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It's been a little bit since The Prisons has come out. While I love Heather and the gang, and I'm so proud of what The Prisons became, I'm ready to mo...

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How I World Build

February 20, 2018

I do a lot of things "wrong" as a writer. Most things, I would assume. I don't follow any writing advice, almost as a principle at this point. But I think that world building is the thing that I do the most wrong.

 

World building is exactly what it sounds like. It is creating the world in which your story takes place. Sometimes, that is an insane task to accomplish. Fantasy novels, for example, take a lot of world building because, generally, they take place in a world not even somewhat similar to ours. Romance novels about a librarian in New York take a lot less world building because both libraries and New York are real places.  

 

For Prison 917, I didn't do any world building aside from the very small prison the characters were in. What is outside of the electric fence? No idea. How close are they to the nearest town? No clue. What country are they in, who is in power, what is going on in the world? Doesn't matter.

 

I've had friends get frustrated with me over this. When 917 came out, plenty of people asked me, "Well, what did Heather do to get sent to prison?" I had no idea. Heather didn't know, so I didn't know. It wasn't important to the story at the time. Ideally, when you world build, you can answer questions about your world and you know more about that world than is mentioned in the story. I don't take that approach. I know just as much, if not less, than the characters.

 

Heather has an aunt that is mentioned in 917. What is she like, what was her relationship to Heather? That is something Heather would know. Me? No idea. I don't care. What her aunt got her for her sixth birthday has nothing to do with the story, so I just don't care.

 

This approach works well, I think, for stories like Prison 917. You really aren't supposed to know much about what's going on with the characters on a deeper level, or what's going on in the outside world. Its supposed to be vague.

 

Other stories, it's a bit harder to do things this way.  The untitled story I'm working on now involves magic and a secret world that humans don't know about. Am I going to come up with an entire history for that world? Absolutely not. But I do have to know some things about it. But I want to know the basics. Things that could matter. I want to know how that world started, how they function as a society. I don't care what flowers are indigenous to the region.

 

I want to be clear. This approach is about fifty percent out of laziness, because I genuinely do not enjoy world building the way some people do, and I would rather focus my energy on the story than world building, but it is also because I don't like stories with crazy world building.

 

The one piece of writing advice I stand by is write for yourself. As I've mentioned before, I don't do a lot of character descriptions. I don't think any of the main characters have eye colors in 917. Because I don't care if Delany has brown eyes or not. I care about who she is as a person. The same way I don't care who the president is of whatever country Prison 917 and 456 is set in. To me, it is a distraction when authors try to cram too much side information into their story. It's cool that the people in your story mostly eat deer because there was a diseases that killed most of the cattle a hundred years ago, but unless it directly relates to the story, I don't care.

 

I feel like you can tell when an author does this. A sentence could read, "They walked down flower lined road, waiting to see the town in the distance" but instead will read, "They walked down the road, which was lined with pink Beauty Flowers, the most popular local flower. People from all over would come to see the Beauty Flowers in bloom. They continued down the road, admiring the flowers, while they waited to see the town in the distance."

 

Sure, the second sentence might paint a better picture, but I don't care about the flowers. I want to know about the town they are headed to, and why. And I realize this is an unpopular opinion. A lot of people will consider me a "bad writer" for this. But when it comes to painting a mental picture, I want the free to imagine white lilies along the road, not pink Beauty Flowers.

 

World Building is important. You should know the environment your characters live in. Outside of that? Don't worry about it. If you enjoy world building, go nuts. If you are like me and don't, don't do it. There is no right way to write.

 

 

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