Hello everyone, GoochExtension here. Welcome to the first installment of what I hope will be a new regular feature for the site! Before we begin, I’ll just answer some inevitable questions…
What is this feature?
The goal is to create a place for aspiring writers to get together and discuss their creative processes – essentially like an online writers’ workshop. Each installment will focus on a different aspect of fiction writing (this first one is about world-building, and other ideas for installments include dialogue, character development, and perhaps some more genre-specific stuff down the line), and will, ideally, be hosted by a different member – with the “host” providing a write-up on the focal topic, along with some tips. If you would like to host one of these and have a particular point of expertise you think you could offer some insight into, please let me know!
How does this differ from the Creative Endeavours thread?
The Creative Endeavours thread is largely geared towards discussing and sharing our individual projects, whereas the focus here will be more on the actual creative process itself. Although self-promotion is not forbidden, participants are discouraged from doing so unless it is genuinely necessary/relevant. Additionally, this feature will be geared specifically towards writing, whereas the Creative Endeavours thread has a broader scope – and this will be a monthly feature, as opposed to the CE’s weekly frequency (this may be revised depending on the reception this gets, though I’d also like to be mindful so as to not exhaust all the potential topics too quickly). The goal here is for these two features to work in tandem and compliment one another, rather than stepping on a well-established thread’s toes.
What makes you qualified to run something like this?
I am by no means a professional writer, nor do I believe many of the budding writers here have actually been published or employed to write in some way. I have, however, been producing works of fiction across various mediums since a very young age, and with any type of long-term experience in any field, one will generally pick up a few pointers. The goal is for each host to focus on a particular writing skill they feel they’ve honed over time, but I imagine the bulk of the activity here will come from the subsequent discussion.
Now, without further ado, let’s begin the first installment of…
World-building is a key part of creating a truly absorbing work of fiction, particularly when it comes to long-form works. I grew up on things like The Simpsons and South Park – shows set in small, somewhat enclosed communities with an established and ever-expanding roster of recurring characters and locations. I didn’t even realise the influence this had on my work at the time, producing a hand-drawn comic in high school that lasted almost 300 issues followed by a now-defunct web series, both of which were set in locales not entirely dissimilar to Springfield. And, of course, anyone who’s seen Avocado City knows that this is still well and truly a big part of my work.
We tend to associate world-building with more niche genres such as science fiction and fantasy – and indeed, if you’re writing something that follows its own internal logic when it comes to physics and the like, then crafting an equally thoroughly-conceived world to set it in is practically a given. But really, it’s an integral part of any story. Even if you’re setting something in the real world, you still need to apply some thought about the relationships and history between the core characters and their surroundings, and world-building on a larger scale is really just an extension of that.
Say, for example, if you’re telling a narrowly-focused, realistic story about a couple who live together, with just two characters and a single setting – you’d still need to give some thought as to their history and their surroundings. A relatively new couple who’ve just moved in together will interact very differently from a long-term couple who’ve been living together for a while. Now, let’s say you’re writing an epic science fiction story about some original piece of technology you’ve conceived and its impact on the world at large. Again, the history behind this piece of technology – how it operates, how long it’s been around, etc. – will play a very important role in colouring your story, and determining the direction it takes. It’s all the same core principle, regardless of the scope, the genre, or any other variables.
CONSISTENCY IS KEY
When you’re writing a story, you don’t need to go in having every individual aspect of that story’s world fully fleshed out. That’s not how most – if any – writers operate. But once you establish something, you do need to maintain consistency. Any new element you introduce is now part of your story’s mythology, and the moment you breach continuity, so too do you breach your audience’s investment and understanding of your work, and the world you’ve built falls apart from there.
Some writers may find it useful to keep documentation outlining the history and key elements of their world. Personally, mine is generally kept entirely in my head (I rarely ever commit anything to paper before I go in to write the finished product, instead choosing to refine it internally first over a lengthy period of time – though I do routinely revisit previous episodes/installments of my long-form works, which I find helps keep the history fresh in my mind, and allows me to maintain the overall tone and atmosphere), though I imagine every writer has their own approach for this.
KNOW YOUR WORLD’S HISTORY
I mentioned before that character relationships will operate very differently depending on their history, and that same point applies to pretty much every aspect of world-building; a long-established community is going to have a different set of internal rules from a new one, and likewise for an invention, a spell, a family – anything, really.
Whenever you establish something new in your world, the first question is – is this a new element to the world itself, or is this an existing element which is only just being introduced/explored? And if the latter is true, how long has it been around, to what extent has it been implemented, to what extent are the characters aware of it and to what extent has it impacted their lives?
You may find it handy to make a timeline – understanding the history of your world will assist greatly when you’re writing stories in that world. Likewise for a basic map if you’re setting something in an original town/city/country/planet/etc. and the geographical positions of individual locations within your setting plays some sort of relevance to the story.
LET THINGS UNFOLD NATURALLY
If you have indeed devised a thorough backstory for your world, and have all the internal logic figured out, a natural inclination will be to try and cram it all in your story so your audience can share the same understanding of the world that you have. However, this can often result in clunky exposition, long stretches of boring content, and can be very alienating to those who only intend on engaging with your work on a more shallow level (and if you have a good story at the core of your work, there’s no reason you can’t appeal to both the casual viewers/readers and those who want to invest more heavily).
Ideally, good world-building will only introduce a new element when it’s of relevance to the narrative, and the more extraneous/superficial aspects of the world are there for decoration. It’s important for you to understand your world as a writer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to work in each and every thing you decide about your world (or, if you’re writing for a visual medium, maybe relegate the more superfluous things to the background instead – then they’ll be there for those who want to look for them, without being too intrusive for those who don’t care).
- For long-form stories, you should routinely be building on what you have, though you need to do so without violating what you’ve already established. This will keep your audience engaged and keep your story fresh as it unfolds, while maintaining the consistency that is key to good world-building.
- Try to colour your world with different types of characters, settings and other story mechanisms while still maintaining an overall consistency in tone. Maybe some characters like each other, maybe some characters hate each other, maybe your world is part utopia and part dystopia – much like real life, there should be shades to everything (and many different angles and elements for you to explore as a writer), but never lose sight of your story’s ultimate M.O.
- For your audience to become invested in your world, you yourself need to be invested. If you find yourself apathetic towards your own creation at any point, take a break immediately, because that’s a sure-fire way to lose track of that vital consistency.
Thus concludes the first installment of The Process. I’ve tried to keep the advice general so it can be applied to any type of story in any medium, though if you’re after some more specific pointers on world-building, feel free to pose any questions either to myself or the community at large in the comments. Additionally, if you would like to volunteer to host one of these (and/or have any suggestions for future topics), please feel free to do so!
The next installment is Character Development, and will be hosted by Qualifiersrep. You can expect it in the final week of December!