Posted in books, creative writing, paranormal, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Setting: Creating Unique Settings

Writers can use worldbuilding techniques to create unique settings.

Start With the Basics

There are several important aspects of setting to consider:

  • Layout and geography
  • What lies beyond the immediate setting
  • Politics, laws, and governing system
  • Culture and traditions
  • Weather
  • Local plants and animals
  • Jobs, economy, imports/exports
  • History, enemies, and allies
  • Folklore, urban legends, etc.
  • Details only locals would know
  • The hero’s feelings and opinions about the place

All of these elements will affect a character’s views, way of thinking, actions, choices, and lifestyle and may affect the path of a storyline.

One you have at least one item for each element in the list, consider how each one might affect the character or story, and whether that effect is beneficial and moves the story forward or if it simply adds another layer of richness.

These elements can be integrated into a setting as minor or major elements, depending on what the scene needs. Folklore may be relevant in a non-realistic storyline out a child who’s gone missing under mysterious circumstances, but only mentioned in passing in a realistic setting where adults reminisce about childhood fears. A mixture of major and minor elements give a setting depth and uniqueness.

Develop the Details

Details make the difference in worldbuilding, whether high fantasy or the corner coffee shop. The level of detail often depends on the genre. Unless the color of every mug in a coffee shop is relevant to the story, leave it out.

Developing an intricate system of magical spell-creation ot introducing a non-realistic world readers are not familiar with requires a higher level of detail so the reader can understand the process or place.

Details MUST be relevant, no matter the genre.

Let’s use food as an example to see how something relatively simple and easy to overlook can be an important detail in providing information about a character through setting.

What characters eat can indicate location, such as putting coleslaw on pulled pork sandwiches, which is common in the south but a strange combination in the southwest United States.). Food can reveal income, such as a character having a cupboard full of Ramen noodle packets or a collection of delicious wines in a built in wine fridge. Food could also inform the reader about personality quirks. If all the food in a character’s fridge is yellow, the reader will start considering why.

Irrelevant details have the potential of confusing readers because they cause them to look for hints or twists where there aren’t any. These can later appear to be plot holes or sloppy writing. Remember the advice that if you mention a gun in scene 1, it better be fired by someone by the end of the story!

Add Layers

Once you have the foundation of your setting and world and are starting to add details, do so in logical layers.

Consider a real-world worldbuilding example: Choose the city relevant to the story line>choose a professional that makes sense for the location and character>choose a neighborhood with access to amenities that will help progress the story>choose frequently visited locations that provide opportunities for conversations, action, or conflict>develop hobbies that allow for character growth>etc.

Now consider a paranormal worldbuilding example: Choose a mythology base>tweak the base to suit major plot points>develop main powers/beasts that provide conflict between two or more groups>develop rules for powers/beasts that keep winning from being too easy>develop goals for each opposing group>develop individual goals that clash with others’ goals of the group’s goals>develop individual power/beast uniqueness that needs to develop> etc.

In every genre there is a logical progression to worldbuilding and every element added should impact the characters and story in a meaningful way

Posted in paranormal, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Setting: Worldbuilding

Fictional settings, whether modern-real world, historical, sci-fi, fantasy, or paranormal, require some level of worldbuilding.

Setting should transport the reader to a particular location and not feel like it could have taken place anywhere. To accomplish that, some level of worldbuilding is needed in every story.

Worldbuilding is creating a fictional world that still feels realistic.

Details make all the difference in worldbuilding and keep a setting from feeling generic. Worldbuilding should highlight unique and quirky elements and integrate them into the storyline and character profiles.

The amount of worldbuilding needed depends on genre.

Realistic, Modern Settings

While these types of settings typically require the least amount of large-scale worldbuilding because readers are familiar with the rules and concepts of the world, it is still needed on a small scale.

Consider the mini-worlds within a setting, such as the culture of an apartment building or workplace or neighborhood. Each of these settings will have specific rules that guide interactions, a history that has helped develop its culture, an atmosphere linked to the people and culture, and a character developed by its physical components.

Each worldbuilding element will then interact with the characters and story, such as the tone of an office making a character feel either welcome and inspired or fearful and anxious. Address pertinent elements in description and exposition, or use dialogue between the characters to share thoughts and opinions on the mini-world and how it affects the characters.

Don’t expect characters to automatically understand a setting just because it exists in the modern world. James Pietragallo, co-host of Small Town Murder, mentioned on a podcast episode that he couldn’t get into the TV series “The Office” because he had never worked in an office and didn’t get the culture.

