World Building

photo credit: Lysefjord - Norway - Landscape, travel photography via photopin (license)

Okay this is my first Wenchy blog post I’m excited and nervous but I am part of an awesome team and have been looking forward to contributing for a while.

My topic today is “World Building”. I started my series, Joutone Warriors (First Book Doctor Abbott) wanting to write a Beauty and the Beast style romance for adults. I wanted it to be a simple, even old-fashioned bodice ripper style read. (Yep, I love those books, they are a total guilty pleasure of mine) But because I’m also not right in the head there had to be beasts…actual beasts.

I wrote and scrapped an entire novel after the first editor told me it was totally awesome, and she couldn’t wait to see it published…Everything she loved about the book I HATED. It was cliché and after setting it aside for 6 months and coming back to it, I realized I was approaching it all wrong.

I was so focused on the characters that I didn’t pay attention to the story. Especially when doing a series, you want your reader to know it’s a series. You want the reader to come back to that world like they’re walking into a childhood home that they haven’t visited in over a decade. A place where everything seems familiar but they’re curious about what has changed. They need to miss that place.

Now, what exactly do I mean by that? If you’re writing fantasy fiction I am going to recommend that you not focus on the book itself. Focus on the world first. Where is it? How did it get there or how do your characters get to it? Even if there is magic what is the science behind it? Do the flowers grow because there is a sun and water or do they grow because the heavens allow them to? Your characters, no matter if they are werewolves or Ferengi or Joutone Sasquatch, need to have a hierarchy, be it political or religious or both, and it needs to be tied to the landscape. Did their hierarchy form because of the landscape or did they change the landscape to fit their needs as a people?

Don’t tell me what they are eating, tell me how they got their food. This goes far beyond telling versus showing because it affects your characters’ personalities and choices. Are they warriors because they just thirst for the fight? Or is it because they have no other choice, and survival is a must. Your world answers that question without it ever being asked, along with many others.

In my series the wolf is an easy and popular meal for the Joutone. I didn’t pick the wolf because I have something against wolves, I actually love wolves and think they are one of the most beautiful creatures on earth. I picked the wolf because it too is a hunter. My people have fur, claws and fanged teeth to survive in a bitter climate, with scarce vegetation. In this world, food that hunts you is easier to find than food that runs from you like the deer would.

It breaks the norm and may even offend some readers, but what we find hard to stomach and even comprehend is the only way of life some people know. In some parts of our world the cow is sacred, and in other parts the only protein you will find is in the form of bugs. Your characters have to use what they know, not what outsiders expect from them, and the reader is an outsider. They’re peeking into this world you created. They don’t decide what is on the table, the landscape does.

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Reality…The most important piece of advice I have ever received about writing came from one of the most conservative writers I have ever met, yet his advice was the least conservative thing I had ever heard in my life. DON’T WRITE REALITY OUT OF YOUR STORY.

This is especially true for world building. Now I know what you’re thinking. “But my work will be criticized for not pandering to the masses.” But let me ask you this, what is one of the bestselling books on the market right now? What is HBO’s number one hit right now? It keeps us on the edge of our seats time and time again, holding our breath and white knuckling through every episode? Game of Thrones.

Why are readers devouring GRRM? Because he will not write reality out of his story. You hate the bad guys because they do bad things. We love the good guys because the overcome some serious crap. It is the reality of their world and they know it, they go head strong, unafraid to their demise because they have to. Should he not kill off our favorite characters? Maybe…but that’s not how the story came to him, and it would be pretty boring if he just pandered to the audience.

Your world has to be real for your characters, not your audience. Your reader is supposed to be caught up in that world with your characters. The characters need to be shocked by the same horrors you are. They need to be brought to tears by the same thing that makes you cry, and why it made you cry. They need to laugh because they were caught just as off guard as you were by what just happened. World building doesn’t work on implied scenes no matter how much we want them to.

photo credit: L'enchanteresse via photopin (license)

The female role affects your world building. You can’t just give me the role of the female leads, I need to know what sets them apart from the rest of the female culture, and to know that I first have to know what the female culture is. The woman plays such a major role in the landscape of your world. Like it or not they have a subculture all their own and it shapes the culture as a whole. Be it politics, greed, love, competition, tension, rivalry.

Things to think about when developing the female role, are their views on males, offspring, and leadership. World building doesn’t work on formula, especially if you have a series. You can’t just recreate the same role because all you are doing is telling the same story. It doesn’t propel the series, it just puts the story on a hamster wheel. Eventually the reader will get bored and want off.

One of my characters is motivated by her love of humans and wanting to see her culture and their culture succeed together; while her daughter just wants to compete with males and buck societal views on her.  One of my female leads is suffering PTSD, in a world where everything has fangs and wants to eat you. You have to not just figure out their culture but what brought them to where they are and how they are going to deal with what is handed to them.

Religion is a huge factor in world building. It affects everything from language to clothing to reproduction to hierarchy. I found this hard for me because I have very strong opinions about the subject and it was hard to set a lot of that aside, but if you’re world building you have to do just that. You have to set aside your beliefs in order to give them their own voice as a people.

It takes some work to create a religion, but after I cleansed myself of what I thought to be religious, it was easy to do. I thought it would be tons of eye rolling research, and although some research was involved, it turned out to be fun and enlightening for me.

Whether you are building a world on another planet, or a werewolf pack, your characters must at some point questioned their existence. There has to be a balance of science and religion in there someplace, even if your world is total fabricated magic. Having religion will give your people purpose and culture.

I was able to break down bits and pieces of cultures from all over the world that made the most sense for my Joutone. I took a lot of indigenous people and searched for key components; what stood out as something a dawning culture would value or try to make sense of. This can be true for developed or futuristic cultures, you just search out what makes sense and for added intrigue put your own spin on it. This type of stuff excites the reader because it is both relatable and gives them the opportunity to explore the world. The more they explore the more they want to get lost in it.

Language is the last and final piece to the puzzle. I am sure you’re telling the story in terms the reader understands. But should your people have their own language? Are there multiple languages in the story? Do they interact at some point? (FYI spell checkers hate flip flopping and will crap out on you if you do) Most interactions can be implied but for scenes where comingling occurs it gives your world an edge to prepare for the encounter a little.

Also language affects names. I am really bad at this, because a lot of my characters are fashioned after people I know. Plus it’s fun to kill off the occasional store clerk who pissed you off for no reason. Chances are though, that if your world is in deep space nine that your characters are not going to be named Peter and Jessica and even your exotic yet common names like Damion or Hunter are going to seem out of place when the language is so different. Look again to religion, culture and females for names. Family names often came from industry and that is pretty much true for no matter where you are in our world. So Hunter may be his designated name but maybe he is a great Hunter because his father was a great Smith who made superior weapons. In English his name may be Hunter Greatsmith, but in his language it may be Sauns Ouer Great Sonshear.

You can make world building as easy or hard as you want to. I recommend that if you’re writing any type of fantasy fiction, that you at least spend some time letting the reader experience the surroundings your characters are in. It is not only better writing it will give the reader a landing place when they return to visit your characters in the next book. There are a lot more avenues I could go down, but I think with this blog post there’s at least some structure to think about for your next WIP.

Thanks for reading and please get your free copy of Doctor Abbott with the picture link below

Credit To Licarto Seven, with full license to Michelle Laverdure
Credit To Licarto Seven, with full license to Michelle Laverdure

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