World Building: A Case for Imagination
As the focus this month has been on world building, you’ve read a lot of articles talking about the process of world building, questions to ask when world building, and articles about when and where to world build according to genre. You’ve learned the dangers of overwriting, how to use your world as a character in your story, and you will probably learn more good things to improve your settings and develop your stories through world building as the last few days of this month approach.
In this article, however, let’s approach world building in a different way. Staff here at OWS recently came across some great articles for and against world building, but these two, by the same author, left us thinking.
As a devout lover of Tolkien and Stephen King, two vastly talented authors, I can claim that my only real memories I still have from the books I’ve read are the stories themselves. Sure, there was plenty of world building involved, in fact I’m quite sure Tolkien went to great lengths to develop Middle Earth to such a point that it has become a “real” place in history. With Stephen King on the other hand, we know that his characters walk the modern day earth, and the towns are always unique to his experiences and characters (and put Bangor, Maine on the map), so a lot of world building is only necessary to add an element of suspense or fear to the story. The tidbits of the town, the world within which the characters move, isn’t what you’ll remember most about the story.
It’s the stories themselves.
It’s Stephen King’s way of writing that brings your nightmares to life in the middle of the day, no matter where you are. It’s Tolkien way of building characters you care about and a journey that becomes the adventure in your head, one you are willing to take despite knowing the risks over and over again.
Do we really need to know how often Frodo ate? No, though we did enjoy learning about the second breakfast tradition of hobbits (which incidentally is more character development than world building), and the insane mess of dwarves needing ale and feasting (another incidence of character developing). Do we really need to know the color of the barn where Cujo lived? Why does it matter? The barn adds nothing to the story other than to establish the fact that it’s a farm.
So, why is there so much emphasis on world building? What happened to using our imaginations? Why must everything be “realistic” or have a touch of realism to it? When you dream, it’s not always realistic. In fact, your dreams and nightmares, no matter how complete they seem, never fully reveal everything. You wake up and fill in the blanks the dream left vacant for you.
Every story, no matter the genre should have elements in it that help the reader get into the scene, but you don’t need a sophisticated explanation of Aunt Cora’s grandpappy’s broken rifle and a detailed explanation as to how it got broken for the readers to understand. Some things just are, especially in Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. These are very definition of idealism, the ideal exercise for an imagination. Even horror has elements of idealism that have to be accepted in order to work. If you knew what to expect, would it scare you the same?
No matter what you write, conjure a world that your readers can escape to through their imaginations. Fill it with sounds, smells, and visuals that make their imaginations work. Unless it’s essential to the story, don’t worry about what they eat, how often they change clothes, etc. Focus on what is essential to the characters and plot of your story and you’ll set the scene up right every time.
Remember, you can build the world of your story through your characters in the way they talk (isn’t that what separates many of King’s characters from the rest of the world?), their responses to the situations around them, and reactions to the world they encounter around them. Just close your eyes and dive into your story.
Let your readers do the work. A well written story will work whether you build your world from scratch to grand palace or just start with the palace already there.
[bctt tweet=”A well written story will work whether the world comes from scratch or with an existing one. #writingtips #worldbuilding” username=”theauthorSAM”]