I now blog over at The Eyre Guide! This blog is an archive of my past posts.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Guest Post: On World-building

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Many thanks to Adam Ortyl, author of Leah and the Jackhammer, for writing this wonderful guest post on world-building!  If you would like to check out his book here's the plot summary:

Leah lives in a harsh world. The golden age passed a thousand years ago, the magic of the world has almost dried up, and kids her age can really be jerks. She tries to make friends, but she's different, and the other kids know it. She has magic. They call her a demon.

Ostracized, Leah does what anyone else in her shoes would do: bring her stuffed bear to life. Despite having fun with her new (and only) friend, she knows something is still missing. After a traumatic run-in with some bullies, she finds something totally unexpected--a relic from the ancients called a Jackhammer.

Leah's Jackhammer is a powerful meckanical powered by a crystal that should not exist. When she's attacked by a creature that kidnaps her bear she has no choice but use the Jackhammer to follow the monster deep into the mines, or risk losing her one and only friend.

There is an ongoing Goodreads giveaway for this book here!

Guest Post:

If writing a story is like painting a picture, then world-building is the fine details; the highlights, and the glitter, the pipe-cleaners and the googly eyes. I don’t mean to say that world-building is the equivalent of a grade schoolers art project. No, world-building is what makes a story unique and tangible, it’s the glue.

Don’t use it enough and you can still have a pretty picture, but it might be somewhat bland.
Use it too much and you might have a glue covered glitter monster on your hands.

With world-building you need to find a healthy medium and add in those details where it really counts. If I had to give an arbitrary number of rules for world-building, they would be:

  1. Be precise. Be detailed. When world-building, you want to contrast the story so, like the googly eyes, your details pop out. Don’t use a general description where a more specific one exists.
  2. Use sparingly. If your world-building is full of rich details, you need to make sure it doesn’t wash out your story. Despite this post being about world-building, you always need to remember: Story comes first.
  3. Building off of rule 2: The reader isn’t dumb. your world-building details are used sparingly because the reader can fill in the rest of the details.
  4. Don’t info-dump. You all know what it is. Don’t do it. Every one of your sentences should be advancing the story or revealing character. Don’t give us a page describing all the delicious food at some fancy feast and where it all came from.
  5. Don’t eat the glue. It isn’t good for you.

To round this post out, let me give an illustration. First we have just a simple paragraph of narrative. This is our painting; unadorned, simple, watercolor.

Harold strolled down the center of the rutted road, while dusty stone buildings passed by slowly to either side. The Duke’s men would be expecting him, so there was no use in trying to sneak in. Folks walked around him, farmers, merchants, and artisans, but Harold kept his head held high. His eyes locked on the gates to the Duke’s manor, and he wouldn’t look away until he stared the Duke in his eyes and told him his rule was through.

It got the job done, right? But it wasn’t anything special. It wasn’t devoid of detail either; you can see the dusty stone, you can see the flood of people in the road, you can imagine Harold’s stare. But you didn’t get a sense of the world, of something happening outside of Harold’s story.

Now lets look at updating this narrative with some pipe-cleaner world-building.

Harold strolled down the center of the rutted road. In between the stonecutters, and refineries he counted four blacksmiths on the short walk, each larger and louder than the last as they tried to attract the most customers. Harold liked the Grocian smithy the best. Not because it was the largest, but because it was the brightest by far, decorated with a rainbow of different colored brightsteel. A stone cutter shouldered his way past, leaving a dust impression on Harold’s shirt. Harold normally would have given that man a good wallop, but not now. He ignored him, and he ignored the flood of little miners and their annoying headlamps, and stared straight ahead at the Duke’s manor. Its sun-yellow Lourwich limestone walls were pulled from the earth right under his feet. It was from Lourwich. The man that lived there though, he was not one of them. He was something else and his rule was through.

What did you think? The story is still pretty much the same, but now it’s glittered all up. So what did we do here? We named the town. We hinted at it’s geographical location: In the mountains. We hinted at their prime source of commerce: mining, and that they possibly have a bustling economy. We hinted at the town’s diversity by signaling out the Grocian smithy, and hinted at Grocian culture by detailing their eccentric decorations, which contrasted with the culture in Lourwich. We learned a little bit about the people that live there: they are possibly rude, or too busy to step out of the way. But they are also prideful about their town and don’t like that the duke isn’t one of them.

What I did not do is info dump. The story kept moving the whole time, revealing either plot or character. I thought about giving you guys a info-dump example, but I didn’t want to put you to sleep!

So - that’s my take on world-building. It is the googly-eyed craft project of the writing world. Please note: I  didn’t eat any of the glue, despite how tasty it smelled.

Check out the Goodreads Giveaway!

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  1. I love worlds in books. Especially when you really feel like you are in the world. I find that fantasy does this a lot more then other types of books. For example, RA Salvatore's Drizzt series is amazing at this. I feel totally involved in the world. I also think if you are going to have huge worlds it's important to include a map. This helps me visualize where everything is. I don't think I would be good at this, which is why I am a reader, not a writer! :)

    1. Same with me! I am better at the reading than the writing! :D I definitely admire writers who create new worlds - there's so much you have to keep in your head. I'll have to check out the Drizzt series, I haven't heard of it!

  2. As a preschool teacher, I appreciate all this talk of pipe cleaners and glitter in relation to world building... I can completely relate since these are kind of the nuts and bolts of my daily existence. Haha! Such a great post! :D

    1. LOL, it does help you visualize things! :D I hope you the glue doesn't get to you with all the kids projects you have to help on! :)