Saturday, November 13, 2010

World Building for All Genres

When I open a new book my mouth salivates, waiting to be pulled into the world the author has created. There is nothing worse than pulling your hair out reading wonderfully crafted characters with no sense about where or when they are.

This past weekend I went for a walk in a park and drank apple cider with my family.

I'm sorry, did you just yawn at my experience? Really? Well, so did I. Here is how I will let the reader not only know the above information but have them believing they are me or at least there.

A whispering wind tickles my ears. Then goes on, rustling the leaves of the hundred year oak ahead. Blazing hues of red, orange, and yellow sway in the mid-afternoon sun. Flecks of sunlight cross my face, warm and cool at the same time. Fallen branches crunch beneath my feet as I stroll, in no hurry at all.

Fresh apple cider warms my hands, steam billows up from the paper cup. The aroma filling me before I even drink. I sip slow, slurping as to not get burnt. The bitter sweetness washes over my tongue, the heat trailing down my throat.

Giggles find me and I note three small children with their father, dancing about in Autumn's fallen bounty. Their smiles, wide and full of life call to me.

"Mommy, you bring us some?" The smallest one calls out.

I hold up the thermos and already glowing faces beam with more happiness and bliss. Bliss indeed, I whisper as I head over to my family. Fall in the City of Brotherly Love doesn't get any better than this.

Now I am thirsty! But that's the effect you want on the reader. Writing that little diddy, I just closed my eyes, saw myself walking through a park with a fresh cup of warm apple cider.

First drafts, even seconds and thirds, you can find yourself adding the sensory details. I tend to write in layers. I just get the bones out as I see it, then go back and add the meat. The meat gives your story all its flavor.

Dang, now I'm hungry...

The above example was meant to describe the setting as the character sees it, live. But it's not the central part of the scene. The family, we learn, is. Why she is there. But adding sensory details to each scene grounds the reader to where and when you character is. It's those details that help build the world in which your characters live.

I may not be creating a brand new unknown world like Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings Series but my characters do live somewhere. All characters do, don't they? And as writers it's our duty to transport our readers there. It's not just about the action in the scene or dialogue, it's also about the where.

Sometimes the main character is the setting, or at least the central focus of the scene.

The man walks to work on his last day.

Wow. Along with many others. What makes this character so special?

The man's feet couldn't move fast enough along the crowded concrete. He weaved in and out of the masses all around him-three piece suits, cell phones on ear, and briefcases held tight. No one notices each other. No one at all. Typical.

All mornings are the same here, this Tuesday was no different. Yellow cabs honk, street vendors pawn their wares to unsuspecting tourists, and the stench of municipal garbage trucks jump up your nose. The stink is hard to forget for a good ten minutes. Lovely, really.

A wrinkled forehead scrunched as he snickered at his place of business. Tall and majestic it glistened against the September sky. One last day at work. Just one.

Unable to go in right away, he stopped mid-stride and let the exhaust-tainted air fill him. A force thrust him forward two steps. Knocking his paper from his hand along with his brown bagged lunch.

The person behind him obviously wasn't paying attention. No excuse me or sorry. Just some vulgarities and they moved on, no help either. Another daily annoyance. The lack of basic human kindness.

With one hand he bent over and picked up his paper. The wife's left over spaghetti seeped out its container. He was looking forward to that. Expensive leather shoes shuffled and high heels clicked all around him, never stopping.

Then all of a sudden, they did.

A sound boomed overhead. Loud, screeching, and growing closer. Still bent over he glanced up. What he saw was not a part of his daily morning commute.

It seemed today was not only his last day at work but the last day for many others. Finally standing upright he held that rank breath tight in his lungs. A large plane headed toward the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

The City is the focus for the main character, his motivator. Where as the park for the mom was something she came upon while spending time with her family.

Both above examples show us the world around the characters. They call upon our senses as we read. World Building isn't just for Fantasy or Science Fiction. It's for all fiction.

I took two common settings, a park and New York City, and made it REAL to the reader. I made the setting a part of what was happening in the specific scene. We all know what NY and a park looks like but the passages brought them to life. Big difference.

Here are some links to help you along as YOU create your world.

Happy Writing,
Charli Mac

Fiction Factor has tons of great links on world building.

Holt Reinhart & Winston have a great remedial explanation. I used this when I was a teacher.

Random site on sensory details that is pretty good as well.

Writing Forward discusses here how world building is for all genres.


  1. Great post, C. Yes setting is very important and it is something I tend to overlook when I'm caught up in my character's heads. Thanks for reminding me. Oh, and an extra thanks for the great sites.

  2. Great post and great resources, Charli.

  3. I always forget to add in sounds ... thanks for the reminder C

  4. So do I AJ. LOL, yep, sounds, something so simple, but I totally forget.

  5. When I close my eyes, I can SEE my characters, what surrounds them, what they SEE. I touch what they touch, smell and taste what they taste, but I always seem to forget their not deaf LOL

  6. Great post, Charli. Thanks for the exxamples and the resources. World-building is paramount. We can't have a bunch of people doing stuff without knowing exactly how they fit in to their surroundings...

  7. Very awesome, Charli!

    Loved this:
    "I just get the bones out as I see it, then go back and add the meat. The meat gives your story all its flavor."

  8. awesome post bud...i tend to just focus on one or two senses...I'm

  9. Worldbuilding is an artform unto itself. You seem to have a top notch hand on it. Great post!

  10. Thanks all for stopping by to comment. World building is hard at first but, like with most things, practice makes it easier.

    Also, when critting for others I look for sensory details and descriptors to ground me to the where and when. It's another way of practice for your own writing.

    It's part of learning my craft. I make sure in re-writes the reader can truly visualize where and when they are.