Building Your World

So everyone has been giving writing tips this week. They've all said some really great things, and I color myself lucky to be blogging with them. I'm going to talk a little bit about world-building. Not like, full-blown into it or anything, but just a few tips I've learned as I've penned my novels that occur in different worlds.

1. Start slow and small. I know, I know, This goes against everything you've ever heard. But when you're building a world, it's a delicate balance. You don't want to A) drop your reader into a world they can't figure out or B) take the crucial first pages to explain everything.

You just need to give me enough to know that the world I'm reading operates by different rules. I need time to figure out how things work, so give me something but not too much.

Let's compare to the movie Monsters, Inc. (Yeah, okay, I've seen it about 40 times this week. Thank you, OnDemand.) It starts out with a child sleeping in bed. Then a monster comes in--this is a hint that we're in a different world. Then we get a glimpse of what the monsters do.

Cut to Sully. He's the top scarer. And the next few minutes are SLOW, as Mike and Sully walk to work. We learn there's a scream shortage. They "stalk" instead of "walk" across the street. And we get to see all the different monsters.

The movie starts slow and small, acclimating you to the new world. You should do that in your book too.

2. Lead me along. This is an aspect of any good storytelling, but especially when building a new world/culture. Place clues and new-world items in key spots to draw attention to them. Take my hand and lead me through the story.

Not push. Not pull. Lead.

In Monsters, Inc. I'm led from beginning to end. I don't like Randall, because he bullies Mike. I find myself drawn to Boo, because Sully is. Just as Beth said in her post, make me care about the characters. Give me world-building stuff when I need it. Lead me.

3. Assume the reader will need to be told. Again, you've probably heard the opposite of this. But when world-building, make sure that if things are important to your character, your laws, your world, that you let the reader know explicitly. We don't exist in your world. You, as the author, know much more than we do. So tell us what we need to know. Just don't tell us twice.

In Monsters, Inc. Mr. Waternoose comes right out and says that his monsters will go into children's rooms, because they need the screams to power their city. We have to be told that in no uncertain terms. Then, later, after his technician says, "We've lost 58 doors this week," Mr. Waternoose comes right out and says, "Kids these days. They just don't get scared the way they used to."

This is vital information we need to know that drives the plot forward.

Okay, enough Monsters. Have you had to write a new world before? What tips do you have to add to these?


Amie McCracken said...

I'm starting a book soon with a new world. We'll see how it goes. Thanks for the tips!

Anonymous said...

Nice tips: I especially like the second, about leading. You need the reader to ride on the shoulder of the POV character.

My tip would be - have the majority of your worldbuilding in place by the halfway or two-thirds point in the book. You don't want to weigh down the climax & resolution with too many new details about the world. Unless, of course, the climax depends on a big worldbuilding revelation (but in that which case there do need to be clues to that revelation scattered through the earlier text).

All of this, of course, is easier said than done ... (currently wrestling with worldbuilding in a WIP, and oh are my eyes crossing.)

Colene Murphy said...

Excellent information. I feel like I need to post them over my desk to remember. Especially the bit about not telling twice. I have a bad habit of saying it a few times.

Tere Kirkland said...

Great example. I love Monsters Inc.

I know I've read too many epic fantasy novels that start out describing the fabulous new world and its idiosyncrasies. I get bored when that's not tied to a character I want to care about, which is why I tend to start with a character.

When I'm world-building, I tend to show the characters interacting with the differences of the world pretty early on, just to get the reader into the mindset that, hey, this is different from our world.

But I also like to reinforce what's the same, so things aren't too foreign for the reader. So slow and steady wins out.

Leann Guzman said...

My kid were on a Monsters, Inc. kick for a while and watched it in the car about 7 times in a row. Since I couldn't see the screen, I began deconstructing the movie from a writer's viewpoint, and it is exceptionally well done. So, thanks for this post -- I'm glad I'm not the only one who does stuff like that!

Angela Ackerman said...

Great advice. I think another one I'll add is to not be afraid of creating terminology to describe new things, but always do this slowly and to always add enough detail that the reader gleans what the object is or what it's used for. And don't do this for everything, but used carefully, it seasons the world you're building.

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

B.E. Sanderson said...

Eureka! I think you've just given me the key to fixing the opening of my urban fantasy. It was reading to choppy and stilted - because I was throwing too much at the reader too soon. Thanks Elana. =o)

Christina Dymock said...

I had a question along the lines of world building. How do you make up a word for soemthing in your world without getting too out there?