World building is a crucial element to creating a great world for your reader. It allows us to be drawn into a new and magical place- whether it be a distant, unnamed moon or a farm in Nebraska during the depression. But many times authors are stymied as to how to do just that. It feels, sometimes, that there is a massive cover up of the secret to creating a great world.
But like all elements of writing, it can be sussed out with some work, logic, and restraint ;).
Pantsers (at least me ;)) are more likely to integrate their world building along with their first drafts. It’s pretty much as new to me as it is to the reader ;). I obviously have an idea (for example: “This is an alternative world-circa late 1800’s, the fae invaded Earth through a portal 15 years earlier and the war is still going on.”). Now that idea of a world does give a general feeling, but obviously there’s not a lot there to hang onto. I could think of 10 different directions that could go (other than the one my current story does) just off the top of my head.
To start your attack on the world building concept- look at your own style. Also look at what level of world building you like to read. A conscious examination of the types and levels of world building in your favorite books can help you build a better understanding of the process. Don’t worry about matching other authors though! Some folks love TONS of heavy and nuanced world building, others like a more fast and light approach- there are readers for both. Just make sure your style is consistent.
What ALL writers need to keep in mind is just how much information does the reader REALLY need to feel at home in your story? NOT how much world building do YOU need to write the story. These two should be very different. You need to know minute details that the reader really doesn’t need nor want. Sadly, many newer writers (and even published ones) don’t get this and get so caught up in their Very Cool World (or VCW for short) that they want to share all of it with the reader. I just finished a book in which it was clear the author was just tickled pink with his/her world. At first the excessive world building was charming, then it got repetitive, then old and annoying. I began to care less and less about the character because the author was far too focused on his/her “VCW”. The world was cool- but I didn’t need new reminders of it when I had already “bought in” to it. I was there, I just needed a great story. Don't chase off a reader who has already agreed with your world building and buys into it.
World building, like lots of details in general, should focus on the new and novel- not something the reader either a) knows how it works (a car in NY probably functions the same as one in Hawai’i) b) has already been explained (if you show me how magic works in your world- don’t rehash it unless there is a change.). Give me what is unique.
The opposite of this is not giving enough detail to specifically develop the unique world in the reader’s mind’s eye. These are the folks who you never feel completely vested in their world because it’s a bit too vague. It’s a great idea to leave enough open space, so to speak, to allow the reader to add their own mental imaging to the world. But if you don’t clarify your Universe, then the reader makes a falase assumption and you slam them latter with what you really intended-then ya have a problem.
The thing is world building is vital to your book- BUT, it's a skill you will be always learning and developing, it will grow as you do as a writer. It just takes a conscious effort, particularly for those of us who are very rarely in the "real world".
How about you all? As readers, how much detail do you like to read? As writers, what is your plan for building your worlds? What authors do you really admire for their consistant world building?
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Thanks for the interesting post. I'm more of a pantser than a plotter -- I have the high points of the plot, the characters, and the setting before I begin -- but when I wrote my recently released science fiction novel, "Relocated," for NaNo 2010, I devoted a lot of time to the world building and not much to the plot. I had less than a page of plot notes, and a lot of that went out the window when I started to write.ReplyDelete
I did devote a great deal of thought to the ethics, societal values, art, history, literature, history, etc for my aliens. I need to be able to picture the setting before I can start writing. For me, the context -- characters, setting, world, are what I need in order to start writing.
Thanks for coming by Margaret :). It sounds like Relocated really pulled in your world building mojo!Delete
Great post, Marie.ReplyDelete
I like world building I'm not consciously aware is there. I just read the first chapter of a really funny book called Mothership (pregnant teens sent away to an orbiting space school) and I thought the author did a great job with the world building. It felt like I was right there in this very different world, but all the details were fed in so naturally that they didn't slow down the pace of the story at all.
OOO- good points Shoshana. I think that's the trick to great world building, the reader is sucked in, but isn't "aware" that the writer is pointing out how cool their world is!Delete
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Hi Marie, I wondered what you mean by consistent world building--do you mean the author doesn't contradict themselves, or were you meaning use the same level of detail in the world building all the time?ReplyDelete
By consistant, I meant at the same level throughout the book or series. It would be the same as if an author switched styles mid-book. As if all of a sudden they decided they REALLY needed to heap more world building on the poor reader's head. I think most times we catch it as we go through drafts (or an editor or beta reader will say something). But I have read books where it felt like a completely different world half way through!
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I see. Although I agree with this in general, one of the tricks I've learned is that if you really have detailed description/history/background whatever of one thing, people tend to buy into your world and assume that you know that level of detail about the whole world. It can build trust and help the reader immerse and suspend disbelief, without having to go overboard on description in general. This is something that could be peppered into the story once in awhile, and so there's still a balanced feel in reading it.Delete
Good topic. World building is always such a challenge.
I often struggle with keeping a balance between too little and too much. I tend to be a minimalist, especially with the setting part of it. My beta readers and crit partners as well as contest feedback help me decide what areas need more work. Being a minimalist (I like to picture things my own way), I also prefer stories that don't get so detailed, they're practically navel-gazing or dragging the pace.ReplyDelete
I hear ya Ang! I'm in the same boat, as a reader I like to fill in the blanks more, so I tend to write that way. But then sometimes folks get lost or not as drawn in as they should be.Delete
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I like to be immersed in the world rather than have it described to me, otherwise I feel overwhelmed as a reader. Regardless of the world, it's the characters that make us read the story... :)ReplyDelete
Great post Marie!
Good point Lisa, without great characters all the world building in the world ain't gonna save it. But yeah, if the world building is bad, or too slow, it can ruin even great characters (the book in my example for instance- I LOVE this author's characters, but the world building just got too boggy and killed it for me.).Delete
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