For the next few weeks, I’m going to be talking about world-building on Thursdays. These posts will directly correspond with the Weekend Writing challenges so you have a chance to practice what you learn. No, not like homework.
This week, I’m going to talk about setting. It’s one of the most fundamental aspects of a story and is crucial to creating a believable world for your characters to live in. Regardless of whether it is a real-world setting or something out of your own mind, it needs to be on point.
So say you want to write a story based in Paris. Unless you’ve been there, you probably won’t know all you need to know for it to work as your story’s setting. And even if you have been there, a visit isn’t exactly going to make you an expert. That’s where research comes in. Watch movies set in Paris, look up pictures of architecture, study the language, try French food, read books based in France or translated from French authors. Do anything you can to get the feel for it. If you want your story to be believable, you absolutely cannot get skimpy with this step. Readers are smart. They’ll see if something isn’t quite right.
If your story is set more locally, try to visit if you can afford it. If not, it may be possible to find someone who lived there for a while. The internet is great for finding people from all over the world. And the great part is, a lot of them may be willing to talk to you about their culture.
Your other option, if real-world locations don’t interest you, is to make something up. Of course, creating your own country doesn’t exempt you from research, nor is it always easier. When creating your own world, you have to come up with everything yourself. Draw a map, decide what food the people eat, how they get around, where they live, etc.
Take Eragon by Christopher Paolini, for example. That is a world filled with imagination and the depth he went to create the politics is impressive. That level of detail makes it feel real. Another example is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. While based in America, it is a world of its own with crazily dressed people in The Capitol and rules of its own. It, too, is believable.
So which is easier? Speaking from experience, both present challenges. With your own world, you call the shots. In the real world, the rules are already set. It’s a matter of what fits best with your story and only you can be the judge of that.