Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Worldbuilding

Many writers hear the term Worldbuilding and immediately dismiss the chance to learn about it because they don't write sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal, etc. Although creating a believable world that doesn't actually exist (that we know of) is vital for those genres, every story requires some level of setting that goes beyond what we see.

Cheryl Brooks' Cat Star Chronicles books are great examples of worldbuilding. She's written a fictional world in space, with numerous species of humanoid and non-humanoid creatures, each with unique cultures and physical characteristics. Each planet has its own type of society. All the "rules" associated with those characters and worlds help build and support her stories.

The same can apply to vampire-, werewolf-, shifter-, ghost-, demon-related stories. The characters and their communities become part of the setting--part of that unique world. Lynsay Sands' Argeneau vamps don't fit the traditional Dracula mold. With their nano-blood, blood banks, and interaction with "normal" humans, they help form a new world that operates under different conditions.

What about historical and contemporary stories? Do they need Worldbuilding?

Some may disagree, but I believe every story uses worldbuilding to a certain extent. In a historical setting, the writer can use time period and location to define how the hero and heroine interact. The social norms of the setting can easily make the heroine seem like an outspoken, overly independent woman. Family dynamics or a non-traditional occupation in a contemporary book can push the limits of what's socially acceptable in Amish culture or small-town America. Use those challenges to make your reader more invested in the outcome.

The combination of physical setting, characterization, GMC, and character arc create your world, whether it's in present-day Texas, medieval England, or the Klingon Empire. Your readers live in that world while they're reading your stories.

Now comes the tough part--building your world without backstory/information dumps. Instead of using several paragraphs to describe your aliens, shifters, etc., add small bits of description at a time. Compare their features to familiar objects. Use color and size to create an image. Work these details into an active scene for good pacing.
Example: Rumbling snores assaulted my ears as I carried the first crate into the cargo hold. My chief engineer was passed out on the floor near the entrance, forcing me to step over her tail. Gorba's scales seemed more orange than usual and her snout was swollen like an over-sized gourd. Had she tried to drink a band of Norwellian Habiks under the table again? She'd never been able to handle more than half a flagon of the fermented mugfruit they passed off as wine.

You can do the same for physical settings by using the senses as your character passes through an alley or marketplace. Smell can be especially effective at helping draw the reader into the scene. Which is more interesting--a paragraph that describes the buildings or an active scene where the character ducks into the doorway of a gambling den for a moment before moving on to an alley that reeks of rotting garbage?

If you're a plotter, make a list of details you want to include and then add them as needed. If you're a pantser or plantser, be the character and see, hear, smell what he sees, hears, smells as it happens. Keep the action moving, show rather than tell, and use careful exposition to reveal your world.

Next week we'll take a look at Creating Sexual Tension!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!


  1. Good one, Mellanie. I would also recommend keeping a spreadsheet/table/list/database whatever works for you, of the items you include in your world building. A lot of my world building in my stories comes about as I am writing so the effort is to remember to include it in the list so that if I am writing a series I know what I have written in an earlier book.

    Was it you that won my competition to name a new animal for my sci-fi series and you came up with the double whammy lizard that appeared briefly in the second book but to have a major part when I get around to doing a later book?

    1. I agree, Jen. Having some sort of reference guide is extremely helpful when creating a new world. You don't want your orange-scaled alien accidentally becoming purple a few chapters later!

      Yes, that was me!!! And I know you have notes on that fun little lizard's unique venom reactions! :D

    2. Yep. As it happens I had intended having a plague and this lizard will now be vital.....

      As for your orange-scaled alien. In the event of that happening, you can suddenly turn them into chameleons. LOL.

    3. LOL, Jen! Something else to add to the notes! :D