Wednesday, February 10, 2010

1 2 3 of Worldbuilding

Thanks for the response on my first vlog! I am possibly one of the least photogenic people on the planet, but I think by the time you're in college, you accept how weird you look/sound on camera and in real life. Or you can de-tag yourself from all of your pictures on Facebook, but that probably takes a lot of effort. Also, you can't de-tag yourself from real life. 

All right. So I was reading Gail Carson Levine's latest post, and it got me to thinking about worldbuilding in fiction. Don't turn off just because you're not a fantasy writer. Every story has worldbuilding, even if it's not as crazy as fantasy. Every character has a fictional world in which they live, and just because it's not full of magic and elves and exploding pixies, it's still a world that is not the *real* world. How do you prep for worldbuilding?

I will admit that I think I suck at worldbuilding. That's why I like fan fiction. I don't have to worldbuild! We all have flaws, okay? Here are three points I try to think about when worldbuilding.

Disclaimer: This is coming from the girl who hates this part of writing. Really. So I mean...this isn't expert advice or anything.

1) The best worldbuilding creates a setting that comes alive. I don't mean come alive like it's going to grow a conscience and start eating your MC. But it creates a mood. It sets the tone of your story. It *matches* the tone of your story. (Don't write a horror story with cheerful unicorns in the background and rainbows and singing flowers). It becomes a character. Don't let your world be an awkward extra to fade aside. Be vibrant. Be there. 

2) Don't detail out every little tiny thing. I make this mistake all of the time. I overthink everything. You don't need to explain the tiniest things. The best ways to set the world is to create a descriptively loaded sentence. One good sentence can do more to flesh out your world than a paragraph of awkward rambling that only makes the empty parts stand out more. Besides, you need to give your readers some credit. They can fill in some of it without constant direction.

Above the couch is the apartment's only attempt at artwork; a mellow, lonely landscape painting of an island, hanging in a frame that gives it too much space. - antistar_e, a brilliant writer of fan fiction, among other things. (Excerpt from It's A No Regret Life)

3) Let your world tell the story as well. Don't put in description for the sake of description. It gives the reader a headache to imagine pointless details. Description should further the story. It should say something about the plot or the characters or the running emotions. Ideally. Empty details are not good. Not good for anyone, and it's probably going to be cut eventually anyway.

I don't even follow this advice all of the time. If I did, I would be a better writer, probably by a lot. I try, though. Now, in my opinion, the novels with the best worldbuilding EVAR:

1) Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)- it's timeless, ya'll, and you basically want to live there/believe it's real.
2) Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis) - obligatory mention, since I spent half my childhood trying to enter wardrobes, you know it's real, somewhere beyond the divide -
3) Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling)- ditto; I waited for my letter, yo.
4) Spindle's End (Robin McKinley) - first chapter = the best worldbuilding I've ever read.
5) Un Lun Dun (China Mieville) - it's so weird it's real; his imagination is full of crazy goodness.
6) The Smile (Donna Jo Napoli) - brilliantly sets you right in the middle of Medici Florence, down to the culture, the smells, the colors, and the taste of pasta sauce in your mouth.

There are many more examples, of course. I would consider Robin McKinley a surefire in any of her novels. The plot and characters might be weaker with different stories, but she never, ever disappoints in her luscious worlds. Also, it occurs to me that everyone who is awesome uses their initials instead of first-middle names. The moral of the story is initials = better worldbuilding. Fact.

On Friday, after my friends and I get back from the Percy Jackson movie, I'll be doing a reaction vlog. It will be epic. Stay tuned!


  1. Not photogenic? But you look so adorable in your new profile pic!

    Love GCL's blog, and this is a great response to it. I look forward to her posts every Wednesday.

    Have fun at the movie!

  2. OMG. The movie. After so many weeks thinking about it, I totally forgot that was like TOMORROW. Think my sister and I (plus friends) are going to go after I get home from work.

    My sister was going to go stalk Logan today (I think) since he's doing some promo stuff near her school, but I don't know if she will. Haha. YAY FRIDAY!!! Looking forward to your vlog!

    Also, lovely post. I suck at worldbuilding. I tend to know the very very bare bones of how stuff is supposed to work or what cardinal rules there are, but anything beyond that - details, when one can break rules, logic - I'm probably as lost as everyone else. Um, yeah.

  3. I'm with Tere, you can not claim not to be photogenic! You seriously look like a model in your profile pic!