Wednesday, November 9, 2011

World Building part two

*Know the rules of your world. You need limitations – but not too many.
*Be specific with your descriptions
*Plant seeds from the beginning
*Make sure knowledge is natural to your character
*Avoid awkward dialog that doesn’t match your world
*Learn the basic craft of writing

Let's break this down and talk about them one at a time. Rules: when I say know the rules of your world, what do I mean? Think about our Earth - the sky is up, the ground is down. There's atmosphere that holds the air we breathe. The sky is blue because of how the sunlight refracts through the atmosphere. There are clouds that bring rain. Storm fronts, cold fronts, warm fronts - these all cause the air to move, sometimes violently. We have gravity. We have one sun and one moon. The Earth spins, giving us day and night. The Earth also tilts, giving us the seasons.

What are the rules of your world? Fantasy and SciFi allow our imaginations to run wild, but the world HAS to fit the story. Is your world radically different from Earth? That's fine, but it still has to be natural and you must keep your rules in mind as you're writing. Be consistent. If you aren't, you'll jerk your reader clean out of your story. And they won't believe you anymore.

Being specific with description: Does this mean you need to set up a couple of pages of description? No, of course not. But you can weave in the "rules" of your world within the action and dialog of the story. Remember, if your world is strangely different from Earth, it's normal for your characters. And you don't have to give every detail - allow for the imagination of the reader. This pulls the reader in and makes them part of the story. We all love it when that happens, don't we?

Dialog that fits your world: is your world futuristic or historical? In Fairyeater, my world is Earth-like except for the three moons. There is no modern conveniences like electricity or machines. The people are simple peasant folk, so their language is simple.

Learn the craft: this barely needs mentioning, but I'm going to say it anyway. It takes more than a good idea to write a great book; there's a craft to it. One of the best books I've read on writing a novel is "Stein on Writing" by Sol Stein. Now, he's not a Christian, so his examples are not always the best for young writers. For you teen writers, I recommend "Seize the Story" by Victoria Hanley.

Get a good book on the craft and learn it. Once you've mastered the craft of writing, you can creatively break the rules. But you don't have to. What does your story require? What does your world require? Only you can determine that.

Share your world with us. I love hearing what you're doing.


  1. One of the most difficult aspects for me is making realistic, differentiated, "unique" speech patterns--not only for characters, but for kingdoms and worlds. There's the usual bad grammar as a speech pattern (e.g. "I ain't got no chocolate"), but I think that creating dialogue tied to a world must be more than just breaking some of our own world's patterns. An exercise that I haven't tried yet, but should, is to practice writing a paragraph or a page in first person (thoughts or dialogue, either way). Make the POV character radically different in age, background, etc. Then try to write the characters' thoughts and speech as differently as possible from each other. That would be a challenge, but I think the results could be very rewarding.

    Can you think of any authors who have done dialogue differentiation really well?

  2. Writing exercises are great, especially when working out dialog. Make sure to read your stuff out loud - that will help.

    Two authors who do dialog differentiation well leapt to mind: Mark Twain and Brian Jacques. However, their dialog is extreme and not used as much today, especially in the US. American editors think readers can't handle extreme dialog. I think they can.

    The key is knowing your characters as well as you know yourself. Then you'll know what they'll say and how they'll say it.

    Anyone else have an example?