World-building: From Imagination to Reality – Guest Post by, Diana Peach…

World-building is an important part of any writer’s preparation, and the speculative genres offer some wildly fun opportunities. There are no boundaries. The imagination is unleashed. The setting of the story can be as “fantastic” as the writer desires.

But fantastic also has to be relatable and plausible.

Relatability is a must when it comes to the main character(s). If a reader can’t relate on some emotional level to the protagonist, a book is going to struggle. Why do I mention this with world-building? Because in speculative fiction some or all of the characters may not be human.

There are no limits to alien design from physical features to intelligence to social and cultural norms, and writers can stretch those limits to create some unusual encounters and conflicts. Aliens that completely baffle us are fine, but rarely are they protagonist(s). The main character(s) needs to possess some “human” emotional content that the reader can identify with.

With setting, relatability is a little different. Pushing the limits can create some wonderfully strange and interesting worlds, but for every stretch, the writer needs to ensure that the audience understands what it is they are reading.

Making up or renaming every plant, animal, weapon, and food item on a planet might be realistic, but even with an appendix, it would create an unreadable book. A similar challenge presents itself with altering units of time and distance. The planet Klaspo would likely measure time differently than we do on Earth. And though an author can “explain” the difference, there’s danger in requiring a reader to stop reading and convert Klaspo time-spans into relatable Earth hours/years. We want the reader immersed, not doing math!

It comes down to a question of what’s relevant. The fine line between fantastical and relatable is rather blurry and thoroughly book-dependent. A key to world-building is to elaborate on and integrate those complex imaginary elements that relate directly to the characters and plot, and then sprinkle in all the other details that embellish the unique nature of the place but require little explanation.

Plausibility follows many of the same rules in speculative fiction as it does in other fiction genres: human characters have to act like humans for the most part, and the writer has to have a good reason why a car never runs out of gas, the bullets never miss, and the woman who just survived the zombie apocalypse has perfect makeup and hair. Right?

Plausibility in world-building has everything to do with the integration of its major systems. On Earth, a community/region/nation is made up of a web of forces impacted by its geography, resources, history, political systems, alliances and enemies, cultural norms and values, technological capabilities, economies, and religions. In speculative fiction, the worlds work the same way, and authors may add techno-magic into the mix.

Writers not only build each system with its features, benefits, and flaws, but all systems need to integrate in order to maintain crucial consistency. For example, a technologically advanced society would likely employ technology across a broad array of systems, and if not, there needs to be a reason why.

These major systems push and pull on each other until they reach a level of temporary stability. When a change occurs in one system, it ripples across all the others. Conflicts, power-struggles, and sudden changes are destabilizing, and just like in the real world, the disruptions can lead to broad-reaching chaos. That chaos will serve some, harm others, and leave the world altered as new stability is achieved.

At the start of a writing project that involves world-building, it’s a good idea to write a detailed description of your world, touching on each of the major systems. Creating deep and complex worlds will add to the realism and intensity of your story.

Not every detail of the world you create will end up in print. Much of it will remain subtly in the background, there to support the story. But it will all impact the characters, their choices, and the story’s action. Use it to help hook the reader in the beginning and then leak the backstory in as needed and when the plot kicks into gear.

Happy World-building!

Diana

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97 thoughts on “World-building: From Imagination to Reality – Guest Post by, Diana Peach…

    • Thanks for stopping by to read, Meeka. Yes, you would relate to all this well in your writing. I think its one of the things that draws us to this genre, the creative liberty, and then the need to puzzle it all out and make it so believable that the reader forgets they’re on another planet or in the future or rooting for an alien, etc. 😀 And smooches and squeezes to you, too, for the wonderful reviews. ❤ ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Terrific post, Diana. Sprinkling the backstory throughout the book can be a challenge, but I’ve found it easier to do with practice. And it certainly makes for a more exciting read. Regarding relatability and plausibility … I’ll stop reading a book if I can’t reasonably follow the story line. I appreciate the detail you put into writing this ♥

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for visiting, Tina. 😀 I’ve found the same – that sprinkling in that backstory took some practice. The alternative is the dreaded info-dump that never works despite how delightful a world might be. Questioning myself about what the reader needs right NOW is how I started training myself to stop that. Have a wonderful day and Happy Writing. ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I am always amazed by the thought and skill that speculative, fantasy, and sci-fi authors put into world building. I love when I’m completely swept away to another realm and yet can relate to that realm on an emotional level.The characters help me see it, experience it and live it through them.

