Tips for Successful Worldbuilding
“I’m not going to tell you how to start a bug-powered vehicle, I’m just going to put you inside one with somebody who knows how, and send you off on a ride.”
– Kameron Hurley
If, like me, you love nothing more than delving into your wildest imaginings to create worlds filled with chocolate rivers, people-gobbling mountains and villages of ice that float amid the Arctic seas… ahem. It’s easy to get carried away.
But worldbuilding is a complicated business that requires structure, planning and careful consideration. It’s not enough to create elaborate settings. We have to transport the reader, to make them believe in our world. To do this successfully, they have to make sense – even in their wildest form.
“Rees was thrust against the back of his cart as it hurtled along the track. He yelped. His hands ached from gripping the rail so hard. He hit a tunnel and darkness wrapped around him, thick as tar. He could feel himself rising, shooting upwards like a rocket. The next minute he was upside down. He knew this because he could feel his hair and cheeks hanging. The cart looped once, twice… maybe even three times until it finally levelled out and slowed its pace.”
An old scene I wrote… and I remember feeling so proud. How exciting! Kids will love it! It’s like being on a roller coaster!
Only this is what came back from an editor’s critique:
“When Rees goes on the cart ride he loops upside down a couple of times – why would this have been incorporated into the transport system? Everything in your world needs to adhere to an internal logic rather than simply being there arbitrarily.”
There’s some simple tips you can follow to build a world that successfully lures your readers along for the ride:
Flesh out the logic so that your world comes alive for the reader. How do things work in this world? What language do they speak? How is it accessed? How many people live there? Avoid leaving the reader with a question that disrupts their suspension of disbelief. Remember that the reader trusts you’ve thought of everything.
Having said that, don’t smother the story with needless descriptions of each pebble and blade of grass. Unless that blade of grass happens to be the key that opens the hidden portal to the ancient city of… ahem. Every detail needs to work towards progressing the reader in that space.
In novelist Chuck Wendig’s words, “The world serves the story, the story does not serve the world.” Meaning the world needs to accommodate and reflect the elements of your story: character, conflict, plot etc. To read his post on world building, click here. He has some great tips.
Let your characters build your world for you. Walk their walk, talk their talk, wear their clothes, unless they happen to be the latest Kevlar, lightweight body armour packed with radioactive explosives… Live their world through their eyes.
Create mannerisms, words, traits, effects that are unique to your world. All these features will help build mood and atmosphere as well as creating a point of difference.
I shall leave you with the wise words of Fantasy Author, Laini Taylor:
“I think with world building, it’s important to create a sense of culture even if it is just a fantasy, and the best way to do that is to look at a real human culture and see what makes it cohesive.”
What are your tips for world building? Do you have any good examples?