Tuesday, May 10, 2011

World-Building, Part 2: Setting

As I said in my first world-building post, characters and setting really go hand-in-hand.  If you have the characters, they're not going to go anywhere until you at least know where they're starting.  Even if you don't always know where they're going next or why they're starting there.

Your setting can be anywhere, but you want to let your reader get an idea of where your character is, what kind of world they're on, what's around them, and what's normal or not normal.  You can describe your setting if you need to, but you can also use characters' actions to tell you about it.  You can find out a lot about what kind of place someone is in by what a character is doing or experiencing. I typed up some random sentences as examples of this:




The more familiar you are with your world, the easier it will be for you to write in it and the more real it will feel to you.  If you need to write out every description of where your character is, what everyone looks like, what people are wearing, etc., then go ahead and write it out for yourself.  Then consider what descriptions really need to be in your story and what the best way to present them might be.  There's a balance between giving a clear picture of your world and over-describing everything.

What works for one person isn't necessarily going to work for someone else.  There are so many rules that crop up in writing--don't write like that, write like this instead.  It's good to grow in our craft, of course, but I think sometimes that if we focus too much on all the rules, we can get overwhelmed and lose the creativity of just writing.  Language and description can always be cleaned up in revisions.  Have fun exploring your world!

*How do you prefer to explore the settings in a book when you're writing/reading?


  1. excellent couple of posts. I think a lot of writers spend so much time dreaming up their world, from the specialised bacteria to the physics behind the floating skyscrapers, they feel obliged to get it all onto the page.

    I agree with your examples here. I just did an analysis of the first chapter of a YA sci-fi and the way the author slippe din pieces of how the world looked/operated was very integrated into what the character was doing, which is the way to do it.


  2. You know, I usually tend to describe things through my character's eyes. I think that writing is at times precognition. But you need to know when to let it run its course. You can’t force it. If you describe things too soon, you might get stuck later on. But if you let your characters do the explaining for you, you usually go in the right direction. It reminds me of “Inception”. A lot of times when we're dreaming, architecting (LOL), or writing, everything comes to US. Like it's creating itself. The human mind is a powerful thing. We shouldn't be afraid of how much our subconscious knows.

    I will say that I do open a chapter, a lot of times, with the time of day and weather. Mainly because it's a good way to get writing and it sets the scene. In some ways I think those elements are the least important of the setting, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be mindful of them.

    I tend to describe certain things in little detail. Mainly because I've had people like my style of writing. They like that it's descriptive, but lets them imagine their own things, too. I mean, I have clear images in my head, but you can easily over explain things. And who are we to rob someone of his or her own imaginings?

    Amazing post, Laur. I look forward to the rest of this series. I think the world is the most important character of all.

  3. Hi Laura! Great post!

    When I reading a book, I just get immersed. If the book is good I'll be living in it. If it somehow fails to show the world to me, I'll just keep in the "drama". What I'm trying to say is, unless the world is magical, sci-fi or else, I won't give it much attention.

    As a writer, I try to incorporate the details as I write. I don't like doing lengthy descriptions of ambient, smells, colors and such (even when they're my darlings). If it bores me when I proof-reading, it'll bore the reader too.

    - EEV

  4. I think that in really great books or stories the setting is everything - it plays a role as if it were a character. It may affect the characters' viewpoint or may serve as symbolism in the story. Without the setting, there's no historical context for what the characters are doing - the reader needs the setting so they feel like they are walking with the characters.

    That said, I really hate it when the opening paragraph is all setting. Boring.

  5. Great points! And I loved the illustrations. I try to do everything you discussed. Sometimes it works, sometimes I go back to the drawing board. So goes the crazy life of an author. :)

  6. Unless it is a fantasy, kind of epic novel, I would rather hear about the world through the descriptions of what the characters are doing. Your examples were great!

  7. the only thing i can draw is stick fiqures. Richard from Lebanon county's Amish community.

  8. I agree about not focusing too much on the rules while writing - once the story is written, we can pay more attention and make adjustments.

    Looks like you love Microsoft Paint. ;)

  9. mood-Thanks! It takes a lot of practice to find a balance in introducing a lot of info in new worlds. I know I always feel like I still have a lot to work on. ;)

    Shanna-Thank you, hon! I know what you mean about wanting to leave things to the readers' imaginations, too. Again, it's finding that balance in allowing people to have a picture of your world and still leaving room for imagination.

    EEV-Thanks! And exactly what you said about "if it bores me when I'm proof-reading, it will bore the reader, too." I like reading details incorporated into the story in a way that lets me experience it. I try to do the same when I write.

    Tonja-Good point about the opening paragraph. I think if the scene opens in a setting, I'd like to know why it's important--what is happening to the character that makes this setting interesting/important/etc.?

    Kathi-Thank you! And LOL, I hear you. There have been plenty of times when I've had to go back to the drawing board for one reason or another. Some things work fantastically for one story and then don't work at all for another one.

    Deana-Yeah, it can be hard to write fantasy without some description. I primarily write fantasy, but even then, I try to introduce as much of the world and history in the text as I can. Thank you!

    Richard-Hehe, me, too. ;)

    Michelle-Exactly. It can be easy to panic if you're worrying about all of the rules. (LOL, I do have fun with Microsoft Paint. Especially once I got Windows 7 and I found they had pre-made speech bubbles!)


Thanks for sharing your thoughts!