Wednesday, May 18, 2011

World building is all about questions

I've been thinking about world building a lot recently. My lone critique partner, Brenna, has been brainstorming with me about the world building in her WIP and then followed that up with a series of posts on her blog. Then I was asked how I world build, which got me thinking, and I figured it was time to bring that up here because world building is one of my favorite things about writing.

For anyone who doesn't know, world building is the environment in your story and how your characters relate to it. It's super important for genres like fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction because they all focus on different times/places than now. If you're in on the YA book trends, you probably have noticed that the quality of a dystopian is dependent on the world building.

Now, my current WIP is a YA fantasy that takes place in a desert, so I devote a lot of time to fleshing that world out. Which is good, because I love world building. As such, I've spent many hours deciding how weather patterns work and how people would build cities based on their surrounding environment. I also dabble with flower symbolism, city-state politics, and how my characters relate to death based on their culture. It's all sorts of crazy.

Why do I spend so much time of world building? Well, I'm a stickler for detail. In particular, detail that makes sense. If there's an issue of logic, I kinda shut down until I can figure out how to fix things. This is both a good and a bad thing because my world building gets pretty solid, but I can stagnate on one scene for days.

But this post is supposed to be about how to world build, not my issues. So if you have problems focusing on world building, then I have one piece of advice: ask questions.

Yeah, that's right. But not just a couple questions, as many questions as you can think of, from as many POVs as you can come up with. Why are your characters doing certain things? Why are they doing these things NOW instead of years ago? How did these events come to pass and why did certain people let them happen that way?

If you have problems asking yourself these kinds of questions, get someone else. Tell them to be super critical and super curious. You should be able to answer any kind of question they ask. Even the ones that seems stupid of irrelevant.

The result is that you'll end up knowing more about your world than will show up in your book. It kinda sucks that you can't share anything, and you might be wondering why bother knowing so much then? Because the knowledge shows in your writing. Hints of depth go a long way in world building.

So what do you think about world building? Do you enjoy it? Are you like me and think of it as your One True Love of writing? Or is world building like pulling teeth--the kind of thing that you avoid as much as possible? Tell me your thoughts in the comments!


Jackie said...

 I have a love/hate relationship with world building.  World building is a lot of fun.  But, I often get discouraged because I get overwhelmed by all the things I haven't yet figured out for my world yet.  I also get frustrated because I can't figure out what questions to ask!  Do you have world building resources, or do you just know what needs to be asked?

Sarah Robertson said...

I completely understand that feeling, but one of the reasons I like world building so much might be because it's a good way to actually avoid writing. :P

I don't really have any world building resources (those would be cool though :D), but I do like talking with other people about it. Sometimes the things that seem to make the most sense are the ones that are on the shakiest legs.

The best question though is "why?" Why are your characters doing this? Why did these people agree on this treaty? Why was this city built in this location? Why didn't your heroes nip the problem in the bud in the beginning?

Annerb said...

I hate the "why are they doing this now" question. It always stumps me an ruins my ideas.

Sarah Robertson said...


It's all for the greater good. *hug*

Annerb said...

I know! But it kills my soul!

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