We are heading into summer, and what better way to celebrate the season than with a guest post by author Kevin Platt about world-building. Kevin is a fantasy and children’s books author, with two completed children’s books, Isabella’s Zoo Adventure: Isabella’s Immense Imagination, and Dragon Ride. He also has a fantasy series in the works.
Today, he is sharing with us his thoughts and tips on world-building.
Guest Post by Kevin Platt: Let’s Talk About World-Building
First, I wish to thank Lanie for giving me the wonderful opportunity to guest write on her blog. This is a fantastic source for both readers and writers. Lanie is a very gifted storyteller and author, and it is a pleasure and an honor to be offered this opportunity. So, thank you so much.
Let’s Talk About World-Building
Why talk about world-building?
If there’s one thing in the writing world that is talked about, and maybe a little too much, it’s world-building. Also true is that if there is one thing that is most important to your story (besides building the characters and storyline) it’s world-building.
Let’s be honest, world building is not the most fun thing to do. It takes time and a lot of thought to build a world from scratch. If you are writing any type of fiction, you are world-building. That is why it is so important. When we think of world-building, we tend to think of sci-fi and fantasy genres only (fantasy being my favorite). However, did you know that every single genre uses world-building?
Think about it. Let’s say you write a contemporary fantasy, and you create a coffee shop or a bookshop in your story that doesn’t exist. Let’s also say that this coffee or bookshop is set in a real-life town or city. It’s still a shop that you created and therefore no one reading your book has visited it. Guess what? You are world-building by helping readers know what that shop looks like, smells like, and where it’s located within that world. Even so, the fantasy, sci-fi, and even horror genres carry the weight of really having to world-build.
Different types of world-building
So what are some of the ways we can build different worlds? There are a few things to consider, first and foremost being what type of genre you are writing about.
Creating an entirely new fictional world is one type of world-building. We see this in epic fantasy writing. It’s a world that doesn’t exist, has never existed. These are your Middle Earth’s or Narnia’s. This is what most authors and readers think about when they think of world-building.
Taking a real place and putting it into an alternative past or giving it an alternative future is another way to world-build. Books like The Hunger Games or Maze Runner fall under this category. This world-building is used a lot in altered history, steampunk, dystopia, and post-apocalyptic writing.
Finally, if you take a real place and put it into an alternative past or give it an alternative future, you are also world-building. This would be urban fantasy, magical realism and for the most part the humans that live in the real world don’t know about the fantasy world because it’s a great for cause of conflict when the two worlds collide. I think of Harry Potter in this sense. Muggles don’t know about the wizarding world and really, the wizards don’t know a whole lot about muggles.
Ideas to Help Your World-Building
There is so much to world-building that it can be overwhelming. However, if you keep it simple and keep track of everything that you create, it can be a beautiful thing. For instance, for me, I keep track of everything on a spreadsheet. If I create a shop, a character, or even a new coin for the story, I write it down and describe it. Then I transfer that over to the story when needed. And you can keep track of what you have put in the story without having to try and go back to the part in your manuscript where you first wrote it which can take forever.
Remember that to make a good story, your characters and cultures are a key part of world-building. Your characters are the reason your readers keep turning the pages, and hopefully, keep buying your books. Everything has to come back to the character, all the time. This really is the most important thing in your writing.
When you are trying to create a new culture, which in itself is a huge task, start simple. Start with what you know. Have a look at the world around you that you live in. Start noticing all of the nuances of your culture. Then try to describe it. Maybe try to describe what your culture is like to someone who lives in a different place and culture. That’s good practice for when you are going to try to explain what the culture is like in your book. What is the government like? What are the people like? What food do they eat?
Remember that culture can change very gradually through the generations, or it can just be a really quick thing. Either way, do you need to describe how it has changed? Was there a cataclysm that took place to change it drastically or was it over a long period of time?
