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Recently, in one of my many (failed) attempts to get back into the flow of writing, I had to take a few steps back, think about some of the advice (a lot of the advice actually) that Matt has given in a lot of his posts, and focus a lot on building the world of my current project.  I touched upon this a few weeks back when talking about back story (deep back story, I called it) but I think it’s worth opening up a little more.

Inevitably… Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones

Since I never watch TV, it wasn’t until this was released on Blu-Ray that I got a chance to watch it.  Now I read the first book about 12 years ago, so I only barely remembered the events that occurred.  Matt did his own post about Game of Thrones a while back, so you may wish to read that. 

Well, I recently started re-watching it, and was very interested to see how the characters started in the series, knowing where things all end up.  George R.R. Martin is very very good at building the back story into the narrative.  Very little of the background of the world of Westeros I actually gleaned from external sources, it’s all revealed through the narrative.  And this is something that I really wanted to try and achieve with my project.

My Secret Shame

I will be honest.  One thing that I have noticed I’m guilty of is dropping huge chunks of exposition into my work which breaks the flow, and gives the reader back story.  I know, it’s very bad practice.  I might as well just stop the story and draw a flow chart.  Matt has called me out on this several times.  His suggestion was to keep a separate document open when you’re writing to throw this back story into.  And this is a very good suggestion.  It is a good tool to have during editing. That way, you can cut and paste large blocks of exposition out of the narrative flow, and still have it as a resource.  Then, the fun part is trying to figure out how to weave that information back into the narrative without it breaking flow, or seeming out of place. 

Here and There

There is a very fine line of course.  And the biggest difference it makes is whether the world is just there, sort of drifting as a separate entity to the story, or whether it’s ‘here’, around the characters.  This is ideally what you want.  You want a world that the characters exist in, as it takes place around them.  I know it’s somewhat clichéd to say this, but the world needs to be a character of its own, it needs to live, it needs to be this huge engulfing thing that the characters can barely keep afloat in. 

It is absolutely no good if the characters kind of drift through this ‘thing’ that exists sort of in the background, but it is rigid and separate from the characters.  That isn’t good world building.  And I’ll admit, I’m finding it difficult to get the characters to exist in this world.  I have a grasp on what the world is like, but it’s all disparate (because I have lots and lots of characters, and they all exist separately from each other, but they are all heading towards something that will tie it all together.) 

I can kid myself and say that partly it’s because this project is science fiction, and it has a whole galaxy to mess about in, but the parameters of that still need to be drawn in the sand, right?

So what do you think folks?  How do you build your worlds?

  • Matt Roberts

    Hi Craig. It sounds as if you’ve contracted a world, then constructed characters (or maybe the other way around). Ideally (because this is what happens in real life), you would create your world, and as you did so, characters would be born out of ideas that occur to you as you build. That way, your characters are tied directly to elements of your world or backstory.

    That’s not to say you can’t do this in retrospect though. Do you have backstories for each of these characters? If not, I would suggest you create them, and make sure their backstory ties in to some element of the world directly.

    Maybe there was a period of planetary occupation by a ruthless conglomerate (for precious resources or something), and one of your characters was born into ‘enforced employment’ on that planet (that’s quite a nice idea actually). Or, maybe there was a scientific discovery that is very important to the backstory of the ‘world’. You could make one of your characters the daughter of one of the scientists involved in that discovery.

    • Craig

      Y’know, its funny you should mention that, because some of the idea’s I’ve been throwing around in my mind for backstories ties directly into this.  While it by no means fleshes out the whole thing, it does tie some of the characters more directly into the world (or worlds).  I think one of the issues I’m having is that there is a hugh disconnect between the ‘deep backstory’ and the shallow, since the deep backstory all takes place in the distant past.  I think one of the hardest things I’m facing is trying to get the ‘world’ to feel lived in, without it all being a crumbling mess.