Building a world where anything is possible

World-building appeals to me because anything is possible. Well… let me rephrase that. Anything is possible, so long as you can convince the reader it can be. 

I love exploring the winding avenues world-building opens. What is more surprising (and interesting) is the many branches a single thing causes. I create a world with a matriarchal society. Besides the obvious stuff like women holding more power and rights than men, I can drill down to specifics, such as fashion (pockets!) and health (better research/funds for female health issues). These causes not only exist in the present. I can also look at the past and explore the history of the world I build. Why are things as they are? Equally, I can speculate what may happen in the future, which may turn into a catalyst for the plot. 

Do your research

I see world-building much in the same way as any factual research I would do for a story based in a real setting. As the writer, I need to know as much as possible about the people and the place to give the reader a realistic interpretation and set the right tone and atmosphere. Okay, some readers may notice a few discrepancies, and (hopefully) they will forgive me. But the average reader will probably not even notice. 

When I world-build, I also learn as much as possible about the people and the place. Okay, this time, I won’t have readers who are specialists or locals to a place which only exists in my head. However, if I have discrepancies in the world-building from one chapter to the next, it will jar the reader out of the story. 

Too deep? 

Details add depth and sense of a world deeply entrenched by its histories and cultures. Say I create a fantasy harbour town. What are the people like? What do they trade, and who with? What’s on the menu in the local pubs? Who is the local celebrity? Who does everyone hate? What are we singing while pissed on the way back home from the pub? What are the origins of that questionably named alleyway? Am I likely to get mugged on my way home? Is there a police force?

I could write pages on the above. But little will make it into the story. Too much detail, and you will bog down the reader. Too little, and you leave them confused. Through asking questions about the world I’m creating, I can use the information to craft my scenes. With the fantasy fishing harbour, perhaps my two main characters end up in a pub? They are eating eel pie and drinking too much imported wine. They mistakenly insult the local celebrity, who gets some corrupt coppers to beat them up in Cutpurse Alley. Luckily for my characters, an actual thief intervenes. They exit the alley unscathed but without a wallet or a watch. 

What if? 

Being a fictional writer means putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. If you’re writing third person, you put yourself in A LOT of other people’s shoes. I ask myself: what is it like to be this person in this environment? Whether I’m researching a realistic setting or a fantasy one, I empathise with the characters I create. As readers, we escape into these fictional lives. Through understanding and feeling, we can see another’s point of view. Emotion is a great leveller. 

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