You Don’t have to Reinvent the Wheel
I think as authors we tend to think that we have to be completely original and do something that no one else has seen before. However, if you’re doing things that people have seen before they already like it, and they already know it, and there’s already a market for it.
So don’t feel that you have to come up with some totally crazy new idea that no one’s ever done before, because actually, what makes your idea unique is the way you tell it, it’s your personal voice as an author. That’s where the uniqueness comes in. You could give the exact same writing prompt to 10 writers, and you end up with 10 totally different stories. There is nothing wrong with creating unique things, but don’t make it so complicated that it ruins the story.
This is especially important for fantasy authors that use magic in their worlds. We could write a whole other post on magic and its uses in your world but remember that magic has to have rules. Part of the rules could be based on the world that you are building. Plan out those rules for the magic and then create the world around those rules and around what the character can and cannot do in those rules and in that world.
Other Helpful Ideas
Here are ten things that I think will help you get started in your world-building.
· Establish the type of world you want. Pick a genre. Is this a dystopian or fantasy novel (or both)? Does it take place on our Earth or on an alternate earth? Knowing this will help figure out the tone and mood of your world.
· Decide where to start. Whether it’s the language spoken by the inhabitants or the apocalyptic landscape, pick the aspect of the world you’re most excited about exploring and start there.
· List the rules and laws. We talked about this a little bit above with magic. The inhabitants who live in this world you’ve created will have their own independent existence. What is their governing system? Who is in charge? Is this a magical world? If so, who can use the magic system? How powerful is it? Setting up boundaries helps create a fictional world that functions more like a real world.
· Describe the environment. Give your science fiction or fantasy world a sense of place. What’s the weather like? How does it affect the rest of the world? Are there natural disasters? Are there extreme temperatures? What natural resources exist in this location? How do people use the land? Establishing the environment is a useful detail in the creation of your world.
· Define the culture. We talked about this too. What do the inhabitants of this universe believe in? Is there religion? Is there a god? Do they have any sacred customs? What do they celebrate? How do these factors shape their points of view? Breathe life into the characters who populate this location by giving them a meaningful existence. Write down how people behave and what they do in their daily life.
· Define the language. As a worldbuilder, indicate how the inhabitants communicate. Is there a common tongue? Are there taboo subjects? Knowing what can and cannot be said in your world can be an apt source for conflict.
· Identify the history. What is your world’s history? Have there been any world wars? Do the countries within your world have enemies? Are there rival nations? Is there a sole antagonist? Providing the backstory for your world can give it an added dimension and make it feel more tangible.
· Use existing works to inspire you. Revisit the works of successful fantasy or sci-fi authors to get inspiration. Never steal ideas but review the work of other fantasy writers to see how they answer the same worldbuilding questions within their own novel writing. One author that I use all the time is Brandon Sanderson. He has a great way to make a magic system for example. I take what he has done and come up with ideas of my own.
· Describe how characters develop. Your character development is based on the sociopolitical factors you establish. Is their status based on their class or wealth? Do they have jobs they can get promoted at? Is their political system oppressive? How do they respond to grief or loss? Do they fall in love? Figuring out how your main characters grow is an important defining aspect of your characters’ world.
· Let your characters show your readers how they should feel about the world. If dragons or other magical creatures exist in your world, the characters shouldn’t react to them as if they are surprised, they are there. It should be a normal thing for them. Show how the world works through your character’s experiences and emotions.
Remember that there are three main things that world-building needs to do in your book
· Reveal character
· Push the plot forward
· Explore themes
If they’re not doing any of those things, then it’s probably info-dumping. You probably don’t need it and you can probably leave it out.
Whatever world you build, I hope that it catches your readers and draws them in. My goal in world-building is to make it so that the reader can see themselves there, living there and living the experiences that the book’s characters are living. And then they want to come back to that world again and again to visit every once in a while. Take the time to think about the things that we have talked about and make your book’s world a place that no one wants to leave.
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