World-Building 101: Rules

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Last week, I discussed how setting is important to the world of your story. If you missed that post, check it out here. This week I’m going to talk about rules.

Sometimes, setting, as well as the type of story you’re writing, determines the rules. If I’m writing a story based during the Great Depression, you won’t see characters whipping out their cell phones and checking Facebook. Likewise, if my story is set in space, I’d better know a thing or two about the sci-fi genre.

Last week I used the example of Christopher Paolini’s Eragon series. What if your story falls into the fantasy category? What if you’ve made everything up from scratch? You still need rules.

A quick point about rules that is helpful to keep in mind: they set the parameters for what the reader can and should expect. Can people fly in your world? The reader needs to know that early on. Otherwise, when Johnny takes off, the reader will be left scratching their head, wondering where that came from.

So once you’ve established your setting, a good next step is to establish your ground rules. If you’re writing fantasy, it may even help to write them down so you don’t forget what’s allowed and what’s not. Is there magic in the story? Dragons? Superheros? What kind of powers do the people have? Once you have it down, it’s important to stick with it.

But there’s always exceptions to every rule. Most of us have been there. We’re reading a story that’s set in the normal world, but there’s a twist. The rules are broken. Somebody is a witch. Ghosts exist. How does this work? If you notice, authors who bend the rules do it early on. They let us know that, yes, they are aware of the real-world rules, but they’ve twisted it on purpose as a plot enhancer.

An example of this is Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. It starts off in a normal Southern town where the biggest deal about the whole place is its history. But before long, Lena Duchannes and her magical family come onto the scene. We, as readers, are okay with this because the authors didn’t break the rules for their convenience. Instead, it adds another layer to the story.

Figure out your rules before the story starts. It’ll make it a whole lot easier in the revision process if you do. That way you won’t have to rewrite whole chunks to fit the new rule you slipped in about halfway through.

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5 thoughts on “World-Building 101: Rules

  1. Pingback: Writing Weekend #5 | Write, Love, Breathe

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  3. Pingback: World-Building 101: History | Write, Love, Breathe

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