Worldbuilding: Clean as a Whistle
Everyone knows that writing a book is more than just telling a story.
You know that, right?
The author must also build a world to set the story in. That world may be crystal clear in the author’s mind, but the author must figure out a way to get that world on paper. Now, if an author is setting a story in, say, New York City, that location conjures an image in the reader’s mind. Worldbuilding…not too bad. But, if the setting is a fictional universe, that is a little trickier. An author must unfold that world on paper to help the reader EXPERIENCE the story.
When I set out to write my fantasy novel, TEMPLE FALLS, my first draft focused on the plot and characters. I had a general idea of the world, but, I will admit now, it was severely flawed (it was actually majorly sucktastic). My story takes place in a a pseudo-medieval/biblical setting. And yet, I had one scene where my characters were driving around in a limousine, to which my first beta reader, my oh so patient and much too kind cousin, said, “uh…see…that doesn’t really work for me.” Yep. Duh. So now they ride in a rickshaw. A little better.
I fixed the problem with the limousine, but other betas kept pointing me to other problems. What is the technology of my world? Do they have electricity? If not, then how could they have light poles? Do they have phones? How are they communicating?Do they really eat cottage cheese? My betas urged me to think about these points.
This is my world, I can build it however I damn well please.
But so many people kept saying the same thing. I realized my resistance was just me being lazy. If I wanted to tell my story, I needed to think about these things and more. And to my surprise, worldbuilding has been really fun!
One of my characters is a foreman at a build site. My draft had him wearing a whistle around his neck. So I got to researching about medieval whistles. Would my world really have a whistle? Turns out, the whistle is an ancient instrument, apparently originating in ancient China 5000 years ago, making its way to Europe in the 11th Century. These whistles were made out of bird bone or wood.
There were various styles and manners of whistles in the ancient world, but the whistle I decided to build into my story was based on something like this:
My characters now carry torches instead of relying on electricity. They drink mead instead of coffee, and eat porridge instead of finger sandwiches (I know…cringe…what was I thinking???) And mayonnaise is gone too (welcome curdled butter…mmmmmm).
Worldbuilding is crazy scary. It really is. But so important! When worldbuilding is done well, it seeps into the characters and makes the story come alive. Think about a book like HARRY POTTER and the wizarding universe JK Rowling created. Hogwarts was imaginary, and yet, we as readers lived it.
I’m so glad I finally admitted I had a problem in my book. Once I started playing with my world, it was so much fun and made me fall in love with my book all over again.
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- National Novel Writing Month National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000 word, (approximately 175 page) novel by 11:59:59, November 30.