Here, we discuss world-building. If you’re a writer in fantasy, horror, and science-fiction, you have to do a little world-building which is establishing the setting, rules, and workings of the environment your characters live and interact with.
For example, your story takes place in a kingdom ruled by a young queen who has reached her fifth birthday. A convent of regents “advise” her on important decisions, but she gets to have the peasants beheaded almost every day while eating a big slice of cake. Now, I made that up on the fly, but as the characters interact living in this kingdom, how do they go about their lives while living in such a place?
So, for Part 1 of 3 regarding world-building, we will focus on the “rules” (guidelines mostly):
- Be consistent. This is a definitely a rule, unless your story is a tongue-in-cheek comedy about inconsistency. Every other type of story, you need to be consistent. If you establish that fire mages cannot wield water spells, don’t have a scene where a fire mage is casting a water spell unless you have a very good reason for breaking the rule. If you’re not consistent in your world-building, you’ll confuse your readers, who have to stop and ponder what it was they read, figure out how to make their own connection, and if they are dissatisfied, they will leave you a bad review or quit your book.
- Create what you need. This is a guideline, but a good one. I read an article a long time ago that Robert Jordan, author of the Wheel of Time series, created a story-bible (all the detailed notes on how his world worked) that is as thick as one of his books (it was over 1,000 pages). Now, it was evident he needed all of it to write and plan out his series (which ended up being fourteen large books), but if you plan out your book and it only takes place in a small barony, you don’t need to create detailed notes of the government of a kingdom on the other side of the continent. In my book, Fallen From the Stars, the entire setting is in the elven village. I had notes on all ninety-eight elves who lived in the village, a map of the village, but beyond that, I have a few general notes of the barony and the kingdom, and some general notes on magic and religion.
- Reveal through dialogue. People like Robert Jordan, GRR Martin, and Tolkien crafted incredibly rich-worlds and they painstakingly took their time to explain the workings of the world to the reader; however, just as many people who loved it, there are just as many critics who hated it calling it info-dumping. Info-dumping is you, as the narrator, explaining parts of your world to the reader prior to getting to any dialogue, in between scenes, or after a scene has concluded. A more viable way to explain your world is through dialogue. JK Rowling did this 99% of the time in Harry Potter. Harry, being ignorant of the wizarding world, would ask a very innocent question, and someone would take the time to explain to him on how it works. What made it fun would be Harry’s reaction afterward. In Fallen From the Stars (my novel), the main character is a human from our world, so the elves explained to him how things work around the village.
Use this method with a bit of caution. There is a reason why Robert Jordan chose to info-dump as opposed to revealing through dialogue in that all his characters were very knowledgeable of the world around them. In would have been unrealistic for Matrim Cauthon to be approached by Moiraine Damodred and he asks her, “What’s an aes sedai?” and she replies, “We cast spells, manipulate politics, the Reds have men issues, and crap.” Matrim knew what an aes sedai was and he lived in a very backwater rustic village in the middle of nowhere, so Jordan established that even the rustics possessed knowledge of the world around them.
In the next part of this series, I will discuss the tools you can have at your disposal to build and maintain your world while crafting your series, and then in the follow-up, how to fix problems that are created when you need (or want) to create inconsistencies.