We touched on this briefly in our Research chapter, now we will break this down more clearly and discover what World Building entails.
Setting > Real world or fictional
See why research is important? What if you wanted to write about Paris, France and realize you know nothing about France? For the story to feel real, you will need description of buildings, names of real streets, local highlights, parks, even culture. But say you’re writing fiction–your very own Middle Earth.
We have already talked about drawing out maps. This is a good habit whether your book is set in Paris or in [insert-epic-name-here]. You as the writer needs to understand where you are, where you are going, and where you have been (not ‘you’ you, but your characters of course).
Take Middle Earth, since we brought that up. A vast world is explored over the course of those books. There are mountains and rivers and countries and kingdoms. Each geographical monument is drawn on paper for clarity. Directions–north, south, east, west–are set in stone. As a writer, you can watch your characters traipse across the land and not worry about whether the sun is rising in their faces, or urging them on from behind. The goal is to be as accurate as possible, because while poking fun at the discrepancies in your favorite movies is entertaining, it can be embarrassing to experience first hand. It’s going to be hard enough not to have typos, let alone correctable mistakes in a world of your own making.
Give your readers credit. They are incredible intelligent and observant.
Enough about maps, let us talk about description.
What not to do:
E.g The old coffee shop was directly ahead. It was full of people, chairs and tables. A bell rang when people walked in and out. Jane could smell coffee as she sat down with John.
What a blah description. I wouldn’t read that book, would you? Depending on your reading level, I suppose you might. But I’m going to assume you are educated which, in itself, denotes an intelligent individual. You’re welcome.
What to do better:
E.g. Jane approached the quaint coffee shop. It was an old building, the walls sagged and the red paint covering the door had long since faded and chipped. But such wear and tear did not affect the shop’s business negatively. When she pushed through the door, the bell overhead jangled softly. Voices bubbled and fluttered through the room. It was bustling with activity. The family owners hastened to and fro, stirring up the famous concoction known as coffee. She had smelled it blocks away, that earthy, robust aroma which boasted of sunshine and better days. She breathed it in a moment before searching for a blond man seated alone.
Notice the difference? Good description works in an orderly pattern, whether chronological or in order of importance. It gives color and detail to an otherwise black and white world.
When building a world, it is better to have too much than too little. You can always trim down too much, and a good editor will instruct you on what to trim. But it is difficult to look at something and say, “I can’t put my finger on it, but it needs more.”
Homework: Select a descriptive scene and spend fifteen minutes writing it.
Option #2: Draw a map. ;D