    I’ve built some imaginary worlds in my day and it is no easy task.I’m a novice in the department and applaud authors like Diana who do it so well.

    Fabulous post!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for the wonderful comment, Mae. I think each genre requires areas of special skill or attention and it’s those unique aspects that draw us to a particular genre. For fantasy and science fiction, a big part of that is the world-building, but myths, monsters, and legends have many of the same requirements around plausibility and you’re a pro at that. You’re right that if the characters are thoroughly embedded in their worlds it helps the readers buy in. Happy Writing!

      Liked by 3 people

      • Such a great post and spot on, IMHO. I’d take it a bit farther than you did in the comment above, however. As a reader, I believe it is ESSENTIAL that the characters are thoroughly embedded in their worlds – and that I, as a human in this world, can relate to their humanity (or lack of) and accept how the characters’ worlds directly contributed to their personalities.

        Without that I toss the book aside (or never pick it up), no matter what else the book might have to otherwise recommend it.

        I was hooked on Caitlings Bane from the very beginning by your writing acumen, but what KEPT me hooked were your world-building skills. Your descriptions of the lands alone were so vivid that, if I were an artist, I could have drawn them in a heartbeat. If I were a set-designer I’d be absolutely thrilled to be hired for the film’s project build. Like nothing else we’ve seen.

        POOR world building skills – even merely adequate ones – are as disappointing (and disruptive) as being able to tell that the movie books on the shelves of a supposedly amazing home library owned by a renowned professor were fake – or watching a door “flutter” when a character slams it following a heated exit.
        xx,
        mgh
        (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
        ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
        “It takes a village to transform a world!

        Liked by 2 people

        • Thanks for the awesome comment, Madelyn. That character embeddedness applies to all genres, I believe, and I’m with you on what makes me personally keep reading or put a book down – the extent to which I’m drawn into the characters and their world. Different authors approach world-building with different levels of detail, and I think that’s fine because there are all those different readers out there with individual preferences. But! Relatability and Plausibility have to be meticulous either way. No fluttering doors and the worst – fake babies! Ha ha. Have a fabulous Friday, my friend.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. I really enjoyed both parts of this guest post. Diana is an amazing writer, and this gives such insight. So much goes into putting words together, doesn’t it? I really enjoyed the part on relatability, it is so important.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I haven’t read The Mysterious Stranger and I don’t think I will after your impressions of it, Balroop. The necessity to connect to a character is a must for all books, for me, and it is one of those challenges that will cause me to put a book down, too. Implausibility is a close second. One of the challenges in writing speculative fiction is getting all the weirdness and detail to feel completely normal to the reader. 😀 Thanks so much for reading and Happy Writing. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I was amazed at all the new words you created in the new world of Catlin’s Bane, Diana. Animals or creatures, the waterways, the cities, it goes on and on. I assumed you must have a huge index of all the names you created for this amazing book. I finished the book over a week ago and reviewed it on Amazon. But the characters and the story have remained with me.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I know. “Let’s see, if this person is 276 years old, in Earth years that’s….276 dived by 17…” Good to avoid making the reader do that! Yes, world-building is a whole lot of fun. I created my own language in one book that I could actually speak! A little overboard, perhaps? Thanks so much for stopping by and Happy Writing!

      Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t have zombies, David, but my worlds aren’t that peaceful either. We’re probably going to have to figure that one out in real life since books are so full of drama! Ha ha. Thanks for stopping by, my friend, and I hope you’re feeling better. Massive hugs.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I absolutely agree with both the points Diana. If readers fail to relate with the characters, the story loses its connect too. I would abandon a book, which is written in a no man land with implausible situations. Mark Twain’s ‘The Mysterious Stranger’ is a perfect example of lack of both relatability and plausibility.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I haven’t read The Mysterious Stranger and I don’t think I will after your impressions of it, Balroop. The necessity to connect to a character is a must for all books, for me, and it is one of those challenges that will cause me to put a book down, too. Implausibility is a close second. One of the challenges in writing speculative fiction is getting all the weirdness and detail to feel completely normal to the reader. 😀 Thanks so much for reading and Happy Writing. ❤

      Liked by 2 people

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