World building

Between Election Day (make sure you vote!) and Sandy (hope everyone made it through okay), the real world seems very “real” at the moment. But as the good folks at Paper Lantern Lit reminded me in an insightful blog post today, when it comes to books, making a world seem real is an act of careful creation—or, to put it another way, “world building”.

Now, the first time I heard the term “world building,” it was in reference to a fantasy novel. And indeed, I think when people talk about world building, they’re usually talking about fantasy or sci-fi, where the mechanics of the world can be a major selling point. Think about all those times when the narrator of a sci-fi movie trailer opens with “in a world where…”

But note how the PLL team stresses that world building applies to ALL fiction, not just genre—that it’s just as important in your present-day, realistic, issue-driven YA as in your space opera. To me, that’s a key point that very easy to lose sight of when you’re writing about the “real” world. Fortunately, they give good concrete ideas for how to get started and maintain your world throughout the writing process. In particular, the section on Rules is very instructive (not to mention pretty darn funny).

I’ll just mention, too, that as an agent I’ve noticed that world building has become a bigger area of attention for editors—certainly it’s become a more frequent reason for turn-downs. True, it’s partly because editors have been flooded with fantasy and paranormal stories so they’re naturally pickier, but even in realistic fiction, the need to create a coherent, believable world has never been more important.

So, check out the blog, and then let’s build a better world together!

(sorry, couldn’t resist that last line.)


One Response to World building

  1. D.C. DaCosta says:

    That was an interesting article, but, to be frank, my reaction has to be, “Duh!” Doesn’t everyone address this (consciously or not) when writing?

    I make two sets of rules for myself when I write:

    1. the voice of the narrator (tricks of speech, vocabulary, grammar); his level of omniscience relative to the action; and how much he will tell us of what he may know. In the first couple of drafts, these guidelines are typed on the first page, to remind me (until I get into the groove).

    2. the limitations of the locale: weather, distances, demographics, culture. I have a spreadsheet of place names, civic institutions, large populations, etc., to which I refer frequently.

    As a reader I greatly resent an author who can’t keep track of his own universe.

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