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Thursday, February 12, 2009

World Building

Someone asked me a while back to blog about how I world build. I haven't until now because my world building has a lot to do with what the characters for that story tell me. Almost everything I know comes from my hero and/or heroine. I've told this story before, but when Ryne came in from In the Midnight Hour she wouldn't tell me anything about herself--not even her name--until she filled me in about her people and their society. That's usually how I world build. :-)

I actually really like doing it this way because then I don't have to do anything. It's just like when I used to complain that I never got to name my characters, they'd just come in and tell me who they were and that was it. I'd lament how some authors get to choose their characters names and why couldn't I ever do that? And then I had a heroine who refused to tell me who she was. She was, in fact, letting me pick. I hated it! I literally spent weeks searching and searching and searching for the right name. I began pleading with her: could you just tell me the first letter? C'mon, don't leave this up to meeee. :-) I finally did come up with a name for her, although she never did bail me out, and I actually think it's the right one because I can't imagine her going by anything else, but the misery of the experience taught me one thing. I will never, ever complain again about my characters choosing their own names.

And I'm putting the same theory to work on the world building. If my characters are happy to tell me what the world they live in is like, I am happy to go with it. That doesn't mean I don't end up with some influence over the information I get. It happens like this--they'll be telling me about their world and I'll ask a question about something and then they'll talk about that. Otherwise it might be something they don't consider worth mentioning, but once I know it, I can use it to add depth even if I never say anything about that area in the book.

See, this is the key to world building as far as I'm concerned: Just because you know it, does not mean the reader needs to know it.

When I used to judge contests, that was one of the big things I saw--info dump world building. I'm not a big fan of description anyway, but when I'm getting non-stop world information, my eyes glaze over. Bor-ing! World building needs to be threaded in, dribbled in. If you've read In the Midnight Hour, the first chapter has an incredible amount of world building going on, but it's woven in with all the action happening. There is no long stretch of nothing but world building paragraphs. I'm also doing a lot of character building in this first chapter. These two scenes show the essence of who Ryne is at her core.

That's a lot going on for one chapter.

My guidelines (hate the word "rules"): Dribble in the information in small doses. Don't give information that no one needs to know. Don't tell the world building stuff, show it. There's a big difference between saying that Ryne is a magical troubleshooter whose job is to fight the dark-force beings bent on hurting humans and showing Ryne fighting a dark-force creature to protect humans.

I think that's it. Pretend your world building is an ice berg--only 10% is above the water line. The rest is hidden, but supporting the part that's above the surface.