World-building. It’s the less-famous aspect of writing. Character-building we know all about. Creating beautiful sentences is another thing we know and expect from writers. The art of insight and the craft of wordsmithing combines to present beautiful sentences to house our sentiments.
Then of course there is editing, proof-reading and graphic design that also feature into the famous aspects of writing.
But I’m not going to talk about them today. I’m going to talk about a less famous aspect of writing. I’m a supernatural fiction author. Currently, my work verges on the dystopian with a distinctly supernatural element. I’m not writing about a world I can see with my two natural eyes. Nor am I writing about a natural world that looks like the one I live in today. I have to explain to my reader what may be intangible, and what certainly is invisible.
So I build worlds.
I spend hours on it. Days. Months. Heck, if I don’t get a move along, this book will even stretch into years. (I’ll get a move-along. Promise).
I’ve studied how other people build worlds and I’ve got some thoughts for you. There’s no research into this other than my own. Excuse the fact that there is no peer review here!
Thought #1: Don’t overdo it. If you spend too much time building the world and not enough time building the characters and the storyline, you’ll sink. The reader won’t be able to chug through the first chapter and you’re done. The human brain is a tricky thing. It fills in the blanks with its own kind of details. So I figure if I don’t go to great lengths to explain a house (for example), the readers brain will fill in the blanks with their own. If I overdo it, they’ll be so focused on details that they’ll lose the momentum of the plot.
Thought #2: Don’t underdo it. There are pitfalls on the other end of the spectrum too. If you underdo the explanations, the readers is going to be thinking “What? I’m lost.”
Thought #3: Order matters. This is a little truth that hit home the first time I got my manuscript back from my editor. I’d mentioned a character (using first name only) three times before I actually introduced him. By that stage the reader had already formed an opinion of him and then I’d gone and changed it all up for them. Not the best idea really! It’s not always possible to introduce something or someone upon first sight, especially if you meet a whole lot of people/things at once, but do it as close to the first impression as possible.
Thought #4: Anything goes when building worlds, but make it believable. It amazes me how many blockbusters incorporate totally unbelievable scenarios but someone the viewer goes “Yeah okay cool.” They buy it. Why? The writers have gone to great lengths to make it believable. Consistency is key. You will have readers who pick up on contradictions you write in your story. This subtracts from believability. If I’ve invented something, then I sticky-note it and put it up on my wall so I remember.
Thought #5: Human nature still needs to resonate. Have you ever noticed that, no matter how far fetched the storyline or the world-building aspects of the story, human nature shines through. Human complexity can engage the reader or viewer no matter how different the landscape. Sometimes, the newly invented landscape/world written by the author actually has the power to make the lesson in the story shine even more. Take the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S.Lewis for example. Powerful stuff.
Anyway! These are just a few thoughts – because I’m stuck in a funeral carpark with an overheated radiator! Haven’t blogged in a bit so thought I’d make the best of my time!
Over and out for now
P.S. The photos are from the set of the film trailer! Not CGI’d or anything but still all part of the fun of world building.