The other day I was talking with a friend of mine from college. We both primarily write fiction and fantasy novels and we’re focusing our degrees in English. So a lot of the time we end up talking about writing, the importance of English literature in the post-modern age, different ideas on how to engage with our readers, and all kinds of stuff really.
However, that day she was telling me all about her awesome and really complex story lines. We talked for almost an hour about what she had done with her story and how world building was playing a huge role in how the story was portrayed to her reader.
Needless to say, my friend basically was in the midst of redirecting the story in a way that would enhance her reader’s understanding of the story’s universe. Simultaneously, my friend was also trying to allow her main character to follow through the story arc without causing too much confusion for the reader.
To me, she was doing the impossible! The girl was a genius!
Throughout the discussion, I tried to offer some words of advice and some alternative ways that might help her make those changes that she was dreading. Luckily, I didn’t totally annoy my friend with my crazy assortment of ideas. However, I could tell that after the conversation, we were both a bit overwhelmed.
Who could blame us? World building is hard!
Honestly, world building is scary for me. Although I absolutely love creating alternative universes and new languages and fascinating cultures, this stuff is hard and takes a ton of time.
Even though I’m not a master world builder (there are very few out there), I will offer a few bits of advice that I’ve gotten from other authors, from friends, and from my own experience.
#1 Start small!
I say this all the time, but it’s true. Don’t get in over your head! Otherwise you’re no longer the writer and instead the alternative universe become “in charge” per say.
#2 Record what you plan.
If you make a change to the customs of greeting for a certain culture or make a common slang term for another, make sure you write it down somewhere where you won’t forget. If you don’t, some things may not add up later. I learned this the hard way…
#3 Be okay with making changes.
This one is the hardest. I hate making changes or removing some great aspect of a character or government system. But honestly, if you can’t let it go (cue in Elsa) then you won’t be able to move on and keep creating.
#4 Do some research!
I hate this part and I secretly avoid it at all costs, which is usually why a lot of my novels take place outside of Earth. But yet, research is inevitable. If you’re dealing with space and time lapses, make sure it’s all adding up right. If something takes place on Earth in present day, don’t describe Boston, Massachusetts like it’s on the coast of Hawaii. Or don’t incorrectly translate another language. These are minute things that may break your story, so be careful!
All in all, world building can be a turd or it can be absolutely marvelous. Hopefully the latter!
Wishing you luck on your next world building extravaganza! Having trouble or just need to bounce some ideas? Feel free to contact me in my “Contact Me” page, I love talking about this stuff 😀