Literature is a living entity, extending past the grit of texture of a printed page or flickering screen. That’s the gorgeous thing about the writing process–it is a conversation. Someone wrote something, another person reads it. A dialogue begins. Our twitter chats #Passingnotes provide an entry point into these conversations.
At The Passed Note, we wanted to get into the grit of the story. What does setting do? How does it impact the reader? What are some tricks and tips to create believable worlds?
If you couldn’t make our last craft-oriented twitter chat, that’s not a worry at all. I’ve got you covered. Let’s begin to answer some of those questions.
Our chat began explosively as we first considered examples of well-executed world building. This seems like a basic kind of question, but it’s also an essential one. As a writer, it’s important to understand what works and why. Examples are essential. They can become inspiration, models for you to reference. Like I said, writing and literature is a conversation. It’s good to know the strong voices, to understand how they work and why. Authors we mentioned: Sarah Dessen, Rae Carson, Sarah J Maas, and JK Rowling.
There are many ways into a story’s world. We explored the pantser and plotter methods. Cutting across the conversation participants was the need to create an authentic world. This requires understanding “how/why characters might advance a certain ideologies.” One of the ways to do that is to map your story–name the spaces of a town or region, see the topography. There was also an expressed interest in the use of a whiteboard room in which ideas can be laid out: “When your desk and wall start looking like one of those crime boards in Law and Order: SVU.” There is a certain satisfaction in generating the chaos of an emerging world onto a wall in reality.
So after outlining some methods of world building, we turned our attention to how the world ought to be introduced to the reader. Overall, the best method is a slow burn. A slow introduction to the space of the story helps the reader understand the stakes of the world. This also makes the world-building feel less like a dry history lecture.
Our final question engaged the role of the world within a story. Is the world a character or just design? The answer depends on the structural demands of the story. In flash fiction, story-as-character may not be as essential. However, for longer works, the space of the story is critical: “We feel a certain way about our towns, they are alive, not just a backdrop.”