World Building With Character

By CB Archer

Pluck! That sound was the sound of a fictional world you once experienced pulling on your heart strings. We have all experienced that magical feeling at one point: A fictional world that was so wonderful and perfect for the story that it wrapped everything into something so beautiful that you couldn’t even express it with words. It was magic, pure and simple. You cared about the setting because the world felt like its own character. That is because (mind blowing moment coming up here) it was one!

Hi there, CB Archer here, and I am (hopefully) going to help you breathe life into the character of your world by sharing some of the ways that I do that!

Step One: Getting Excited

It is time to get excited about world building! This is my favourite step and for good reason. It can be metric tonnes of fun to think up a world. This is the stage for hastily drawn maps on restaurant napkins, for lists of things that you want to try to incorporate, and for 2:00am notes written to yourself when you snapped awake that you cannot for the life of you understand what they say come the morning.

Even if you are thinking of a setting that is modern day it is still great to explore what you want the world to be because it is exciting to do. (just look at the name for Step One, it has excited right in the name)!

Step One, at least for me, is brief. A few fun frantic days of excitement before buckling down to later steps. You can take as long as you wish.

Personally I try to stay excited for the entire process, because Step Two is just as exciting as this one, if not even more!

Step Two: Notes and Research

See! I told you this was going to stay exciting! Who doesn’t like taking notes and doing researching? Okay, not everyone does, but this step is important. If your book is set on Earth, it is a good idea to research the Earth and see what it is like. If your story is set in the world of cutthroat cooking battles to the death (as many stories are) it is helpful to know how to make a soufflé. If your book is set in Chicago in 1934 it is important to know what kind of cars were there at the time before your main character jumps into one.

Research is a great stepping stone to step three, and for me a constant through the entire process.

Step Three: World Building

Now we are getting into the gooey chocolate heart of the murder soufflé! In order to make your world believable you must know it, inside and out. While some aspects of the world will naturally develop over the course of writing, knowing a lot before you start can help make your world more believable and gripping.

Fleshing out all aspects of the setting will help you in the long run. If you know the history of the world, the regions, the religions, and the ways people interact with each other then you can weave that into your story and make it more cohesive.

There is a lot to consider at this stage. Here are a few ideas to get you started and why they can help.

  • World History: What happened in the past that would be remembered and how can you use that to build up the setting? Perhaps there was a great war that caused many refugees and a character can use that to reflect on their experiences.
  • World Events: Was your world rocked with a cataclysmic event that almost destroyed it? The inhabitants might have adopted new curse words because of it. Flood might be the new ‘F’ word of your world.
  • World Politics: Who the leaders of the world are can change how people act in it. Who is friends with who, who will do what to change it?
  • World Laws: This is more than the legal laws. This can be the use of technology, the rules of magic, the reason why people can no longer use forks to eat. The possibilities are endless!
  • World Figures: Did your greatest pop-star have a nip-slip fiasco at the Onyx Awards? You can bet people are talking about it in the background.
  • World Solar Systems: (Yes, this is getting pretty out there) Did you know that most plants are green because it is the most efficient colour for absorbing light with a yellow sun on a planet with our atmosphere? (You do know!) There are planets out there with plants that have healthy orange leaves! (Suck it autumn!)

Is important to remember that while a lot of world building is helpful to an author, it can be less helpful to a reader. The temptation to throw out a lot of information to the reader right out of the gate is real. You got excited over building the world, they would like this stuff too, right? They do, but you don’t need to share everything and it is a good idea to not do it all at once. This feeds into the final step.

Step Four: The World as a Character

Your world is a character in itself and it is important to treat them like one. You wouldn’t have a single character take over the story for twenty pages to explain how to make soufflé soup, so letting your world do this to explain the Soufflé Wars makes less sense.

The world should interact with the characters to make both of them shine at the same time. Your main character should interrupt the soufflé tutorial with a reason as to why they can’t hear about soufflés without crying (it was because of the Soufflé Wars we just talked about). This interaction of character with the history links your character more strongly to the world you have created than a page of explanation about the Soufflé Wars ever could have.

The reader doesn’t need to know what happened in the Soufflé Wars right off the get go, but you do. You can slowly pepper the information into the story as it progresses with the characters, at the times where it is needed to really hit the heartstrings.

When your character is hurting is when you allow your world to tell the reader what happened to them in the Soufflé Wars.

When your character is hanging from the cliff is when you allow your world to tell the reader about the razor sharp rocks below.

When your world is sparkling with life because of the Fireworks Festival on Soufflé Memorial Day is when you allow your characters to sparkle with it.

Love building your world and it will love you back.