to fly or teleport or disappear or read minds. Rules must be followed, however. Writers still have to write situations and events that make sense according to the logic of the world they’re creating.
If events and actions and character abilities don’t match the world in which they’re used, readers lose that suspension of disbelief and instead begin to disbelieve everything.
And if readers are pulled out of the fiction because events or characters don’t fit, the writer has lost them.
Writers, then, must prove trustworthy. They must deliver what they promise. And one promise from every writer is that he or she will create worlds with consistent laws that make sense.
Yes, writers can do whatever they want to do in a story, but they really can’t do just anything in a story. That is, once a writer builds a world, he has to abide by the restrictions he himself sets up. If people in his world can’t breathe the atmosphere of certain planets without using breathing devices, he can’t set a rescue on such a planet and allow characters to run around, freely and easily, without such devices.
He has to abide by the rules.
Can you imagine a world in which anything could happen, a world without rules? The people would go crazy not knowing what would happen when they lifted a hand or spoke to another creature. Without natural laws, there’d be no consistency. No ability to plan. No assurances that what you set out to do you could actually accomplish.
If putting one foot in front of another sometimes led to walking and sometimes led to flying and another time led to the sudden appearance of a still steaming apple pie and still another time led to a broken wrist, would anyone ever take one step? Without consistency, real people would be psychotic. Characters too would fritz out over an absence of natural and/or physical laws.
So, writers have to put their fiction in worlds with rules and laws. And then both writer and characters must abide by those rules and laws.
Beyond that, what does a writer do for world building?
~ He creates a look and a feel for his world. He uses sense elements to not only decorate his world but infuse it with physical characteristics that enhance its reality.
Give readers a sense of the world by describing its odors and tastes and sounds. If the earth constantly rumbles, make the readers feel the rumble and the constant irritation. If the south side of a city reeks like soured laundry, remind readers of the odor. If an unincorporated area of a town is home to a paper factory, don’t let the smell go unremarked upon or unnoticed by a visitor.
Make use of the senses to captivate both characters and readers.
You can also use sense elements to influence tone and mood. Layer the elements so readers can’t see through them to the writer on the other side. Create complex, concrete fictional worlds.
~ A writer makes his worlds real by putting in them objects that characters use, use and touch and taste and not just look at.
Give your characters world-specific objects or decor or buildings and put them to use. Don’t describe a device that can change a person’s hair and eye color and then ignore it. Instead, take advantage of the unusual in your worlds by making them useful and used.
Let characters interact with those novel items to make them familiar to the reader. Make the unusual a natural part of the fictional world; make the elements of the fictional world seem wholly natural in the hands of your characters.
Don’t apologize for the gadgets and devices and imaginary objects you introduce in your worlds. Instead, allow your characters to use them with ease and comfort.
~ A world is also made real by characters treating it as real and normal. If a three-headed tiger-man is a normal part of a world, characters will think nothing of it. They, and the writer behind them, can’t treat the natural as something unnatural. When characters treat the oddities of their worlds as normal—as would be natural for them—then readers feel the naturalness of that interaction and go along with the fiction.
Fictional worlds need not be wholly different; stories can take place in our present-day physical world. Yet something in that world will be imagined. Beyond characters and situations and dialogue, writers might create events for their characters—for entire cities or states or countries—that never take place.
Do you ever think about that, they way you direct politics or the weather or the economy in your stories? You start the doings in your world in one place—in terms of what’s happening and what could happen—and then you let loose. You burn things down or burn things up, you topple governments or you cripple characters, you lead insurgencies or blow up rebel bases or talk tough at the peace table.
You introduce characters to lifelong addictions to lifelong love and to lifelong neuroses.
You make things happen.
And not only do you make the imaginary happen to your characters, you make the not-so-imaginary happen to your readers.
You make readers laugh. You make them weep. You make them snort soda through their noses at the outrageous antics your characters get up to.
You bring readers nostalgia and hope. You make them tremble in fear. You stir them to lust and to anger and to indignation.
You create imaginary worlds with real-world effects.
You touch people. You give them ideas. You transport them into adventures undreamed of and worlds never before seen.
Writers are world builders. You are a world builder. And the more realistic your world and the contents of it, the more convinced the reader is that what you’ve said has happened could have happened. At least in the place and time you said it did.
You’re a world builder. You dream of gadgets that don’t exist, but one day could. And maybe one day might.
You dream up cures to diseases that don’t even exist, but a young woman might read your work and be set on a course to develop a cure for a disease that does exist.
You’re a world builder. You dream big dreams. You create big worlds. You stir real emotions.
Don’t hesitate to create and build the different and the new and the odd. Maintain consistency within your world, but don’t be shy about reaching beyond the knowns of this world. Use what you know of relationships and history and politics and hope and love and fear to build your world from the inside out. Give it a strong foundation. Make it rich and full and whole. Don’t skimp in your world building—be generous, lavish even, in what you add to your world.
Keep in mind that what you purposely exclude from your world may be just as important as what you include.
Build your world with purpose, but don’t be afraid of the unexpected. Actually, take advantage of the unexpected. Your subconscious can add flourishes that your rational, conscious mind might never imagine.
Build your worlds with depth and color and the eye-catching and the attention-grabbing. Build your world with the everyday and the normal.
Build worlds that will spotlight the characters and plots that you weave into them.
Never forget that you are the creator. What you put in your worlds will color them forever; what you keep out cannot be added later. Have fun building worlds while realizing that world-building requires effort and attention to detail.
Give your characters a world worthy of them.
Give your readers a worthy read.