Hello, beautiful people on the internet! Welcome back to Worldly Wise where together we’re going to take the reins of your speculative fiction story and see it to the finishing line. Did any of the book recommendations from last time make it to your TBR Pile? If not, but you still want to explore the storytelling element called “The World,” we’re going to do it together today!
To put it simply, “The World” is where your story takes place. Now, that should give you a good enough idea of just how important this storytelling element is. Because your story and characters can’t exist in a void, right?
Before this gets too intimidating and you think, “Let me work on some other aspect of my story and come here later,” hold your horses! At Worldly Wise, you and I are ready to take the intimidating part out of world-building and have some fun while we’re at it.
This is just going to take 6 questions. Are you ready?
Question 1: Who is my main character?
There’s going to be one person we’ll follow around during the entire story, right? Well, who are they? To truly make your world feel like a home, as an audience, we want to attach to a character. Find someone we care about and can root throughout the story. Otherwise, we’ll end up being just as lost as your story.
Figure out who this main character is, what led them to where the story begins, and where they’re going from here on. If you’re writing fantasy, work to figure out their species, how they communicate, and the strengths and weaknesses of said species. These are especially useful in creating obstacles.
There’s an exhaustive list of questions you can answer about your character, like their hair color, eye color, weight, and whatnot! But, in my opinion, what the audience really cares about is their desires and motives that shape the world and the story. Figure that out first.
Question 2: Who is my supporting cast?
Unless you’re writing a dystopian novel where your main character is trying to find a way to civilization, you’ll need more people to join the adventure. In fact, this dystopian novel would also need more people, eventually. No one wants to read 300 pages of a character walking and occasionally facing some conflict that isn’t born out of human interaction.
That’s not to say you should populate your novel with a billion side characters of every species to make it stand out. We need people to aid the main character’s journey by either helping them or creating obstacles for them. Like the main character, the supporting cast needs desires and motives too, just don’t take the spotlight from our hero/heroine. Because they won’t thank you for that. Neither would the audience.
Question 3: What does my world look like?
We are talking about geography and the organisms that inhabit our world. Think of landscape and how it affects the inhabitants. Major landmarks and why are they important to the story? What natural resources are available in plenty and whether there are any that are scarcely available? What creatures walk this world? Do they co-exist?
Just remember not to over-research (Yes, there’s a thing like that. I didn’t make it up!). You do not need to research every single aspect of your world before you write the story. That’s a rabbit hole you’ll never get out of.
You just need enough information to aid the story.
I’m sure all the things in your head about your breathtaking world are fantastic! But does the audience need every single detail? If taking some details out causes little change in your story or the audience’s understanding of it, please take them out.
Question 4: What historical events took place in my world?
This history is the backstory of your world. Its inception, the important lore, mythologies, disasters, wars. Anything and everything that aids the story. Nothing unnecessary.
Just like the character, this is the part where you need to know what led your world to where it is now.
This part can be especially interesting to create when you link it to the theme of your story. The theme is the main idea you want to explore in the story.
Look at our real world. Every landmark in history has contributed to making our society the way it is now. History has shaped our setting.
Your world’s history should do that too and if you’re creative enough, you just might create a conflict that dissuades your main character from their story goal.
Question 5: What is my world’s belief system?
Yes, we’re talking about the religious or spiritual aspects that rule your world, but let’s take it a step further. Does magic of any sort exist in your world? What about other supernatural creatures? Can you tell what people think of it? What are the rules of magic? How do this belief system and magic/supernatural world co-exist? Does it affect what people do for a living? Are there different cultures?
Taking these together, you should weave them perfectly with the theme of your story. A belief system is a firm foundation for conflicts.
Take, for example, Harry Potter. (Spoiler Alert!) The muggles cannot know about magic and underage witches and wizards cannot perform magic outside school. Those rules are inflexible. So, when Harry performs the Patronus charm in Little Whining in The Order of the Phoenix, he is expelled for performing magic outside school. Harry can’t let that happen for so many reasons! Conflicts! You get the picture, right?
Question 6: Are there any sci-fi elements that affect my world?
Think time travel, extraterrestrial life, parallel universe, alternate timeline, humanoids, and other “what-if” creatures or science ideas you can come up with. How did these things come into existence? Are they affordable or easily available? What is society’s view on this? What are the rules?
Again, remember not to go down the rabbit hole of “I need to know everything or my story is doomed!” and avoid info-dumping on the audience. We need a healthy dose of a sprinkle of your world, not something that takes away from the story of your character.
Get on your laptop or find some paper. Just one page of each of these six questions should be enough to help you get a good idea of what your world is like. So, no excuses for not writing that story faster anymore, alright? I’m excited to see what you come up with.
And the next time we meet, I’ll tell you what nobody knows about speculative fiction. (Hint: As a speculative fiction author, you’re helping in your audience’s wellbeing.) Until then!
Tell us in the comments: What’s your answer to one of the questions mentioned in this article?
Disha Walia is a lifelong storyteller and an enthusiastic writer and editor in love with the idea of exploring the creative world of words. While making her space in the world of non-fiction and fiction alike, Disha loves to spend even her free time daydreaming about what next to write. Connect with her at www.quillinary.com. You can also follow her on Instagram (@quillinary) and Twitter (@quillinary).