World-Building – Process

What goes into creating a world and sharing it with the reader?

Aside from blood and sweat?

Research
Research everything. You may not use everything you’ve learned, but your increased subject matter expertise will come through in your writing and (probably) you’ll have more confidence in what you’re writing. One of my greatest joys is having veterans and specifically helicopter gunship captains contact me after reading The Augmented Man to ask where I served and/or where I learned to fly. Anthropologists and other social scientists constantly read my work and ask if I worked with one culture or another. Such questions let me know my research paid off; when experts talk with you as if you’re an expert, you’ve done your job convincing the reader they’re in good hands reading your work.

On the other side of this, I’ve heard authors say that when they get to a point in their writing where something occurs they don’t understand or know or aren’t sure how something happens, they write “[XXX]” (or something similar) and move on, looking things up later.

Such writing shows (in my opinion).

I’m told that my work is so tightly written that it’s tough to remove stuff without throwing everything else out of whack. It’s like Story-DNA. Sure, you can switch a genome here or there, but that one genome and its placement affect the entire story. You may change hair color from chestnut to dark brown but now you’ve got three fingers that look like toes and a penis growing out of the middle of your forehead.

I stop writing when there’s a piece of something – tech, location, language, culture, anything! – in which I feel my knowledge is lacking.

And I always feel my knowledge is lacking.

Revealing the Story’s World
Reveal as the story requires. That’s the author’s job. Don’t front load, don’t back load, definitely don’t waste the reader’s time or stretch their patience, and always keep them moving forward through the story. This is something I wrote about in World-Building – Getting Readers Interested in Your World.


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World-Building – Revealing Settings Through Relatable Characters

Every time you have an opportunity to show something most people aren’t familiar with, do so to add color to the story provided you can do it in a way the reader understands and can relate to.

Ground the unfamiliar with the familiar

 
You have to ground the unfamiliar with the familiar so that readers can relate to it. Example: A reviewer wrote of The Augmented Man‘s protagonist, Nick Trailer, “His struggles were easy to relate with and, honestly, I found myself hoping to see his happy ending by the end of the novel.” The “reader wanting the hero to succeed” is key to world-building as it demonstrates the reader is emotionally involved with the character individually and the story in general.

A familiar example of grounding the unfamiliar with the familiar comes from the original Alien movie. The opening scenes are of the crew waking from suspended animation. Quite unfamiliar to most people. But the next scene is the crew in the mess complaining about being woken up, how crappy the coffee is, are they going to get extra pay for this extra work, et cetera.

The unfamiliar grounded in the familiar. The crew may have just woken from suspended animation on a deep space ship but they’re just like your friends in the corner bar grumbling about work, they’re your co-workers in the company cafeteria complaining about crappy food, they’re your workmates wondering if the company’s going to pay them for any overtime coming from making an unscheduled stop on their delivery route.

In short, most people accepted the unfamiliar in Alien because whatever happened, it was happening to people they could relate to and understand; the unfamiliar was grounded in the familiar.

The heart of any story is believable characters either succeeding or failing to achieve their goals. There is a general rule about people; what people do rarely changes. How they do things changes. Example: people gossip. One hundred years ago people gossiped by gathering in the general store, the local pub, in the park. Now they gossip on their mobiles, Facebook, Twitter, et cetera. People have gossiped since we climbed down from the trees and stood on our hind legs. How they’ve gossiped has changed over time.


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World-Building – Getting Readers Interested in Your World

[Much of this series is excerpted from a post on Phoebe Darqueling’s blog]

World-building is an interesting and amusing phrase to me. I don’t think it existed as such when I started writing professionally (1970s). Perhaps people understood it without naming it as such. Consider authoring concepts such as atmosphere, character, description, dialogue, narration, pace, plot, POV, scenes, setting, structure, style, tone, viewpoint, … are we whirling them all into the single term, world-building? Okay, so long as we recognize the whole is the sum of its parts and a weakness in any one of them is a weakness in all of them.

World-building is the art of getting readers more interested in your story than they are in their own story.

 
World-building is in all writing, fiction and non-fiction, because (to me) “world-building” is the art of getting your readers to accept the story’s mythos as more real than their daily mythos (meaning the story’s reality is more engaging and actualizing than their daily reality). I’ve read biographies and histories and been caught up in them, lost track of time, forgotten to eat, read until my eyes closed and then dreamt about what I read. Likewise I’ve read fiction that I’ve put down and forgotten to pick up again because I couldn’t care less about what was happening in the story.

I’m told I do lots of world-building in my work and ask, “Can you show me where?” Most can’t because I work to share a story’s reality through the development of the story itself, not in expository lumps (an “expository lump” occurs when the author tells the reader something rather than providing the reader with sufficient information to experience it. World-building case in point, the first paragraph of one of my works-in-progress, Gable Smiled, is:

Valen patted Gable’s muscular neck as they trotted into Lensterville. They’d been ten days out, mostly soldiering Sipio’s vast Northern Plain, and this time of year that meant heat with a capital “H”. Valen could feel his own sweat trickling through the hairs on his chest and back, and every time his Ranger-issue travel cords relaxed around him, his scent rose like steam washing his face.

Consider how much the reader learns in Gable Smiled‘s opening paragraph:


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The Proper Way to Describe the Itsuro-Shegami Technique When Applied to Nipple Joints

Ain’t nothing better for a wayward nipple

 
Rahki World author Rennie St. James invited me to guest blog WRITING REALISTIC HAND-TO-HAND COMBAT SCENES and I did.

I did I did I did!

Can’t tell you how many versions I came up with.

No, actually I can because I revision everything – four.

Some of those early versions…a beautiful demonstration of not knowing what to write about. There were lots of ways to go at it. Do I write about my many years teaching hand-to-hand mixmaster beef loin braising techniques at the Academie du HaHa in Paranormal, France?

Probably too graphic for most readers. No.

Instead I went with how to write a combat scene such that the reader believes it.

Hope it worked.

Let Rennie and me know, okay?

And thanks.

The Writer’s Digest Handbook of Short Story Writing

A good worker’s trade book

The Goodreads blurb is “Some of the best advice available on how to create character, use description, create a setting and plot a short story.” The Amazon blurb is “Here’s a collection of the most helpful articles from WRITER’S DIGEST magazine covering every aspect of short story writing. Every writer, from beginner to professional, will find guidance, encouragement, and answers to such concerns as how to make characters believable, developing dialogue, writer’s block, viewpoint, the all-important use of conflict, and much more.”

Definitely some advice although not until the third section (Characterization). The first two sections read more like Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write, basically cheering sections for those unsure and/or starting out (which is to be expected. This was the handbook for the Writer’s Digest Fiction writing course).

I can believe that the separate chapters were Writer’s Digest articles. They both read as such and, from a business perspective, why solicit for something already owned?

Is it helpful? Yes. I was suprised at how much new (to me), useful information the book contained (once I got past the rah-rah sections).

There’s enough in here to keep writers developing their craft going for quite a while. I do recommend it.


Greetings! I’m your friendly, neighborhood Threshold Guardian. This is a protected post and requires either General Membership (free) or a Subscription (various levels). Members and Subscribers can LogIn. Non members can join. All posts are free to all members save certain posts in the My Work category. Enjoy!