Tuesday, January 26, 2016

0 Four Keys that Unlock Your Fictional World and Make Your Story Bigger

One of the books I’m working on now is a full on fantasy. Beyond the first, wild sweet rush of the initial chapters where I didn’t know anything but the broadest strokes of where the heck I was going, I had to figure out the inner workings and clock pieces of the world. Honestly, that’s true of anything you write. 

It may not seem like it, but whether the worlds are contemporary and non-magical or something entirely fantastic and unfamiliar, the process of creating where your characters live and how they became who they are is essentially the same.

It can be daunting to think of everything at once, and if you're like me, doing the step-by-step can feel like it's going to hold up the creative process. When it comes down to it, there are four groupings of information that can act like keys to open up your story.

The Differences in Time, Place, Weather, and Atmosphere: Of course you want to know the basics, but instead of asking yourself an endless list of questions about how your every aspect of your world looks, smells, sounds, and feels in real life, you want to know how the people who live there make it different and made it their own. Know the big picture things, sure, but then then focus on the details that make it personal and make it unique, as well as on the way in which the characters see these details. Think about how the details change during the seasons and how that impacts them the rest of the year. Consider the small questions you wouldn't normally think of, and that will help the big things snap in place.

The Discriminators in Economy, Technology, Religion, and Social Structure: The place in which the characters move involves how they are positioned in society and everything that entails. But it’s not just a matter of thinking how and where they get their food, shelter, and clothing, or even what they believe, but also how they pay for it. What are the jobs and hobbies or extra activities that take away or add resources? It’s important not only to think about what is available to purchase or barter, but what isn’t. What can’t your characters afford or have? Why and how do they make do? What would happen if something changed? How do those who have feel about those who don’t have, and vice versa? How do different characters or factions within society believe in different things and how does this make them feel about each other? What are the biggest discriminators in your story? What creates allies and enemies?

The Recent or Upcoming Change: Obviously something has changed, or you have no story. Something is brewing. But why? What caused the situation? What could have avoided it? What would or will make it worse? And how would solving it make something else go so awry that it would be a nearly impossible decision between the two?

The Past Change and Differentiation: In fiction as it life, there is planning, but there is also luck—both good and bad. Nothing is wholly uniform and nothing goes entirely according to plan. For each of your society as well as your characters, things have gone awry or unexpectedly at some point in the past. Something that set them on some path that wasn’t the one they would have logically chosen. What was it? For what reason? By whose design? How do they feel about it? What does it change for the future and how do different factions from within the story benefit or lose from this?

There are no hard and fast rules, no insert tab A into slot B instructions, for how to create a world, contemporary or otherwise. But a fantasy world must be as complete as the real world in which we live, and the contemporary world of your characters must reflect all the aspects of the world that they’d encounter.

What Do You Think

For me, the best way into a world is through the characters. Once I know what’s important to them and how they live their lives, I can begin to push the boundaries of their immediate world out, and then start to squeeze them walls of the world back in around them.

The push and pull, the squeezing of worlds and characters, that’s what shapes them both. The harder we squeeze, the more we temper them and develop something truly unique and strong.

Building a fantasy world? Here are some resources you might find useful.

https://onestopforwriters.com First and foremost, for all things setting and character, not to mention a lot of other things, try the collaboration between the authors of the Emotion Thesaurus and the Character Thesaurus and the creator of Scrivener for Windows. It’s fully searchable by keyword and concept and gives you an enormous wealth of tools and libraries.

http://donjon.bin.sh/fantasy/world/ Want a map generator, fantasy name generator, or medieval demographics generator—or a few other things? Here you go.

http://www.sfwa.org/2009/08/fantasy-worldbuilding-questions/ Need a huge tool to help you think of every question before you begin to write? Patricia C, Wrede has this phenomenal resource at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America site.

http://kittyspace.org/leviathan0.html The World Building Leviathan by Kitty Chandler is a huge 52 step process for building your world alongside your story.

http://worldbuilding.stackexchange.com Need a place to ask questions as you build your world? Try here.

About the Author

Martina Boone is the author of Compulsion and Persuasion, out now in the romantic Southern Gothic Heirs of Watson Island trilogy from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. Illusion, the final book, will be out in October of 2016. Martina is also the founder of AdventuresInYAPublishing.com, a three-time Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and YASeriesInsiders.com, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She's on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the CompulsionForReading.com program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.

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