When you write a story that takes place in the present, using our actual world, what many people take for granted is that everything is already there, already created. Almost every detail has already been come up with. All you have to do is pick from the list. Your dude drives a Ford Mustang. Your gal likes to listen to Def Leppard and wear stuff she bought at Nordstrom Rack. The Joneses live in Kimball, Nebraska.
All those details already exist. You need only pick them out of the gloom and put them to use. And sure, sometimes you might make up a new town. Ever hear of Castle Rock, Maine? Elements of worldbuilding are all around us, even in “regular fiction.” That’s why I wanted to roll out a series of tutorials. It’s not just for science fiction or fantasy. You can incorporate as much or as little into your own work as you like. You may not even need to go further than making up the town name. “They drove through Turmadiddle, Arkansas.” That’s it. You’re done. Maybe that’s all you want to do. What I’m saying here is you can get away with that, writing stories set in the “real world.”
Sprinkle it in. Go ahead. That’s the benefit of writing stories set in our world. Most of the work is done. You still have to deal with plot, characterization, pacing, theme, etc. Thing about it is, though, that if you choose to do a story that’s not set in our world, you have to worldbuild. All the places, history, culture, technology — everything we take for granted with our own world doesn’t exist there. You get to create it. And man, can you go nuts!
And I must confess, worldbuilding is so fun sometimes you find yourself doing it instead of writing the stories. Creating a new universe or world is not without its dangers, though. For one, many people tend to get hung up on one aspect so much they miss out on other important things that could make their world richer. Maybe you like cartography. Drawing your own maps. It’s fun. I do it. I did the map above. But you mustn’t get stuck there. For others, maybe they excel with languages. There might be some Tolkien in them. That’s awesome. I wish I could do that. What I’m saying is don’t only do the thing you’re good at.
Give your readers the whole package.
Great worldbuilding is what transports your audience into your world. That’s why people love fantasy. They feel like they’re there. It’s exotic, fascinating, rich. Think about your favorite extraworldly locations you’ve read about. What made them so compelling?
Chances are that the creator spent a lot of time crafting a dynamic world. Making it real. To do that you must pay attention to things outside your favorite parts. That’s what this series will help you with. My goal is to give you tips and tricks with every aspect of worldbuilding so you can shore up the weaknesses in your own creations. Maybe remind you of something you hadn’t thought of yet. To help give you just a little extra spice. You win this way, because it’s easier to write about places you know inside and out.
Consider this: you could probably write stories set in your hometown easier than writing about a place you’ve never been. You know your hometown. To write a story set in Minsk, you’d have to do some research if you’ve never been there, to make it believable. Same thing applies to your own universes. The more you know them, the more like your hometown they become. You spend less time getting fumbled up on the details as you’re writing. It frees you up to focus on the story. So yeah. You win.
Your readers win. They get to experience a greater depth of setting. Your places become more real, more alive. They can escape to a new exotic place. Your exotic place. Your audience wins.
I also win. Other authors win. Because the better your stories are, the more the bar raises. By raising the bar, you help make it so audiences don’t accept mediocrity. It forces us other writers to up our game. Thus, the cycle continues. We win. Our game improves to keep up. Our audience wins. You win.
So how about it? Are you ready to build some awesome universes? I’m ready to show you. Here’s what we’ll be going over in the forthcoming tutorials:
- Tutorial 1: Building a Universe
- Tutorial 2: Geography and Cartography
- Tutorial 3: Cultivating Culture
- Tutorial 4: History
- Tutorial 5: Creation Stories and Mythology
- Law, crime, punishment
- Technology and science
- Naming conventions
- Flora and Fauna
If you do it right, your world also becomes its own character. It influences your other characters in ways you may not anticipate. Exciting ways. It will help shape your characters, who they are, where they come from. All those things play a vital role in how they respond to other characters, to setbacks, to triumphs. It all plays a role. Not only that, though, your world is your brand. You don’t want to create a world that could pass for any other world. What fun is that? Think of some of the most memorable worlds that appear in our favorite stories. Arrakis from Dune. Ringworld. Middle Earth. Narnia. Oz. Even Discworld. What makes them stand out?
That’s what you want. That’s what we will work on building. Stay tuned for this tutorial series. You’ll want to check these articles out, even if you don’t write science fiction or fantasy. Look at that list of topics above. Considering each of those things for your own stories set even on our planet will give your setting an edge. The reader doesn’t just get to experience your characters and the things that happen to them, you can give them fascinating new twists on everyday things. Think about it.
If you want to be notified, simply subscribe to the RSS feed for all writing articles, or the worldbuilding feed so you don’t miss these! And leave me a comment below, let me know what your favorite parts of worldbuilding are. What do you have trouble with? What would you like to see in these tutorials?