World building: An Intro by Nancy Miller
Think back. Your first world building came in the form of daydreams. Places you would go, people you might meet, all from your imagination.
I later played Dungeons and Dragons, a game all about fantasy and worldbuilding. As a wrangler of words I am aware that we all create the world around our characters. This is most apparent in Fantasy/Science Fiction where the worlds are alien to our established existence. But it is not exclusive.
World building begins with your characters. I suggest you use a three-ring notebook with dividers for each character and location. As you envision features, clothing, personal habits, you are creating their presence. Add in aspects like beliefs, religion, or laws, and you create their culture. Take into account the geography, weather, flora and fauna, and you have their environment.
All of these elements have an influence on your character’s response to stimuli. Does s/he negotiate or fight? Is s/he a caring person or has s/he become calloused after years of hardship? What hardships? How has it affected the world around her/him?
When the Great Depression hit, my mother’s family went from comfortable middle class to tobacco sharecroppers. This hardship changed her entire world view. To write her story, I have to take that into account. If your character suffered a reversal of fortune, you need to add that to their profile.
Consider the opposite. A person of sparse resources becomes wealthy. How do they react to the change? Do they accept the change gratefully or disparage that people on that social level are not as genuine as their old friends? It’s a different world out there when you have money.
One of the goals for a protagonist is that, by the end of the story, they have undergone some revelation/realization about themselves. The character develops during the course of the quest.
And here is the ‘R’ word again. RESEARCH. A writer who avoids doing research will end up with inconsistencies readers will catch. If your character is impoverished and yet peels off two twenties for a luxury, there needs to be justification built in. Same goes for continuity glitches. If your protagonist carries a 9mm handgun, it can’t change to a 45 then back again a few pages later.
I work with a timeline, character sketches, basic outline, and research notes when I write. These may change as the story progresses. I update information as needed and maintain consistency with what I know about them. Shouldn’t I know everything about a creation of my own? Not quite.
Think of it like starting to see a therapist. The initial intake involves pages of questions delving into all aspects of your life. These basics give the therapist a place to start. Further conversations will expand on the basics and lay bare the complex intricacies of the client’s personal experience.
I’ll be going into more about world building next week. In the meantime, here is an article on the subject.
Originally published at ourwriteside.com on May 1, 2017.