Your story has to take place somewhere, be it the real word or the one you carry around in your head all day. Far too often I read books that try to develop an interesting world but fail because they don’t understand the basics of it. It’s really similar to drawing landscapes, if you think about it. One may have an image in mind but the execution might fall flat with no hope of revival. Let me show you what I mean.
WHAT AN AUTHOR HOPES IT LOOKS LIKE:
WHAT IT ACTUALLY LOOKS LIKE:
Or worse yet:
So what can you do to write like a professional? One, you practice. Two, you learn the techniques. The first one has to come from within, an internal desire to succeed. The second one has to come from without, an external presence of wisdom. While I can’t help you with the first one, I can pitch in on the second one by sharing my tips and experiences.
Here we go.
1) Types of Setting
There are primarily two different kinds of settings you can choose from, real life and made-up. Before you start writing, you have to decide what world your characters will live in. This will impact your writing, your story, and even your life (kind of).
Both options have pros and cons that I will talk about next.
-The facts are all there for you. Not much brainstorming is required, as long as you’re into researching whatever place you’re writing about.
-The existing reputation of the place will fill in any holes in your world-building.
-It gives a sense of verisimilitude. Whatever you’re writing about will instantly feel more real because the setting is a real place.
-Unless this is your hometown , you will have to do a lot of research to make sure you portray the place with due respect and realism.
-Someone who actually lives in your chosen setting is bound to find a flaw. And this might be their reaction to your mistakes (or, gasp, your book)…
-You have an infinite amount of creative control, which is what I’m all about 😉
-There’s no one to offend.
-You will have to brainstorm… a lot. Tolkien, for example, continued developing the world of Middle Earth well into his old age. Just read The Silmarillion. That is not to say you have to be like Tolkien, but a good chunk of work will be required so it doesn’t end up being worse yet.
-If you don’t include a good amount of detail, the setting will inexplicably feel unreal, in an amature sort of way.
So now that you have a basic idea, you can choose one and delve deeper. But if neither of the two options listed above appealed to you, there is another way. It’s called Alternate History and it combines the reality of our earth, and simultaneously gives you the freedom to make things up. It’s only con is that you’re still limited by the geography and cultures that are already in place.
2) Consider This: Worldbuilding
Whichever road you choose to travel by, there are a few questions to ask yourself when you’re building a world for your story and characters to reside in. This website helped me a lot when I was developing my steampunk fantasy earth. It covers all the areas you’d have to think about when coming up with a believable setting, be it on our earth or on a Nebulous Warrior Space Cloud. You will thank me for it later, trust me.
3) Examples: My WIP
My setting is a fictional one, a complete make belief with different geography and history.
I have an entire Word Document dedicated to just worldbuilding alone. In there, I have a section for each country the story takes place in and what that country is all about (Food, Celebrations, Clothes, Religions, Social Structures, Sports, Arts, Literature, Music, Beliefs, Myths, Languages, Environment, Gender Roles, Occupations, Architecture, Transportation), the different governing systems, sciences (including studies of Aether and Floating Islands), character backgrounds, history, wise sayings, famous people, and more.
I know it may feel like you will never have the patience to think of all that mumbo-jumbo for your own story but don’t despair. The secret is in time and effort. How much time are you willing to put into your work to make it tangible? Because believe me when I say that all that information doesn’t materialize overnight.
I’ve been working on my novel actively for almost a year and before that, it’s been simmering in my mind for five ( a rough estimate here). You have to decide for yourself that you are willing to do the work and get to it if you want to start making any progress.
And if you’re like me and you can’t wait to get to writing the exciting scenes, don’t wait. Write your first draft and work on your worldbuilding at the same time. They’re not mutually exclusive things to be written completely separately from each other. Writing a book is a constantly shifting landscape of plot development, character development, worldbuilding, and editing.
Another helpful thing is talking to someone else about it. For me, it’s my sister. We bounce ideas off each other all the time and it usually works like a charm. Find that special someone who will discuss your precious cinnamon rolls with you and get to building. A whole world is waiting to be discovered.
But please, please, please, not under any circumstances, ever, DON’T…
Header image by Alex McDowell
Thanks for reading, hope it was helpful. Join the club for more awesome posts like this.