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Building a Fictional World

Marie Elrich

Marie Elrich


Freelance Copywriter


Aug, 2018

Not every book needs proper worldbuilding. Some, such as stories set in our world in a place that actually exists, usually need very little in the way of research or planning. In these cases, however, it is important to remember to represent the place as it truly is. Not doing so without a valid reason, such as alternative reality or set in the future, readers may get upset.
Many times, genre fiction worlds need to be built before an author picks up his or her pen to write a single word. This is because fantastical settings and elements are difficult to explain without a plan or sense of direction. This applies to fantasy authors who use real locations as well because they have to explain the fantastical elements of their real locations.
For example, in Simon Greene’s novel, Man with a Golden Torc, he writes of a London that has a supernatural side. So even though he uses real locations, like the royal palace or Big Ben, he incorporates his fantastical elements. If he had not planned these supernatural elements correctly, readers from London might have criticized his book’s validity and been unable to suspend their disbelief.

Why Worldbuilding Is Important

This doesn’t mean you have to spend hours and hours figuring out all the minute details of that cave your adventurers wander into for a few pages, but you should at least know the basics of the who, what, when, where, and why of the setting. Readers have to suspend their logical beliefs whenever they pick up a book, but will struggle to do so if the world they read about is inconsistent or not fully formed. One reason readers doubt the believability of a world is if they see a lack of logic regarding powers. For example, if a superhero has no weakness, many readers will be displeased. If a hero can never be beaten, where is the conflict? A story about a hero beating on a bad guy isn’t entertaining if there’s no chance the bad guy could win. Writers need to establish strength and weakness in powers before they begin writing to make sure there is real conflict.
The setting of the superhero battle or whatever fantastical fiction you’re writing also matters to the reader. If a superhero punches through the wall of the Winston & Sons building, but the next day finds it intact, readers will doubt the validity of the novel they are reading. Setting must be consistent, and planning a world before writing it is key to consistency. Writers don’t need to know all of their settings, but they should know the main settings. Most cities aren’t one street of mainly stone buildings, but have various areas, sometimes of questionable reputation. By building a city with these areas, you create a believable world that isn’t a flat landscape.
“Having a variety of cultures and conflicting cultural goals also makes the novel more believable.”

Worldbuilding Is About More Than Just Setting

While much of your efforts in worldbuilding will be on the places within your story, another portion that a writer should plan is the individual races, tribes, or clans that their novel portrays. Having a variety of cultures and conflicting cultural goals also makes the novel more believable. A friend of mine said that studying the cultural profiles from magazines like National Geographic helped inspire her to create alien races. Writers can do the same, by either researching other cultures or visiting them. Oftentimes, they will be inspired by what they observe so that they can create unique and compelling character groups. This type of research is part of the initial writing process, which happens before a single word is written.
People, Places, & Things are all part of worldbuilding

Worldbuilding Shouldn’t Be Overwhelming

One flaw in planning the world beforehand is that a writer can become overwhelmed by the details and never start writing. They can also have so many details that their book is oversaturated with them. Both of these flaws can be avoided when an author determines from the beginning that their ideas are simply outlines for their manuscript. These details don’t all have to be in the novel, but they are great references. Having a notebook filled with these details prior to writing is great for when a writer gets stuck attempting to describe or maneuver through parts of the world. Then the notebook’s sketch can be altered according to need (For more on this, see the Story Pulse Method we talked about earlier in this series).
Keeping this in mind, authors can avoid oversaturating their novels with details by asking whether the details they have are relevant to the current manuscript or another one. Just because it’s in your notes doesn’t mean it has to be used now, or ever. Remembering this, as well as having a good editor, will lead to a well-established and believable world for the reader to enjoy


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