Making Fictitious Worlds Come Alive
One essential addition that will bring new depth and richness to your writing.
Have you ever written a story with strong characters, strong plot, and rich dialogue, but still felt like something was missing?
I’ve always loved writing and creating worlds, striving to deliver the three-dimensional richness of our world transcribed onto a page. As writers, we want our readers to feel like they’re walking, breathing, and living in these worlds — not just reading about them.
We’ve all heard many great tips and tricks over the years for adding depth and description to our stories, but I want to share with you one trick that has really improved how I approach writing and editing my stories.
Never forget to “people” your worlds
Unless you’re writing a post-apocalyptic storyline where surviving humans are few and far between, your character should be living in a world where other living breathing human beings coexist in their space.
These people don’t need names. They don’t even need anything beyond very basic descriptions — if any description at all — but we should have no doubt that they are there.
Read through this short example I’ve roughed out below.
Jon steps out from his apartment onto the sidewalk in his suit and tie, glancing at his phone to check the time. He begins to walk faster. I can’t be late again, he thinks, rushing through the brisk morning air along the busy city street.
With this example, I’ve told the reader the street is busy and I’ve told them we’re in a city, but we have no real physical evidence of that in the description. The passage ends up reading a bit bland as we aren’t drawn into the reality of this world. We can’t feel it for ourselves.
And now for this example.
Jon steps out from his apartment onto the sidewalk in his suit and tie, glancing at his phone to check the time.
He begins to walk faster through the morning crowds gathered waiting at the bus stop outside his building. I can’t be late again, he thinks, dodging out of the path of a frazzled young man heading in the opposite direction with his tray of custom-made coffees.
Finally, the world seems more real and alive. If you’ve ever rushed through busy city streets — or even if you haven’t — you can now feel the claustrophobia of a trek along a rush hour sidewalk. You can feel the urgency and danger of near misses where our protagonist could have ended up wearing some hot coffees all over his fancy business suit.
This tip can help us while we’re writing, or in my case, it often helps most when I go back through my stories to make edits after the first draft.
As we read through our drafts, we just need to ask ourselves:
Can we feel the people in this world outside of our protagonist and secondary characters?
If not, how can we change this passage to make the world feel more lived in? Can we add garbage in back alleys, the sounds of trucks driving by, or the scent of homecooked meals wafting out open windows?
Just ask yourself these simple questions, and watch your fictitious worlds come alive.
Chelsea Marie is a writer by night and graphic designer by day. She is a West-Coast Canadian with a bad case of wanderlust and a dream to travel the world with her severely airplane phobic partner. Why do the easy way when a complicated route makes a much more interesting story? She’s on Instagram @c.the.storyteller writing and posting poetry in her spare time.