Some fictional worlds seem to take permanent root in my heart. Even years after reading 'The End', I can still imagine the landscape...

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Some fictional worlds seem to take permanent root in my heart. Even years after reading 'The End', I can still imagine the landscapes that unravel in ink and paper. These worlds' histories feel ingrained in my bones, and I would willingly give every cent I have to be transported to each world for even one minute. 

'The Spiderwick Chronicles' won me over as a child, and now the Remnant Chronicles by Mary E. Pearson, Rosaria Munda's 'Fireborne' and Jill Williamson's 'The Kinsman Chronicles' hold a special place in my heart. Besides the fact that three-quarters have 'Chronicles' in their title, how did these stories' worlds resonate with me so deeply? How can we as writers create worlds that can possibly compete?



It all begins with character.

"If it doesn't affect your character, don't mention it." This is the worldbuilding rule I live by when I write and edit, for it helps keep me focused. All worldbuilding junkies (or writers in general!) fall in love with their storyworlds, and might spend weeks or months developing them, so there's this inner urge to share everything.

While knowing there's a war four continents away that's raged half a century might pique the brief interest of a reader, it won't make any world feel totally real. It is through characters, through their experiences, knowledge, and emotions that the magical and unrealistic seems plausible. 

Why? Because the basic point of connection is understanding the characters' emotions. We know what it feels like to be angry, or sad, like we're being underestimated, and so on. If we can cling to characters and their reaction as the familiar in a world that's utterly alien, we'll accept whatever features it bares. And if it influences the character? We'll be enraptured.



For example, your world might have a magic system where magicians can summon flame. If your main character has magic, they won't bring a candle or lantern on their night out: they'll start a personal torch. If they showed up with a matchstick, readers would be thrown, for each touch of worldbuilding should have consequences

Consequences are, by definition, results of an action or ability. Let's take another example: in the storyworld, Group B are talked down on by Group A because Group B worships a different god. The beliefs that stem from this (whether that's hatred, or anger, or caution) eventually boils into a fight: a Group A man slanders Group B's god, and so a Group B man kills the first one. Tensions escalate. Temples are burnt down, those wearing rival religious markers are beaten, and so on. A character, who belongs to Group B and grows up during this time of fear and violence, one day is dared to enter a temple for Group A's god; he's caught and whipped. Now, grown up, this character has an intense hatred for Group A, their religion, and constantly uses their words/god's name as an insult.

A complex (and perhaps overly long) example for sure, but the above paragraph is a chain of consequences. Community social tensions lead to smaller conflicts, which then resulted in the character's actions. As a result, this piece of worldbuilding (the violent relationship between two groups because of religious differences) has affected a character's personality, speech, and beliefs.

If a reader can't experience the storyworld through a character, and who they are and what they believe, I'd argue it won't ever feel truly real. Just as we don't exist in a vaccuum and are influenced by everything and everyone around us, the same applies to our characters. Their world has had a huge hand in shaping them into who they are today.

In the end, it's about depth, not breadth.

If readers love your characters, then they'll be fascinated by the world they exist in, and how they exist in it. Drilling deep into the character's experience of the storyworld will create a social, geographical and cultural landscape so deeply entwined with the character's emotions readers will never want to leave.



What storyworlds feel incredibly real to you? Which would you love to go visit? What are your tips for creating immersive worlds? I'd love to hear them!
Happy writing! <3


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10 comments:

  1. Oh, good post! My favorite fictional world that feels so real to me in Wonderland. Both Lewis Carroll and Marissa Meyer bring it to life!!

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    1. Thank you!! Ooh yes, great example! The world is so lush and bizarre. :D

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  2. Ahhh! FIREBORNE is on my top to-buy TBR list!!! I'd love to know what you thought about it. :]

    "If it doesn't affect your character, don't mention it." THIS IS AWESOME ADVICE. I haven't heard this used before---and it's a huge help to me as I've built a storyworld for my current WIP.

    Great post, Melissa! I love this. And your examples explain perfectly! Thanks for sharing!!! Happy writing!

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    1. Oooooh yay!! So glad to hear someone else talk about it. :D Personally, I LOVED it! It's a bit of a slow start, but if you love dragon riding, complex worldbuilding revolving around revolutions and what happens after them (so well done in this books), and characters in impossible situations, I highly recommend it!

      So glad you found the advice helpful! Thank you! <3

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  3. These are some really great points! Focusing on world building that directly affects the character and her life is a great tip. Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young does this super well!

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    1. Thanks Victoria! Yes, a great example! Young is great at weaving worldbuilding with her characters' experiences. :D

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  4. This is so true! For me, The Chronicles of Narnia is a place I can completely become immersed in. There are lots of other examples, but this one comes to mind first - especially because you mentioned so many books with "Chronicles" in the title, lol.

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    1. Another amazing series! <3 Haha, sorry I must have sparked all the Chronicles titles to mind. xD

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  5. Character and depth! Yess! You excel at both of these.

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