Hi all, I’m excited to share with you a neat video on the concept of “world building” in fiction. Kate Messner wrote, narrated and animated this fascinating video:
In her video, Messner shares the top questions to consider in structuring a fictional world:
- How did this world come to be? Write a short history.
- What are the rules?
- What are the punishments for breaking the rules?
- What are the beliefs?
- What are the values for this society?
- What’s the weather like?
- What do they eat?
- Where are they living?
- What is their relationship with animals and plants?
- What technology exists?
Here’s a more comprehensive list of world-building questions for sci-fi writers especially, compiled by Patricia C. Wrede.
My own thoughts on world-building
Having attempted to create world profiles before for the “Wedding 3000” story I wrote, and now for the Wren story I’m writing, I have a few observations.
(A) Many of these details are background information that should be used purposefully to advance plot and create a sense of the setting. Just because you come up with a fifty-page treatise on the weather and animal rights in your made-up universe doesn’t mean it should be presented that way in the story itself. Use the details piece by piece, teasing them out for the reader to gain a steadily growing understanding of this world and its rules. Don’t announce it all up-front. The discovery is more fun! Plus, only share the details that matter to the story.
(B) Certain questions are going to matter more for your world. In Wedding 3000, a futuristic satire on the increasing absurdity of weddings, the technology which existed matter a whole lot more than the weather. In the wren/bird story (I’ve really got to come up with a name for this working draft!), the weather and setting are vastly important, and technology not nearly as much. Beliefs and societal norms must be emphasized in this story in order for the reader to understand how significant it is when they’re broken by the protagonist.
(C) It’s okay to change. Some aspects of the Wedding 3000 world were unclear to me when I first began, but as I began to write, gaps revealed themselves. (“Oh! Well, I guess I have to think about their transportation tech now, since they’re going from one planet to another.” “What would vending machines be like in the future?” “Now that they’re sitting down to a meal, how futuristic should I make the food? It shouldn’t be so descriptive and wildly techie to distract readers away from the importance of the events they’re discussing…”) Give yourself room to continue fleshing out the world and its rules.
(D) When you’re done planning for the world-building, step away from the lists and maps you’ve drawn. Just close your eyes and think about what it’d be like to live daily life there. Walk around the streets. Feel the faint brush of the purple snowflakes on your face. Smell the burning fires all around from the hamlets’ siege. Run your hand over the cold railing of the abandoned spaceship and hear the echo of your footsteps in the giant metal dome under the stars. Follow your hero as he pulls up his mackinaw against the cold in the dimly lit alley, with the smell of refuse and rotting cabbage hanging on the bricks. Those kinds of descriptions will go a lot further than a detailed description of the voting protocol in the nation’s parliament.
I love watching TED talks. The opportunity to hear insights from experts in such a conversational, genuine way broadens my horizons and makes me think about other paths of life outside my own. The brief videos are like a jolt of energy for me, or like a delicious new dish of ideas I digest and later ruminate. I’m thrilled TED now has a TED-Ed section as well as writers’ workshops! Will share more if I find more neat videos like this one.