NaNoCoDo #5 World Building

Not just for sci-fi!

Beginning writers may assume that they don’t have to spend time working out the “rules” of their world. Only sci-fi writers need to think about World Building.

Not true.

You may be writing a book set in your own world and think that’s simple because you know it so well. But your reader doesn’t. If you hope to be read by people who live more than a few streets away, you must tell them about your world in enough detail that they know it, too. If your plot needs the rubbish to be collected every other Friday, then you need to mention this fact. If you have a character who’s a bullying prefect at school, then you must explain (before it’s relevant) just what powers a prefect has.

In other words, world building means preparing to tell the reader all about your particular setting in as much detail as they’re going to need.

Think about it – in a costume drama, TV viewers need to understand how servants below stairs and their employers above stairs would behave in their own world and when they interact outside their class. These things are shown very early in the film / series, so a viewer understands how this world differs from their own. In a police-based mystery, we need to know that our hero is on a ship cut off from his wonderful Forensics Department who could identify the killer from a blood spot in one hour.

As the writer, you will know all of this, but you may need to change the rules when you realise you’ve written yourself into a dead end you can’t get out of.

So write down the rules that apply to your world. Refer to them when you start writing and be prepared to add changes as you write. Always add them – don’t just edit your rules document. If you’re got lines at the end like:
Chapter 8: Need prefects to be allowed to go out on Wed afternoons.
-then you’ll know to check chapters 1~7 for anything that contradicts this rule.

Spend some time on these rules – you cannot assume your reader knows everything about the town you live in, and you’ll probably want to improve on reality, anyhow.

Then print this document out and go through it with a highlighter pen – so you know which bits need to find their way into your opening chapters.

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One Response

  1. I like the example you gave. I never would have thought to put the chapter in the note to help revise later.

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