Welcome to final entry in the Basics Series (I). Today, we’re going to review what we’ve been looking at over the past three months (has it really been so long already?) and next time, we’ll begin our new series.
Over the course of The Basics, despite only scrapping the very tip of the iceberg, we’ve covered a fair bit:
War, Peace, Tone, “The Divine”, Geography, Climate, Resources & People, Magic, Education, Myths, Fashion, and Food.
Bringing Together the Different Topics as A Whole
From this, you should have been able to establish a functioning world, whether basic or deep. If we take a look back at the setting I penned off the top of my head, with the lizardmen (the basics, part III), it contained most of these things. Education might have been left off, but that can easily be added in.
Whether you focus on any of these, or none of them, they should provide you with enough to develop the background of your characters, provide a landscape for the characters to move around in, and perhaps add those little sprinkles of realism that helps empower the suspension of disbelief, regardless of genre.
Remember, there is always more to add and it can be easy to become lost in adding just one more thing, whether that’s glacial lakes, Saharan sands, woven fabrics, exotic pets, sea voyages and the type of tree the ship is built from, gothic boxwood miniatures (which I strongly suggest you google!), to different foods, wines, herbs and spices. In a sense, a world may never be fully complete because with each generation of characters, the world is added to. It can, however, be enough, and the real art is knowing how to engage those lovingly crafted intricacies you have spent so long (or so little!) over.
Theme Over All-Encompassing Details – Knowing When & How To Show Your Worldbuilding
However, more important than the missing details is the thematic tone and feel to the piece. While the proverbial devil may be in the details, a writer can only do so much; play to your strengths and write in what the audience needs to know as fits the character, not including things for their own sake.
For example, in my novel series, automata is huge! It is a vital part of the protagonist’s society, but most of it is hidden away behind the scenes and he doesn’t think about it all that much – he’s aware of it, much as I’m aware there’s a motherboard and processor in my laptop, that the refrigerator runs on electricity, as does the kettle, the lights and whatnot, but I don’t actively acknowledge it for the most part. I tend to when the power goes out… so it is with him: the devices that power his lifestyle only come into play as and when.
This of course, could be a very dangerous way of writing, especially if the audience has already determined for themselves the level of technology but I like to introduce driblets sprinkled across the story.
For example, in the fourth chapter, I introduce a leaky valve, in part of the protagonist’s conversation with one of his retainers as ‘housekeeping’. This not only reveals the relationship they share, but also the technology involved; of course, the point is not the technology, but whose to blame and how quickly until it’s fixed. Despite being set on an alien world in an alien culture, it’s a very relatable thing for the washer to break down!
The most important thing to take away from this is this: just because you know how it works, it doesn’t mean the readers need to know and even if they do, be careful in how you show it and how much. It will be heavily dependent on the character and the story. Some characters may use shorthand and jargon which the readers may or may not be aware of; that might be important later on. But with all good storytelling, worldbuilding is a tool to aid the story.
So what should you take away from this series? That depends a great deal on you, dear reader, but for my part, I would like to hope that maybe this has encouraged you to take a step back and view things from another angle. Whether you’re retelling a classic fäerytale (I once wrote a Steampunk Snow White as part of a creative writing group exercise), or whether you’re writing a contemporary romance, old-school fantasy, or noir sci-fi, the best way I find for keeping things fresh is to step outside your established genre and pillage other genres (and/or history) for little gems and nuggets.
Remember that worldbuilding can be as simple as including a canal system in a city that lacked one before, writing in storm drains (which may overflow, burst, and cause a flood that may or may not sweep away your protagonist’s car or carriage and along with half the street and cause trouble), or adding in a weather phenomenon that causes your characters to react differently. Maybe those seasonal rains are what brings your romantic pairing together as they take shelter under the same doorway; maybe the ledge of that doorway has been extended because of those rains. Yes, it might have rained anyway, but if the rains are an established seasonal thing, it becomes a little less convenient.
Don’t be confined to existing tropes, don’t be afraid to experiment, and always, always keep former drafts. Nothing is ever wasted.
Our next series will focus more on characters & worldbuilding, so stay tuned for more. Happy writing!