Hello, everyone! Today I’ve done a post swap with Merie Shen, which means we’ve both guest posted on each other’s blogs on different subjects. Go check out her blog! The link is in the next paragraph. As always, enjoy the post!
Hello, folksies of Quote, Unquote! You may know me, you may not: I’m Merie from Imperial Scribis, and today I’m here to talk about–and you should not be surprised if you do know me– WORLDBUILDING.
Worldbuilding is one of the least talked-about aspects of storytelling, and that does make sense. Worldbuilding should usually never trump the Big Trio of Character, Plot, and Theme. (I say “usually” because never say never when it comes to art. You don’t know who might dispel a preconceived notion by rocking the world.) But aside from that, worldbuilding is a crucial element of every story… because you literally cannot write one without it. That definitely goes for genres outside of speculative fiction, but the worldbuilding in those genres, with the exception of historical fiction, is much more low-key.
So today we’re talking about spec fic. Aaand we’re gonna talk about 3 ways to make your world come to life, no matter how big or small.
#1: From the perspective of an outsider, think of your nation (or race or city or whatever) as just another character.
And I’m appealing to you to consider carefully which parts of that make sense and which don’t. I trust that your logic can handle that.
Anyway, I know this sounds like a weird tip, but it can help you if you’re in a rut (and of course, even if you’re not). Don’t rationalize the qualities of a human being into the qualities of a group of human beings, of course, or you’ll fall into the trap of stereotyping. You might have to think about this a bit.
When you’re developing character backstory, you’re identifying the people, events, and worldviews that have shaped your character. It’s pretty much the same with history, isn’t it? (Except a lot different, but your brain can handle the details.)
All characters are governed by something. They could be the type to listen to their logic more than their emotions, or vice versa; they could be enslaved to beliefs and falsehoods and ideals. And there you have a way to find your government: a strict, sensible king who rules with his head in a culture that values justice.
On the topic of culture–haha, don’t we all love culture?–think of a character’s habits, beliefs, and quirks. What’s their favorite food? (Cultural specialty!) Favorite colors? (Clothing style!) What are their mannerisms, sense of humor, and idiosyncrasies like? (=CULTURE.)
And this leads to our next point.
#2: Ask questions.
Where would you be without asking why people hang red lanterns to celebrate the new year late, how long the teenage boys are allowed to wear their hair, or which genius invented baked Alaska? This is, of course, a no-brainer; and you don’t have to use it all the time (don’t fill your readers’ minds with details they can neither keep track of nor take something from!).
The fundamental question behind everything, I think is why. We usually think of traditions and whatnot when it comes to that, but if you’re having trouble deciding on a pretty style of dress for the wealthy, asking why one option or the other works can be really helpful. (And again, you don’t need to do it all the time. If you just want to say fashion is weird and keep it at that, everyone will understand.)
Oh, and: This applies to incorporating Christianity into your stories. If God is represented as just this vague Creator Being that the occasional side character exhorts or acknowledges, then what happened to this world of sinners? (ESPECIALLY APPLIES when you have redemption arcs in that story!!) Where does redemption come from? We don’t want to be preachy, but we don’t dodge the ball; we catch it! Then we throw it back in the problem’s face! We tackle the hard questions! (Just… a bit of my personal opinion + side rant; take it or leave it!)
#3: Take a look at the world around you!
I mean, this… this is like the foundation of worldbuilding, people. I will never ever stop talking about how important it is to understand different cultures. Technically, we do it all the time–it just sounds bigger and scarier and more boring (?!!) when we apply it to whole different countries. :O
This isn’t your cue to borrow the Encyclopedia Britannica from the nearest library and initiate a lockdown in your bedroom. Please don’t do that.
A lot of authors already do this, and with the crazy amount of resources around us, it doesn’t take a hike in the Brazilian rainforests to figure out what you want. If you’re running dry on inspiration, take a gander at cultures that aren’t your own. Take a little bit o’ this, a little bit o’ that; find a way for it to fit, and you’re golden.
Thanks for joining me today, folksies! I hope these tips were helpful, and I hope this inspires you to (if you haven’t already) have some fun with worldbuilding. Let me know what kind of worlds you love to read and write about, too!
Always be a happy camper,