“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” ~ William Shakespeare, As You Like It
Your story’s world, known as milieu,is the environment that your characters play out their story within. This backdrop provides a wealth of description, opportunities, and influences for your story, and cannot be ignored. If your characters could be living anywhere at any time, your environment could use some fleshing out.
Many authors don’t have too much trouble defining their story’s world, because it is a present day story with modern conveniences in a popular town, such as New York City, Paris, or London. While this makes writing the story easier, it can also “date” a story, when modern day people no longer use telegraphs or 8 track tapes. If your story is modern, don’t neglect to illuminate it with rich descriptions of its environment, culture, and customs.
However, other types of stories have a different issue. Their worlds are either partially or wholly unfamiliar to the reader. Historical and romance novels have the task of staying true to facts while adding fictional elements to expand the possibilities of a bygone era. Science fiction and fantasy novels have environments entirely created by the author, which can fall prey to loopholes if the author loses track of his world-building.
Creative World Exploration
- Research the world’s past. Your world, whether its real or fictional, has a rich history waiting to be unfurled. Writers using a real world location can research online or at their local library. When writing about a fictional realm, it is up to you to create the past events, politics, and religions of your world. Spend some time freewrite the possibilities, and create a timeline of the past that you can refer back to as you write.
- Plan the future. Beyond normal plotting, unfamiliar worlds require special attention to the future. While your protagonists are creating their own future, the world is evolving around them. Historical writers need to plan around real world events. In Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, Melanie’s pregnancy purportedly lasted 22 months,* when compared to Civil War battles! Science fiction and fantasy writers need only make sure their timelines remain consistent throughout the book.
- Explain when necessary. Besides the past and future, many stories have unusual present day activities. The classic science fiction example is the oscillating door. When such futuristic objects were first introduced into stories, they had to be explained at length so the reader could envision a door that would open in a circular fashion all by itself. Today, readers are exposed to a wide variety of technology, both fictional and non-fictional. Explanations would hardly be necessary for the modern reader. Do a bit of research into your book’s market, and see what literary conventions are taken for granted, and what unexpected bits deserve your witty exposition.
Don’t let your characters perform their life stories on an empty stage. Give them a rich, inviting world to explore, and your readers will be happy to tag along for the adventure.
How do you bring your story’s world to life? Do you do a lot of research before writing your stories, or do you edit in facts later on? Share your world building techniques here.
Photo Credit: Temari 09