Okay, so, not the most original title for an article series about world-building, but, hey, it’s got a point. When you’re building your world for your novel/short-story/even poems–whether some far off time and space or modern times–you’re inviting readers into your world. Even if you’re planning on writing a contemporary setting, consider it your world. Where you live, what you experience, the streets and houses and businesses you know, that’s all foreign material to someone else. Actually, the world you imagine your story taking place is a foreign setting for any reader. We can’t use telepathy and jump into your mind and see what you see. Instead, you have to communicate with us what you envision. In this series of articles, I plan on talking through what I’ve found useful.
Now, let me go ahead and admit this upfront, to include you into my way of thinking and my world, I’m an about-to-be self-published author, and co-creator for the series that’ll have a debut novel soon (and by soon I mean I’m counting days at this point). While we chose to not even try the traditional route, the book still went through a rigorous process. We began by saying a lot of what-ifs, carried into a lot ‘it would be cool if,’ grew into ‘this is the way our world works,’ and then there was the writing, the re-writing, the second rewrite, the self-edit, the give-it-to-someone-also-studying-the-craft edit, then *that* rewrite, then gave it to another for copy editing, and then laying on the polish. A lot of work has gone into birthing this novel.
For my co-creator and I, writing this novel began with world-building. It’s at the heart of every discussion he and I have had about any of our stories. Upon one summer afternoon a couple years ago, we were talking on the phone when he mentioned that he wanted to see a story that combined wizards and traveling the stars. I was trying to find my creative spirit again and keep us both from our impending depressions, so I said, “Well, why don’t we make it?” That’s how we started: one giant What If?
Countless articles will tell you that that’s how everyone starts. You have to have an idea, a What If?, to spark a project, especially any creative project. Moving from idea to execution, that’s the tricky part. So here’s that promised look at our process.
Our typical conversation starts with an idea pitch. One of us looks at the other and says, “Wouldn’t it be cool if….?” At the very beginning, you pile up all the the ‘what ifs’ and what you want to see from the story. Don’t limit yourself. Put down everything on paper.
Our next step, well, it’s a kind of interrogation. Typically, once an idea is pitched, my partner says, “How does that work?” Then I, or both of us, come up with the answer. That answer gets dissected, bringing on more questions, until we eventually have worked down to the basic parts. In the cases of how, why, where, when, in all these questions, the best and most logical answer is the simplest. While I’ve got the luxury of a partner who will argue every point with me, you might not. In that case, take to paper or computer or your preferred note-taking-system and interrogate yourself. Be relentless. Find out what you can make tick and what you have to toss out. Don’t be afraid to toss out ideas that aren’t working at the moment. Stick to what you really want to say, what you really want to see in your narrative, but don’t be frightened to challenge your world or your story.
World building (and story building) has to have a solid foundation. When you follow every ‘what if’ with an eager and relentless dismantling, you shape raw ideas into building blocks. These blocks will help you create the sandbox your characters play in and your readers will visit.
Next time I’ll ramble on about process and continuity, and how a rigid world guideline can actually prevent writer’s block.