A Whole New World

Hey all, sorry for the relative silence! I’ve been busy with classes starting and everything, but I am trying my best 🙂

I’ve said before that characters are the most important thing in a story. What is the second most important thing? Not plot, but world. But how can it be a story without a plot?

The reason I say world is more important than plot is because I think plot is relatively easy. Yes you have to come up with something different and interesting, but it’s point A to point B to climax to end. I say world instead of setting because I think it is just that–a world. It is the living,  breathing world that is not only where this story takes place, but could go on with its own stories afterward. I think world-building takes a lot more skill, and is a crucial part of the story that a lot of writers miss.

There can be many different approaches to world-building, but they all basically have the same goal: create an environment that feels real, no matter how imaginary.

When I first started writing books, world-building was something I more or less neglected entirely. Yes there was a setting–a futuristic city–but there was no world. There were a lot of nondescript hallways and buildings and places that probably made no logical sense but I used them because they worked for my plot (which I always put first). They did not have a world, but a shell. They were actors on a stage, with only a flat backdrop behind them.

Through reading, I learned that the stories I fell in love with were not the exciting ones, but the ones that completely enveloped me in this other world, so much so that I lost myself in them. Two of my favorites are The Hunger Games and Shadow and Bone. Shadow and Bone is probably my favorite example of world-building. I mean, wow.

Here are some of the things I have noticed that great world-building books use:

1. Details. The kind that you probably don’t even notice. The line about a rat scampering off into the darkness, or the smell of the salt air. These flesh out the world, and give the reader a sense of the world being alive, tangible. A good tip for details is to use senses, especially those other than sight, ones you don’t always think about when writing, like smell or taste.

2. People. No, your characters don’t count. This is a big thing I have noticed in successful books like The Hunger Games. There are mentions of people we never learn the names of, but they are there. Specific people, not just a crowd or group. A young woman and her children at the market, an old man sitting on a stoop playing cards. Your world does not just have your story, it has a hundred other stories in it as well, each with their own protagonists. Your characters cannot be the only real people, or their world feels empty.

3. Location. This one is a little bit trickier. What comes to mind for me is Shadow and Bone, when they are travelling, and each town or village has a name and something memorable about it. Some are harbor towns, others farming villages, some trading towns. But I think what makes it feel real is that each one of these places is established. The characters are not going from point A to point B, they are going from Townville to Villagetown, and each one has its own set of people and details to go with it. Think of each place as its own little world, with its own stories that will continue on as they always have, with or without your characters there.

4. Culture. This one is huge, but can be difficult. Every world and every society has some type of culture. This is everything from art and music, to laws and crime, to language and social expectations. It is difficult because it can be complex, and hard to be unique. It doesn’t have to be completely out there, though. You don’t have to create an entire language and law code and unique method of art. I think considering social structure and expectations is the easiest and most effective way to establish culture. It can be simple, such as how women are treated or how separated the classes are, but just taking the time to think about how these people live their lives can make a huge difference.

These are the four main things I have noticed, though each one can have different elements within it. I will write another couple posts on world-building, specifically how I have learned and used it in my WIP, Nightfire, which is something I am pretty excited to share with y’all 🙂 I hope these have helped. Do you agree? Did I leave something out? Let me know what you think!

13 thoughts on “A Whole New World

  1. These are all great points, and I love your examples, a couple of my favorites too! I know I am lacking in my world building in my first draft, but I am planning to use my first revision to work on all of that. I like the bit about the use of senses the most, that’s something that I have definitely noticed in other books, which really pulls me in too, but something that my WIP is probably lacking at the moment!


  2. Little details is my favorite method, actually. Like of course, big picture scenery is important – hugely important – but little additions make the world feel more complete, somehow. It’s the most amazing thing to me, sometimes. The little details.


  3. Oh wow, that was what I was missing. I couldn’t figure out why my scenes weren’t very lively…I’d ignored all the background characters. I think that will help breathe some life into the scenery. Thanks for the tip! Great post, although I’d argue that having a watertight plot is key. It seems simple, but I’m stunned at how many writers miss major holes in their plot and it can be hard to care what happens next when the writer seems to be willy-nilly moving through a so-called “story”.


    • So glad I could help! You do make a great point. I’m not saying that plot is not important, you’re right and it absolutely is, I just think that a lot of writers (in my own experience) focus on that, and miss out on a lot of other aspects that I believe are what truly make the story. Thanks for reading 🙂


  4. Plot is fairly difficult for me. . . lol. That was the nice thing about fanfiction, your world was already built XD World building scares me off from fantasy because it’s a monumental task. Even now I’m writing literature short stories so the world building is as simple as looking up a picture. This just reinforced how little I know about fantasy. I agree that world-building is important. Scene descriptions are kind of like people descriptions in a way. If you write out the traits like a police report it comes off as boring. Thanks again for the advice 🙂 I might need it in a few months. For now I’m just going to go back and hide in my non world-building literature corner for now :$ I might come out after reading several fantasy stories, maybe XD


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  6. I think this is an excellent topic. I’ve always loved world-building, but my approach typically stuck with the historical/anthropological sort of stuff. The other things, the cultural, environmental, societal stuff is a recent addition to my writing. And while it still doesn’t come naturally, I love it.


  7. Pingback: To Build A Story: World-Building | Coffee. Write. Repeat.

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