Historical Settings

Historical settings require a great deal of research, because historical fiction readers will catch mistakes and be put off by them. Research should be conducted on two levels, at least: era-accuracy to get historical facts correct and daily-living accuracy get the small details right.

The most obvious elements to be researched for a historical setting are elements, such as clothing, socio-political events and impacts, transportation, and technology. Many of these elements are affected by less-obvious research areas, such as available social services, laws regarding various aspects of life, how the justice system functioned, healthcare and knowledge of diseases and treatments, and similar topics.

Before developing a story line, consider how the time period will effect the events your characters will engage in. Female business owners were uncommon prior to the 1900s in many countries, and even then the types of businesses women would own were often limited. If a female business owner married, business ownership could transfer to her husband in many situations, which could make a woman think twice about marrying. Make sure your storyline will actually work in the time period you’ve chosen by doing thorough research.

Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Paranormal Settings

Non-realistic settings offer the greatest opportunities for worldbuilding, demanding creativity and organization. Whether working with futuristic machines, dark creatures, or mythological beings, it is important to develop an organized and functional world for them to inhabit.

Research is an important worldbuilding technique for these types of worlds, but it is only one component. Depending on how closely you plant o follow establish science, mythology, or folklore about worlds and beings in a setting, research needed may vary. Even if you plan to vary from what is already established, it’s a good idea to start at common ground so readers have some familiarity before introducing new or different elements.

The second component of non-realistic worldbuilding involves development or rules and structures. Even though these types of stories do not exist in the “real world,” they still need to be realistic enough that the reader can understand how it operates and by what rules characters make decisions or interact. Rules should provide organization to the world and allow readers to make judgments and have expectations about character actions and choices or what may or way now happen. Once rules and structures are developed, they should be followed in order to avoid confusing or frustrating the reader.

Along with creating a non-realistic world that makes sense to the reader, the same types of worldbuilding techniques needed in realistic settings should also be applied in order to develop the necessary mini-worlds of community or neighborhood.

Posted in books, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Why worldbuilding is important in all genres

Fictional settings, whether modern in the real world, sci-fi, fantasy, or paranormal, require some level of worldbuilding.

The world your character lives in should have an impact on the story

Setting should transport the reader to that location and not feel like it could have taken place anywhere. Worldbuilding is creating a fictional world that still feels realistic.

Details make all the difference in worldbuilding, and keep a setting from feeling generic. Highlight unique and quirky elements and integrate them into the storyline and character profiles.

When worldbuilding, consider which of these will be relevant to the story:

Layout and geography, what lies beyond the immediate setting, politics, laws, and governing systems, culture and traditions, weather, local plants and animals, jobs, economy, imports/exports, history, enemies, and allies, folklore and urban legends, details only locals would know, and the hero’s feelings and opinions about the place.

All of these will affect the character’s views, way of thinking, actions, choices, and lifestyle.

Details make the difference in worldbuilding, whether high fantasy or the corner coffee shop. However, the level of detail depends on the genre.

Unless the color of every mug in a coffee shop is relevant to the story, leave it out. Developing an intricate system of magical spell-creation requires a higher level of detail so the reader can understand the process.

Details MUST be relevant, no matter the genre.

What characters eat can indicate location (coleslaw on pulled pork sandwiches in the south), income (another Ramen noodle dinner!), personality quirks (all food must be yellow), and more. Irrelevant details confuse readers and cause them to look for hints or twists where there aren’t any. Remember the advice that if you mention a gun in scene 1, it better be fired by someone by the end of the story!

Once you have the foundation and are starting to add details, do so in logical layers.

Real world example:

Choose the city relevant to the story line -> choose a professional that makes sense for the location and character -> choose a neighborhood with access to or amenities that will help progress the story -> choose frequently visited locations that provide opportunities for conversations, action, or conflict -> develop hobbies that allow for character growth, etc.

Paranormal example:

Choose a mythology base -> tweak the base to suit major plot points -> develop main powers/beasts that provide conflict between two or more groups -> develop rules for powers/beasts that keep winning from being too easy -> develop goals for each opposing group -> develop individuals goals that clash with others/the group -> develop individual power/beast uniqueness that needs to develop, etc.

In every genre there is a logical progression to worldbuilding and every element added should impact the characters and story in a meaningful way.

Incorporate details like region, weather, local plants and animals, etc. into a story to make it feel more real to the reader.