Story Worlds

CharlevoixBeach

Pondering the possibilities

You get better at writing by taking a good, hard, look at what you don’t do well, right? I found something I want to get better at.

During the novel-revision process I’ve discovered that I can dive into a story and have people (interesting people, I hope) do thing (interesting things, I hope) and discover that everything is happening in a white room…or maybe out in some kind of unspecified outdoor spot. For me, the problem is the same whether I’m writing about real world settings or imaginary ones.

I may always have to go back and flesh out the setting; there are many writers that work that way. However, as long as I continue to do some pre-writing and outlining–which I prefer, especially for novels–I  might as well get a jump on setting. So I started to ask myself some questions. There’s a lot of help out there on the interwebs and elsewhere with research and world-building. Almost too much. To keep it manageable, I decided to start from scratch with my own way to approach world-building and research. Once I can handle these relatively simple questions, I might be able to move on and sample some of the wisdom that’s out there.

My questions began like this: What do I absolutely need to figure out before I start writing?

  1. Where do people live? How many of them live in one place, and what are their houses like, from richest to poorest (if they have such distinctions, or any notion of some folks being more elite or worthy than others)?
  2. What do people wear? How do climate, social mores, occupations, religious beliefs, and class distinctions lead to variations in dress?
  3. What do people eat? Is there a particular culinary tradition associated with their culture, and if they are aware of other cultures, how would they characterize the differences? What is their special (holiday, for example) food like, compared to everyday food?
  4. What local resources—animal, vegetable, and mineral, magical—help determine answers to questions about shelter, clothing, and food?
  5. How is society organized? Are people in tribes, city-states, nations? How are people’s settlements arranged? Who is in charge? How are disputes arbitrated, both within the community and with other communities?
  6. How do people acquire things? What kind of trade occurs, both within the community and with other communities?
  7. What common occupations exist? What kinds of things will my main characters do, and are their occupations typical, or unusual?

Okay, that just might be enough to start with. Going forward, these are questions I plan to address early on. It’s got to be better than plunging into my next story world only to discover someone forgot to fill the pool!

Catherine published a novel and short story back in the 1990s. Life intervened, and she didn’t write for a while. But then she started writing again in 2010 for National Novel Writing Month, and has continued to write in November and throughout the year. She has stories in two Journey anthologies, Drops of Midnight and Other Worlds. She is currently either revising her latest NaNoWriMo novel from 2012, working on short fiction, or posting on her blog, CB’s Mojo.

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