World building is my absolute favorite thing when it comes to writing a story of any length. It adds flavor and depth in very subtle ways. It stimulates your audience intellectually, and provides them with the ability to piece things together for themselves and ask questions about the text. You don’t always have to spell everything out to your readers. They are just as intelligent as you. They will more than likely get what you’re trying to convey, as long as you give them enough clues along the way.
That’s the key the word. Clues. Give them bite sized samples to your overall painting. Let them sample the flavor over a wide period of time. Or if it is a shorter piece, just give them enough to tickle their intrigue. A little world building does wonders for any piece. A lot can really make it stand out. It’s all about establishing something concrete –something your reader’s can latch onto and relate with. World Building is what makes your story feel like it exists in a real space.
A common example of world building is Tolkien’s Middle Earth. In the Lord of the Rings novels you get a clear sense of a world that expands far beyond the pages. It allows you to imagine the kinds of lives each of the characters you meet might live when not interacting directly with the story. Hobbiton is a prime representation of this. You are shown the kinds of lives Hobbits lead, whether Frodo or the ring are there or not.
Another key thing to consider is page real estate. You don’t want to overwhelm your readers with everything at once. The trick is dropping key information at the right time. Work the world into the narrative in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re spoon feeding your audience plot point after plot point.
Ask yourself questions like; what sort of power do these people use? What is the setting? How can I portray 1900s New York without simple telling my audience the facts in bullet points? How do I reveal this to them in a natural and fluid way?
Eric B. Wilkes stepped out of the train, bag in hand. The year was 1904 and the square was packed with a throng of people all moving in various directions. The new subway station had just been completed, to the excitement of everyone who lived in the city. It was a shining example of what the New York people capable of.
Eric B. Wilkes stepped out the train, bag in his glove covered hand. He tipped his hat at a passing stranger, dressed up in a fancy coat with big brass buttons, who nodded in return. Ladies in white gloves and long flowing dresses perused the various shops that lined the boulevard just beyond the train station. At the corner a young boy in brown shorts and a cap was waving a newspaper around in the air, shouting the latest headline at the top of his lungs.
“Extra, extra, New York City opens its first subway station, the new rapid transit system takes city by storm!” The boy cries out. “Read all about it.”
These examples aren’t exactly perfect, as I am coming up with them on the fly, but they illustrate the point I am trying to make. The art of World Building lays in the details of the piece. They can easily be blended in with the actions. It simply relies on the age old advice of showing and not telling. It’s a balancing act between the two; you need to tell your readers enough to keep them informed, but not so much as to take away from the details and well-paced action, which will ultimately keep your readers invested.
C. A. Guillory