Building a world in your book

5C92BC89-929B-4996-AC80-38B9D05D586FJust a short one from me: a few people reading my August post brought up my use of the phrase “building a world” (or whatever I said) when crafting the theme of a story. How do you do this in a believable way, that audiences buy into and so forth.

Well, that’s a huge topic, one I’m certainly not qualified to go into depth on, but here’s a few observations I have on the matter. Maybe you have some better ideas. If so, I’d love to hear them.

I think for many writers, world-building is something that happens naturally. Especially if you’re writing something set today. And there’s not too much worry about something set in the past – even long past. If we know the date, and we know the location, we’ll have a rough idea of what things were like then. You can write away without too much stress. The challenge is for stories set in the future, a parallel universe, or a total fantasy setting. And the hardest challenge as I see it is one of exposition.

If you’re a fantasy or Science fiction writer, you’ll be all-too-keenly aware that you will have to build a world to set your story in. This won’t be a world that your audience will know innately, so you will have to explain it.

The real challenge with this, is to be able to still write in a contemporaneous fashion. That is to say, how do you explain all this without exhaustive and boring exposition? How to you tell your audience what they need to know with brevity and ease, so you can get right on with telling your story?

Any time spent pausing to explain the intricate – if necessary – details about the world you’re creating, can slow your story down and take people out of the plot. I don’t have any specific tips to deal with this, except to say that I would only recommend explaining things in as sparse a way as possible, and to do so only at the exact point it’s needed. Don’t start every scene or chapter explaining the location you’re now in, and why it’s different and how everything works. Just start it like you would anything else, and as an important element crops up, give us the detail then: briefly, and simply. Don’t let “good grammar” get in the way. Single word sentences might work? Just paint the picture in broad strokes. Your audience’s minds will fill all the blanks. Ask yourself: “Do they really need to know everything I’ve just written here? And do they need to know it now?”

Anything about the world you’re creating that isn’t an absolutely necessary could probably be left out. That way, you’re allowing your readers to fill the void all by themselves, which can be much more satisfying.

But yeah, it’s tricky, regardless!