Today’s author is a Nanowrimo veteran who saw my call for guest posts and answered almost immediately. I’m very proud to present her post, Building Your World as part of my Nanowrimo Blogaganza. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did!
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So you’ve decided (or are thinking about) National Novel Writing Month this year?
But what will you write about? More important, where will your story take place? Will you sail the Spanish Main? Will you inhabit the foggy gaslit streets of Victorian London? What about a spaceship, talking to aliens from another planet? Wanna write about werewolves and cavemen? Or will you write about something happening in today’s world? There are a ton of ideas, and only you can decide where you want to start.
Setting isn’t the only question of worldbuilding; it’s the beginning. While a writer might start with setting, the writer has to get more specific…creating the characters and streets and neighborhoods and cultural issues that their protagonist will interact with. For example, Harry Potter might be set in a British suburbia and boarding school, but the characters and magic and owls and spells and shopping and all of the rest make up the world itself. Without that setting, the wizarding world would have been an entirely different milieu.
The first question to consider is what kind of books you gravitate toward as a reader. If you like steampunk, and love the Victorian era, then do you want to set your story in a world you are familiar with as a reader? Same goes for modern day stories, historical novels, science fiction stories, or epic fantasy. If you want to create your own world, then what do you like/dislike about the worlds in your preferred genre?
Starting a list of what you like or don’t like in the books you enjoy is a great starting place. Why don’t you like them? Why do you like them? What would make them better? What makes them yours?
The second question is about that story. Sometimes the story you’re trying to tell demands that it be told in a certain world. It’s hard to imagine a legal thriller taking place in a speakeasy or a topless bar; it rather demands a courtroom setting, unless your story harkens back to an Old West kind of trial (which might actually have happened in a saloon). Likewise a story about a kid getting bullied in school; the world itself is probably the school that you’ll be setting your story in. The worldbuilding comes in when you start to determine what kinds of things are most important to the characters based on that setting (a good example here is the cootie-like transfer of the Cheese Touch from DIARY OF A WIMPY KID).
Unless your story specifically requires a certain world, like those two examples, you’ve got a lot of room. It’s okay to have some basics of the world. It’s okay to go ahead and plan out all the details of your world, from the flora and the fauna to the landscape and the rules of magic in the days leading up to NaNoWriMo, but remember that new ideas may come to you as your tell your story in the highly creative world of furious novel scribbling that happens in Nov ember. Plan your world, but be flexible enough to go in a new direction if the story demands it.
It’s worth noting as well, that some people do become bogged down in planning the details of their world so much that they never actually get the novel written, especially in science fiction and fantasy. It’s also more than okay to wait until you get further into the story, after NaNo starts, to flesh things out…just don’t stop writing to get it done! It’s okay to move your story from a fishing village in northern Alaska to a surf shop in Hawaii…just keep writing because you can go back and fix it later if it’s working better to keep your story moving forward!
Another tip to keep yourself from getting too bogged down in details when writing is to leave yourself a quick note as to what you need to research later, and keep moving with the plot of the story. For example;
“Natasha slipped on her (LOOK UP PERIOD SPECIFIC SHOES) before she ran down the hallway in the Winter Palace, hoping to find someone, anyone, who could tell her where her best friend, Anastasia, had gone. The guards, in their drab (LOOK UP APPROPRIATE UNIFORM COLOR FOR REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS) shirts, took one look at her fine clothes and placed her under arrest.”
This example could be a story in a Russian Revolution melodrama; it could be a prologue in a historical thriller. It could even become a historical fantasy. Either way, there’s enough hints in there to keep the author grounded in the writing of the story, and still provide notes that jump out (as well as add to word count) to remind the writer what needs specific research down the road.
There’s no way to predict what small detail you might need before you start writing the story…so just write. Figure out what you need to have happen, and don’t be afraid to make notes about what details your world needs to be fully fleshed out before you’re done.
In short, if you first figure out a general idea of the setting you’re after, and what kind of story you wish to tell, you’re well on your way to building the world you need to tell it in. You can then use the time leading up to November to do any preliminary research or brainstorming that you might need to get started…just don’t lose yourself in the black hole of constant research in place of actually writing the story.
Addie J. King is an attorney by day and author by nights, evenings, weekends, and whenever else she can find a spare moment. She is a five time NaNoWriMo participant, and a third year Municipal Liaison in Ohio. Her short story “Poltergeist on Aisle Fourteen” was published in MYSTERY TIMES TEN 2011 by Buddhapuss Ink, and an essay entitled, “Building Believable Legal Systems in Science Fiction and Fantasy” was published in EIGHTH DAY GENESIS; A WORLDBUILDING CODEX FOR WRITERS AND CREATIVES by Alliteration Ink. Her novel, THE GRIMM LEGACY, is available now from Musa Publishing.