One Writer’s Journey in Building a World

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World building in writing encompasses all the nuances of the environment and culture in a novel. It can be as basic as the most familiar things in our lives or as exotic as an alien race on another planet. Science fiction and fantasy stories need an extra punch of world building—they have to combine the familiar with the unfamiliar and keep everything consistent.

While I was writing my first novel, I knew nothing about the need to world build until I got halfway through my story, but I learned from my mistakes and now use some tools to help me.

My most important tool is creating multiple timelines before I ever start a story. One timeline is about the actual story progression, but I also create a timeline for the main character and each of the primary secondary characters. These timelines include important events and the impact they have on each character. If I am writing about a world very different from my present reality in the United States, I make a timeline for historical events—the composition of the government, the important people of the time/place, and other significant cultural developments.

In my first novel, I hadn’t created timelines first, so my story was very convoluted. I spent days of rewriting, making a change in later chapters that changed many elements in the early ones. I soon lost track of all the changes and felt as lost as my characters became. Eventually, my desire for organization kicked in. That’s when I started creating timelines and sticking to them.

My second tool is just to write. This is because until I experience the world of my novel, I don’t really feel connected with it. So I write through the perspective of my main character(s) a first draft of the storyafter I have fully developed timelines. When I start writing, some of the events/reactions change, but since I know the ultimate end of the novel, the changes are usually minor and add to the overall storyline.

The hardest tool for me to implement is what I call the waiting game. After two years of writing and rewriting my first story with multiple storylines and endings, I finally moved on to something else. Most writers stress the need to finish a book and then let it sit while you move on to something else. I didn’t heed this advice until my second novel. I let it sit for about half a year before I went back and saw all the holes in the fantasy world I created. It needed some refreshed timelines and some advice from my trusted critiquing friends. Now I feel confident this story is the closest I’ve ever been to a polished work.

In retrospect, I don’t regret all the work I did on my first novel, but I know I would’ve spent fewer hours writing in circles if I had taken time to do a little research on world building. So now I share with you about my experience and hope you find the tools that help you organize and build the unique world that complements your novel.

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