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World Building 101 – Part 3

April 10, 2012

World Building gives the fantasy and speculative fiction writers the ability to take readers on a journey into previously unknown realms.  There are very few genres that afford writers the freedom to create a new experience.  World Building allows the author to present an entirely new paradigm in which he can craft a story that presents their ideas in a fresh and vibrant way, if done well.

An incomplete world will always carry a feeling of disjointed uneasiness.  To avoid that type of disconnect, writers must take many different factors into consideration.  One of the most overlooked aspects of World Building has to do with the nuances of the newly created culture that frames a story.  Beyond believable characters, it is necessary to construct a society that is complete in every way.  It is not enough to place your characters in a societal shell.  The outer trappings quickly give way to a hollowness that takes away the credibility of the story.

One of the most overlooked aspects of world building is the political structure inherent in any and all societies from the simplest village to major metropolitan centers.  The odd thing about World Building is that it is unnecessary to relay of these intricacies to the reader.  While it may not be necessary to explore the small nuances of political structure, it is imperative that the writer is familiar with them.  To do otherwise creates a flatness that comes out in the overall feel of the story.

As a fantasy writer, I became aware that my novel The One Rider had a superficial feel that I could not explain.  On closer examination, I found that there were questions that I could not answer, and these became stumbling blocks in the reading that caused the story to falter.  Societal structure is present in all groups down to the relationship between two people.  Characters interact with more realism when these rules of group-think are defined, either in the text or in the mind of the writer.

Writers must take the time to develop a complete world that the reader can associate to already established ideas.  Even is the story takes place in world inhabited by five-legged anthropomorphized beetles, the political and societal structures should either be slightly familiar or explained in enough depth to allow the reader a connection with the characters.  Much of this development can be accomplished through dialogue. Remember, show don’t tell?  If the characters interact with an understanding of their place within a their own world, the reader will pick up the details and have a more enjoyable reading experience.

At the very least, move beyond the question of who is in charge.  Is there a second character that actually drives your new world?  Does a subversive faction exist with a distinct goal in mind?  These simple questions allow the writer to move beyond the simplistic idea of good and evil, and add layers to the conflicts that drive good stories.

This type of World Building takes time and effort, and sometimes details come out in the writing.  If you have unanswered questions, allow the characters to define the answers.  They live in your world, and sometimes they know more about their surroundings than we are willing to admit.  Don’t be afraid to let a character take the story in a new direction.

Other aspects of societal World Building include resources.  It’s important to understand that all groups are molded and defined by what the work that engages their time.  A tribe of hunter/gatherers live a different life than the citizens of a metropolis.  Seaside villages define different priorities than  mountain villages, so a relevant understanding is crucial to the authenticity of a new world.

As an author, make sure to fill in the societal and political details to ensure that you have a complete picture of the world in which your characters play out the wonderful story that only you can write.  This gives the reader an enjoyable experience and they will build confidence in you as a writer, you will build fans, and that translates into sales.  Remember, your doctor doesn’t work for free and neither should you.

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