Worldbuilding: Preparing to Build Your World with Julie
TODAY’S BREW: Fancee coffee from Mistobox because Sam won’t let me go to the store to get cheap stuff, and hasn’t for 3 days.
A friend suggested I write a post on worldbuilding. My immediate response was, “I’m not good enough at it yet.” So, this is exactly why I’m writing a post on it.
It would be easy to write only about things I know, just like someone famous said about writing book, actually. If you know it, you have something valuable to add. Well, I think writing about things you’re unsure of is what drives you to become an expert in them. You try harder. You have to, or you’ll look like a jackass.
I didn’t think I built worlds all the time, but I do actually, and have a hell of a process for doing so. I’m going to do a short series of posts on what I do to build a world, because it’s hard work and something anyone can do if they put the work in. This post is about getting ready to build your world.
Even though I forge ahead and dive into my work as if I know exactly what I’m doing, I PREPARE to build a world.
I look to the greats: Chuck Wendig is always the first place I look. http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/09/17/25-things-you-should-know-about-worldbuilding/
I take notes. On important stuff like know the world’s rules to adhere to them, but the reader doesn’t need to know them all. Oh wow, that’s important. You know how you keep reading articles and lists about the things you didn’t know about Hogwarts? Because Rowling knew the rules, but we didn’t have to. You WANT to tell the reader everything…..but it’s “masturbatory,” as Chuck says. I realized that in exposition of a world you’ve made, the same rules still apply….. if it doesn’t move the story forward, it has to go. Not to mention that yeah, it’s cool to have a world where the author has thought of everything and goddamn do you know it, but I want to create worlds that INSPIRE and have tone. I want my worlds to have mystery. There’s a fine line between having mystery and coming across as half-cooked.
How do you not appear to be half-cooked? Chuck also says to know how the real stuff works in your fancy-land. Do your research. I know what vegetables and fruits grow on the mountains in Japan in winter, for instance. Add in the flourishes of realism that make your place real. You can only do that by knowing them.
The other guy I pay attention to is John Scalzi, who said something that I won’t forget. Make sure your world is 2 questions deep. http://whatever.scalzi.com/2009/08/21/worldbuilding-briefly/ On every page, if a reader asks why, I should have answers for that, and a backup answer for it. Again, if the reader asks. I don’t have to give all the answers first. Let their imaginations wander.
I pay attention to video games. I’m not a gamer, but video games have worlds as complex as any novel on a good day. There’s a lot to be learned from video game worlds for a writer:
- They’re visual. I can see the world. The trick is to look at the game like a writer. Everything is both complex and simply done. Lighting creates a scene. How would I describe the lighting, as a writer? Watch a bunch of YouTube clips of games and ask yourself questions. Just from looking at him, what do I know about that character? How would I say it in my words? That kinda thing.
- Video games suck you in. So if I jump into a game mid-story, what keeps me there? How can I make my reader feel like they’re already part of a story that’s been going on all along? How can I make my world easily understood, but still deep? Games show you that.
- Read articles written by gamers and designers. They tell you things.
Stop me if you heard this one, but I read books. Read like you’re looking to learn. This is why I read so strategically–I have an agenda. I read a book looking for something in particular. With THE HUNGER GAMES, I wanted to know how Panem was so convincing and steeped in so much history, without us being hit over the head with backstory. With DIVERGENT I wanted to see how the world shaped the way characters spoke, how mannerisms were a product of their environment. With Valente’s Fairyland series I look for the ways in which the world is painted so richly that I can see it but never feel inundated with description. So on and so forth. Take notes.
Make your world all over you like a cheap sweater. Notebooks forever. For THE WIND BETWEEN WORLDS, I have two 5 subject notebooks PACKED, a 3 subject notebook, a scrapbook, an inspiration board, a million Pinterest boards….. I keep track. I surround myself with the world as much as I can so it’s bursting onto paper when I’m ready.
I make the minutiae central, but only to me. Goddamn do I have fun with this. If my MC wears a piece of jewelry to represent her place in the world, I search for the damn thing. Etsy, Pinterest, Amazon, art shops, craft stores…. until I have the vision of the thing I want so deeply ingrained and have turned down so many options that the one I’ve created in my head is more real than anything I’ve seen. I hunted down a decades old magazine for a photo I saw on some website because the tone of it was exactly what the tone of a particular scene was. I gather up bits and pieces of things that contribute to my vision like a frigging bobcat making a nest or whatever bobcats do. I like to see it all in front of me so I can make it REAL.
Then when I start to write, I boil down the feeling of it all into very careful wording so YOU feel that it’s real. Building a world has purpose: to give the reader someplace they feel they know, or to give them somewhere to escape to. Sometimes both. So take it seriously and get yourself ready. Commit to it so the reader will be committed, too.