Losing yourself in your character’s world


World building = Creating complete new worlds that live and breathe and surround your characters

World building is often underplayed if your WIP is not a fantasy or a sci-fi but world building underplayed is to the detriment of your story and your characters. The reader cannot see what you see in your mind without you doing some world building. World building is more than just your setting of a scene or description of a place. World building is about building a world for your characters as much as for your reader. It is about translating this “new” world so effectively to your reader that they leave their own reality to enter that of the one you have created. After all, is that not the end goal of fiction.

What if your world is some place real? Then you need to write what you know. This does not mean that you are limited to your small town that you have lived all your life. No, it means that there are a multitude of ways to get to know the place you are wanting to set your story in. Now, with social networking and the internet there is no time for excuses anymore. You could travel to that place and immerse yourself in the 5 senses peculiar to that place. But not everyone has a bottomless wallet nor a disposable schedule. What then?

Google Earth and Google Maps are the cornerstones of the traveller who sits in his living room wanting to explore the world. With Google Earth you can get accurate current time images of a particular street let alone just a town. Google Maps is fantastic for authenticity of urban areas in particular. If you are writing about New Orleans, for example, you want the reader who lives in New Orleans to believe you have been there also instead of them finding huge plot holes in your setting. Google Earth and Google Maps are simple to use and cost you nothing but your time. Be careful though, you may get lost in the wonders of these tools.

Another way you can “travel” and “explore” somewhere is to search for personal blogs or travelblogs that post about the place you wish to write about. Bloggers and travel bloggers in particular can give you a wealth of information. Their posts can also add colour to a place by writing about the people, the specific venues, the culture and the vibe of a place.

There are other parts of world building that you may want to explore for your WIP. What about the activities that your characters occupy themselves with? You may have a character who is a detective and needs to be a good shot. Ask your local police station if you can spend a day with a patrol car for research purposes. You might have a character who is a sword-fighter. Find a fencing class and go for a couple of lessons.

Costumes are another favourite of mine for world building. If I am writing about the tightness of corset stays, I need to know what wearing a corset feel like. If I am writing about a character needing chainmail as armour then I need to know what chainmail feels like.

Food and drink is another way to world build. Taste the foods your character eats. There is no better way to find out the sweetness or the tartness of something than tasting it yourself.

This is what I believe is meant when you hear the cliched saying: write what you know. Learn to know things to be able to write about them. Your diligence in immersing yourself in your characters’ world will come across as dedication to your reader. Your reader will see what you see and what your character sees. The experience of writing your WIP with your new knowledge will be palpable with richness of actual experience which will make the reader’s experience of reading your story the richer for it.

For this week, I challenge you to come up with a place where a new story is set and build a world around it using the tools above. You are not expected to travel there in body but travel there in mind through all the above and tell me what you find. Your only borders and limits are your own imagination. You may just spark a new idea for a story.

In the name of Research and world building, I spent this weekend at the Gypsy Fair…surrounded by essences with the names of Dragon’s Blood, Black Magic, Night Queen, Liquid Moon and hearing the soft tinkling of hand blown glass and crystal wind chimes…took photos galore, bought chakra oils and perfume and cleansing herbs (all again research material) and bought a gypsy dress to truly immerse myself in “being” a gypsy. I took a walk inside the home of one of the gypsies – an original horse drawn painted wagon. I watched a fortune teller read the tarot for someone and saw another read their palms. There were sounds of guitars from the traditional gypsy band, laughing children, barking dogs and miniature horses. It was truly like entering another world. I was so entranced that I am even considering traveling with the gypsy fair for a week: now wouldn’t that be incredible. (More to come on this excursion in an upcoming blog post.)

Tell me: what is the craziest or weirdest activity you have undertaken in the name of world building/research?

What activity would you like to take up in the name of world building in your current WIP that you have not done already? 

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6 Comments

  1. Hello! I’m glad I found this other wonderful blog of yours. I write a bit of fiction on the side and your post taught me a thing or two. Thanks!

    • Hi again 🙂
      This is my original WordPress blog…which I wanted to keep as my creativity & inspiration blog…yes I am a writer but I love form forms of creativity so this one is the all-in-one-basket creativity & inspiration blog…keep your eye out…there is a photoblog coming out soon..then of course there is my poetry portfolio blog and my tumblr…lol…I am all over the place 🙂
      Glad you found something useful in my posts.
      You should join myself and other writers on Sundays (EST time 6-7pm) on twitter for a chat on writing called #Storycraft .

  2. I found information you shared here to be very helpful. I have recently attempted to write fiction, and I didn’t realize that I actually have done this, world building. I hope it’s clear enough, but I think it is. But to actually read a description and explanation of it is very useful. By the way, what is WIP?

    • Well every story needs a world to be built for your characters to live and breathe in…so glad to hear you have been doing this.
      WIP = Work In Progress (It is a common term to use for your current work you are busy with.)
      Thanks for commenting 🙂
      Good luck with your fiction.

  3. Awesome post, as usual 🙂
    Love some of the cool ideas you’ve shared.
    I am not that adventurous with world building, but I think I need to be.
    Another excellent piece of advice I was given once, is to interview people from the world you are trying to create. For example, I am going to be ringing St Johns this week to get the low down on some medical stuff I need for my next story. Going to the source can be the perfect way to make your world realistic and accurate – like you going to the gypsy fair 🙂

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this. This is another thing that happens too often for non-sci-fi and non-fantasy fiction writers. World building is vital and you described it nicely.

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