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I'm a writer, a freelancer, a crafter, a nail polish mixatrix, a tea drinker, an unconventional life-liver, a journaling junkie, an introvert, a chronic-pain-sufferer, an idealist, a geek, a TV-lover. Welcome to my corner of the web!

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday - Worldbuilding

I like worldbuilding. It's one of my fav parts of writing--getting to literally create a world and then wander around in it and see what it's about. Here's some stuff I've learned about doing it well:

  1. Know your world as well as the people who live in it, but don't fill whole paragraphs with telling the reader about it--once in a while, something will need to be explained, but do it in the smallest bits you can, and preferably through the characters interacting with whatever you're describing. Try not to have one character explaining things at length to another character if it's something both of them should know; that's super-obviously just you talking to the reader and it ruins the flow.
  2. Not everything needs to be different than the real world--You're allowed to have clocks or cars or cities or electricity or whatever, if that's what you want, it just has to make sense. And if something should be there and isn't, you'll probably be asked to come up with a good reason. In Married to the Wind, I don't have guns because there's battle-mages, but I do have clocks because the whole thing is vaguely 1700s and clockwork was A Thing then. And in the final version, neither thing really matters to the story, so they're just details mentioned in passing.
  3. Start either really big or really small for the building, don't muck around too much in between--Like, either start with the continent or kingdom and how it works, or with the person and what sort of world they'd need to exist. The first will shape what the macro-scale story will allow, and the second will affect the actual day to day of the story more. The middle will figure itself out, for the most part, as you tell the big and small stories.
  4. Don't have things be overly complicated just for the sake of weirdness--Things can be weird, but if they don't say something about the world or the people in it when you encounter them, they're just decoration. They're also a missed opportunity, because noticing things in the narrative sets the reader up to expect that thing to matter somehow, and if it doesn't, that's a loose thread you didn't tie back up at the end!
  5. Think about the history of the place and how it set up for where you are now, as the story starts--What are your characters and cultures and worlds built on, what are they reacting to, and what are their opinions on what happened to their families and lands beforehand? A person from a place that's been wrongly conquered six times isn't going to have the same view of being an attacker as someone who has never been conquered, you know?
  6. At least have an idea of how things like religion, politics, culture, and environment interact--You don't have to know every blow-by-blow of extended history, but nothing exists independently of anything else. Was there a religious shift at some point and what's left from before it? Is the place fair or not fair, politically? Are there interactions with other cultures from near or far? Are they located in cold places, warm places, places protected by mountains or the sea, places with no defenses, isolated or not? Are there normal seasons, or something different? It'll determine how easy it is for people to move around, at least, and if you really want to get fancy, it'll determine what "baggage" they bring with them and how complicated their family histories are.
  7. Ask yourself: How do the classes interact? What are the acceptable behaviors and roles and duties of different sorts of people? Why do people believe or disbelieve this set up? How does the society support itself? How does it treat it's own people vs people from outside? Who counts as an outsider? Who is aware of injustices and what is a usual response to it? Will your characters interact with different levels of society or will they only talk about them and stick to their own?
  8. What sort of actual physical place does this story happen in?--Have some idea of usual weather, basic terrain, whether it's urban or rural, how people will generally travel and how long it'll take, whether it'll be mostly inside or outside, etc. All that is setting and tone: a mountainous, rainy place will feel a lot different than a sunny flat one, no matter what the story is doing!
  9. Have a few things that signify a culture or a status in contrast to others--You don't need to mention it every time, but if one culture is known for embedding jewels in their bodies while another wears only white, or one is known for a specific morning ritual, or piece of jewelry, or tattoo, or way of organizing a household, it's a good way to shorthand which culture new characters belong to on first sight. And the characters dealing with each other's cultural signifiers and objects can lead to interesting developments for their arcs along the way!
  10. Before you make your final draft final, ask yourself: is this here because it's cool, or because it has a purpose? There's such a thing as a "rad herring"*, something that's introduced because it's an awesome idea, but it winds up not having much to do with the actual story; that's fine, but you can't use that excuse for everything! Most stuff should build characters, illustrate how the world works or some aspect of it's history or workings, or directly matter to the plot. Sometimes, there'll just be piles of neat ideas laying around a story, and it hurts to trim them down, so here's what I do: make a file for all that stuff. Then you can post them as backstory on your blog when you hit it big and people ask, or you can use it later in follow up stories!
What are your favorite hints and tips about worldbuilding? Comment below!

- How's that header for a blast from the past?? I made that flipping AGES ago for a post!
*I don't have the link, but I got the phrase from someone on Tumblr.

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