Building Worlds of Fiction and Illuminating Milieu

A Science Fiction and Fantasy World (Milieu)

“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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

Creating Maps to Outline Your Novel’s Plot

Map Outline For Your Novel's PlotSome writers prefer leaping into a story headfirst, without any idea of where the plot might lead. Others have an inkling of where the story is heading, but they’re just not sure how to get there. Some writers are capable of whipping up a detailed, point by point outline, just like we were required to create in school.

But what about those in the middle grounds, who would like to know where the novel is going, but don’t know where to begin? Try mapping out the world of your novel, so you know what kind of boundaries, cultures, and governments your characters might have to deal with, along with what conflicts they might encounter along their way.

Why Create a Map?

A map is a visual reminder of the landscape of your novel’s world. This is especially important in novels where you are creating your own world, such as science fiction, fantasy, and some historical novels. However, even in modern fiction, you’ll need to know where your main character lives, where he works, and how long it takes him to get to various points throughout your fictional or real city. You don’t want to have huge inconsistencies, where it takes one hour to drive to the mall, and ten minutes to drive home!

You can use a map to show natural landmarks, man-made constructs, and other topographical items that your characters may have to navigate in the course of the novel. For example, your main character may want to ride her horse to the neighboring realm’s castle, but she (and you) discover there is a large river in the way with no bridge in sight! Instant plot conflict, which you and your character will have to deal with. Will she be able to cross? Will her horse be left with nearby tribesmen – whose settlement you sketched in nearby? Your map will become invaluable, adding additional depth and description to your novel.

Map Creation Techniques

To start, all you’ll need is some paper and pencils. It doesn’t matter if it is notebook paper, printer paper, or a sketchbook. You can choose colored pencils, or just a regular #2 pencil. Be sure you have an eraser around somewhere, as you’ll find yourself changing your mind throughout the creation of your novel’s map.

Decide what kind of scale you’ll be drawing at. All that means is that you will either draw your map street by street to detail your city, or city by city to show your world. For a city view map, you’ll want to highlight buildings of interest, such as a town hall, restaurants, malls, or homes. For a world view map, your cities will be dots, while landmarks will get more attention, such as mountain ranges, rivers, and forests.

Allow yourself to have fun! Your map doesn’t have to be perfect, and is for your eyes only. Of course, if you’ve drawn yourself and your characters into a corner, feel free to change anything that isn’t working. Just be sure to make the necessary changes to your novel’s plot if you decide to alter your map!

Have you ever sketched out your story’s world? Did you have fun letting your creativity flow in visual format? Would you try this method out for plotting your next novel?

Photo Credit: Renzo Ferrante