Welcome to Writerly Wednesday! Where I share a bit about writing and what I’ve learned over the years for those of you interested in becoming an author. Today, we’re kicking off a series on worldbuilding: Mapping Out Your Story World. It is a three part series based on a presentation I did for junior high and high school students. We’ll discuss the importance of maps, how we can use them to build our story world, and end with tips on drawing our own map. What we’ll cover:
It’s a basic overview for beginners (and hopefully a nice refresher for the rest of us!) Plus a perfect fit for Jenelle Leanne Schmidt’s February is Fantasy Month theme this year, which is focusing on worldbuilding. So without further ado, let’s dive in!
What comes first for you? Plot? Characters? Story World?
For me, a snippet of plot and a main character tend to form hand-in-hand. But the story world comes quickly after that. I want to know what the land looks like, start naming locations, and where my characters will visit. Early in the planning stages, I am already sketching a map.
Ever since I can remember I loved drawing maps. I would draw imaginary coastlines, continents full of mountains amid forests and winding rivers, but I didn’t connect them to stories until I was a teen. I was just drawing maps. For fun. At times I would look back, and think, who does this kind of stuff? But now as I’m writing fantasy and creating story worlds, I’m like duh! But I’m dork. Ha!
Every adventurer needs a map. Readers, writers, you and I are adventurers. Maps helps us:
- To remember where everything is in our story world and keep it consistent.
- To enhance and deepen the story (even if the main action takes place in a small area, dropping in references to other people groups and locations throughout the narrative can broaden the scope of your world and help make the story seem more real.)
- Give readers a feel for where the characters are and a promise of what awaits them in the story to come.
Before we can dive into creating our maps and story worlds, we need to brainstorm the type of world we are building.
One of the things I love about writing fantasy is creating a new world, and one of the things I’ve learned over the years is that having a basic understanding of how the real world works helps us build better story worlds
Some of you might be saying, hold up! We’re dealing with speculative fiction. We’re making all this up. We’re trying to escape reality not create it. The beauty of fantasy is being able to create whatever you want, the wonderful question of “What if?” So . . . .
Why should we worry about science, the laws of nature, and so forth when we are dealing with fantastical realms and concepts?
The Suspension of Disbelief.
Have you ever read a book that was hard to believe?
As readers, we have to suspend our disbelief in order to enjoy stories about magic and wizards and middle earth. We want to step into the story world and become a part of it. As authors, it’s our job to do just that. We write to create a fantastical world that is believable, where we can invite others to step inside, become immersed in our creation, and to take them on adventures. BUT if readers find the immersion hard to believe, they will be jerked from the story, and they won’t enjoy it. They will walk away disappointed, frustrated, maybe even angry. It defeats the very reason why we are creating and why readers read.
But as such, we are writing fantasy and science-fiction for a reason. We will not always follow the laws of our natural world. One of the things authors learn as we pursue our craft—the skills to write stories and paint pictures with words—is that we must learn the rules in order to know how to break them. It’s the same here. Once you know them, you can choose to do what you will as a stylistic choice as long as it makes sense in your world.
As Elizabeth Swan said in Pirates of the Caribbean, “You’re
pirates writers! Hang the code and hang the rules. They’re more like guidelines, anyways.”
If there is something in your world that defies the natural laws of science, then you need to have a reason for it that fits your story world.
The water flows upward—why? Ice kingdom in the middle of the desert? How? Perhaps a magical disturbance in the environment or an isolation spell. How does that magic affect that spot but not other locations? What fuels that spell? Can it be broken? Whatever the reason, you’ll need to establish why you broke the rules and remember to be consistent throughout the story.
Some of the first questions we have to answer when it comes to worldbuilding is:
How similar is the story world to our world? Does it follow the same laws of nature? How is the world different than our own? If you’ve strayed from established science and rules, how do you explain it?
So what say you? What are some ways authors have broken the laws of nature and gotten away with it?
Some that come to mind:
- Harry Potter. Some people are born with magic, some are not.
- C.S. Lewis’s Space trilogy where the planet Elwin Ransom visits has less gravity on it. So things are taller, lighter, but it also takes a toll on him.
Next week, we’ll discuss Ecology and Cultures.
Have a great rest of the week!