Monday, June 13, 2011

Basic Architecture of World-Building

The problem with creating a world of your own is that it is vivid in your own head.  You know every character, every scene, every setting.  You may even know the words you've written by heart.

So, sometimes you don't notice when you haven't provided what the reader needs to be plunged into your world.

Regardless of your preferred plot structure, the following elements will never hurt your book:

1.  Ensure every single scene and chapter open with setting (in a strict sense, or woven into the action of the introductory sentences) even if the setting carries on from the scene / chapter prior.  After all, your reader may have put the book down at the last break.

2.  Ensure every character is given at least broad-strokes description at the very moment they enter the book.  You can develop further details later, but don't risk jarring changes for the reader when they've already created an image of a character because you didn't provide one.

3.  Ensure any item in your book that isn't straightforward or known in this time is described with enough detail to give the reader an image.  Especially in Sci-Fi / Fantasy where things exist the reader has never seen.  It isn't enough to give something a cool name and tell the reader what the characters do with it.  They have to know the difference between a communicator worn on the wrist with two buttons that allow the transmission of voice, and the communicator worn on the wrist with a small screen - that can transmit voice only, or show pictures in a later scene.

Those are just a couple, simple things I came across when critiquing someone else's manuscript recently, but I've gone back to my manuscript to ensure I've followed those rules.  Sometimes it's hard to notice when you haven't painted a picture that's so vivid in your own head. 

Your Turn:  Do you have any simple, practical structures to help other writers make sure they're building a solid world for the reader?


  1. Hi Aimee,

    this is something that i HATE when it is done wrong.

    My only divergence from your idea is that i DON'T like it when the author does this in the first scene or two. When the first few sentences are explaining the world and the people in it i don't like that. I prefer to get to know the character in a slightly less confronting way and have the world built around that.

    I feel that we lose connection with the characters when it is "all about the world building"

    I totally agree with your comments about introducing things as they come into the novel though. We need that little extra help.

    I'm fussy with hard core fantasy though, that might not bug anyone else.

    Thanks for the post


  2. Things I've noticed as both a reader and a writer.

    * Remember your characters (probably) live there, so their reactions and responses will be natural.

    * Ground the fantastic in reality. This is what helps make it immersive.