World building is a technique that truly skilled writers use that is almost invisible to the reader because it makes us feel completely immersed in the location and environment of the story. It is an exercise that you can take on before you put words on the page to ensure that your story will have a very strong and believable sense of place - a special ecosystem for your readers to enjoy.
Of course, building worlds is most important for novel and screenplay writers, and is a critical aspiration of science fiction writers in particular, because there absolutely must be a believable and real world inside the story.
The example I love, as I shared in a conversation in comments on another post recently, is the bar scene in the original Star Wars movie. The scene is very peculiar, but we accept it as “normal’ within the reality of that story.
That said, it is also important to create a world for your short stories. It’s just on a much smaller scale. In a novel, where you would need to know the place in the world, galaxy or universe as well as the timeframe in history or in the future, in a short story you can create a world in a much more discrete way that just gives us a sense of whether the story is relatively modern-day, as well as some hints about the environment or other details that will help the reader to immerse in the story.
Are the people dressed in overalls and working the fields? Are they bustling to jobs on Wall Street? Are riding around in personal travel pods? You get the idea.
How to Go About World Building
When you sit down to tell a story, one of the most important things you can do is establish for yourself the time and place of the story. We perhaps do this naturally to an extent. But there are ways that you can use world building to make your story truly impactful by infusing it with details.
There are multiple worksheets and templates online that you can use, and I will provide some links for you to refer to if you are looking for resources. For now, let’s just talk about the art of creating an inner world in your story, especially if the place where you want us to go when we step into the inner world of your story is unique or particularly interesting or vibrant in some way.
- List the features of the place using adjectives that help you envision it yourself. Is it beautiful, green, pastoral? Sterile, dark and hostile?
- Think about the people and culture. Are they modern? Are they kind and good? Mean and gruff? Is education valued, or are educated people threatening to these citizens?
- Are the beings in this world of yours all humans? Are there talking animals? Are there creatures from other galaxies?
Spend time sitting quietly and letting your mind fully imagine the colors, the sights, the vehicles and everything that will help your readers to feel they are a part of the world inside your story.
World Building Resources
- World Building Template from Reedsy - https://blog.reedsy.com/worldbuilding-guide/
- Ultimate World Building Questionnaire from Novel Software - https://www.novel-software.com/theultimateworldbuildingquestionnaire
- World Building Worksheet from New York Book Editors - https://s3.nybookeditors.com/blog/PDF/World-Building-Worksheet.pdf?mtime=20190820025839
@jayna, writer and moderator at The Ink Well.
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