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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

You Can Dress em Up

World Building is a slow, painstaking process. As modern writers we don't have the luxury afforded us that our predecessors had of the infamous "Info Dump". (God I hate that term) We have to be coy. We have to be sneaky. We have to take our ever loving, sweet ass time building our world. And hope to god that our readers don't lose interest and wander away to watch the latest installment of "Survivor: Mall of America" on Netflix.

So. What exactly does it mean to build a world? How Deep do you know the environment you have created for your characters?

Lets start simple. Food. Shelter. Clothing.

What do they wear? And maybe this isn't a simple question. Because in many cultures clothing is a status symbol. But for the sake of argument lets just say it's simply clothing. Do women wear skirts only, or are they 'allowed' pants? Leather? Cotton? Do people make their own clothing or do they buy it?

Ah. And here we get into a deeper question. Society Structure. (See how things start to have a domino effect?) So...If people make their own clothing, what kind of society is this? Hunter/Gatherer? Warring tribes? I understand quite a few of these implied questions can be answered by knowing what time period you are writing in...but if you read my previous post...one can never assume you know anything about a story. Go Deep into your Culture. If you know the simple details like where or how people get their clothing, writing descriptions of that clothing won't be so hard. Do you see?

Food. How do they get their food? This is another basic need that can lead down a rabbit warren. Do they grow their own? Do they truck it in, fly it in, replicate it, hunt it down? But, knowing how they get their food is just part of the puzzle. What do they eat? Are they vegetarians? Do they eat mainly meat, cheese and bread? I read an interesting blog post on Rothfuss's blog about how most Everyone who writes fantasy will inevitably have their characters sitting around a fire eating stew. No explanation about what's in the stew or how it was made. Just that it's stew, and they were eating it. It drove him nuts. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized he's right. And now...yup...drives me nuts too. So. Keep that in mind. No stew. Well. Unless it's fall. Then it's ok.

Shelter. Again. Not so simple a question when you get right down to it. Who builds it? Where and how do they get their materials? (A plot point RIFE with corruption potential!) Who takes care of the shelter? Is it a community thing? A family thing? Women? Men? 

Now again. Even though it's beginning to sound like maybe Tolkien and Dickens had the right idea...No. BAD. Step Away From The Long Exposition! Really it's just YOU that has to understand your world in this level of detail. That way when you are writing along, you don't get tripped up by simple details and your world starts to feel flat to the reader. Simple sentences like (a bad example) "She opened the door to her boudoir and surveyed her domain." Or, "He called his first meeting of the village elders hoping this time they would take his role as war leader seriously." These types of leading sentences go a long way to explain what it is you're trying to do.

I've been reading a lot of steampunk lately which has massive amounts of, well, interesting clothing in it.  Gail Carriger to be specific. She's great at little details like this. She just makes passing mention of going to the seamstress for the latest in Dirigible Wear. Skirts with weights in the hem. Suit coats with the same. That kind of detail adds a lot to the believability and depth of your world.  

Even if this is a world of your own creation I would do research. Research societies like the one you're building. It will give your world a bit more realism, not to mention it may give you ideas for things you hadn't thought of.

What other details of these 'simple' needs have you found to be not so simple to explain in your World Building? How did you remedy the problem? 


13 comments:

Patchi said...

The trick is in the details and I find comparisons to work really well for descriptions. Such as: "her ____ stood out because everyone else was wearing ___." In the case of the stew in my novel, I mention my MC missed the savory flavors of his home planet, the food he tried elsewhere was too sweet. But I never thought about mentioning what was in the stew... thanks for the heads up.

mshatch said...

I like to use unknown words for simple things that can easily be made obvious to the reader. For example, when one of my characters puts on her 'chiton' it is obviously referring to a light weight piece of clothing women wear. I use both made up words, foreign words, and real words everyone has forgotten. It helps give flavor to the world. And I'm still pretty forgiving of long exposition as long as it's interesting. I'm old school that way.

Mel Chesley said...

You know, that stew comment got me thinking... I have my characters sitting around a fire and eating dinner, but I never mention what dinner is exactly. Heh, something I'll have to fix. But the other thing that used to irritate me in a lot of books was characters hopping up out of bed first thing in the morning and off they go to do whatever. Um. Don't they have to pee? lol! Trivial, disgusting detail, but at least mention them popping into the loo or something. Just once... lol!

Ink in the Book said...

My MC is so steampunk, but my novel is not steampunk. Not really anyway. The world all my MC's live in is steampunk. The human world is, well, human. So my steampunk guys are in a historical fantasy world.

Now, this is my WIP and I haven't gotten tot he human world yet. So I'm still working on the details of "that" world. Trying to decide if it will be a modern world or in a different era.

Vicki Orians said...

The thing about building your world is: You want to give readers a good idea what it's like without boring them. So you don't need to give them every detail. Think more about the senses - the sight, smell, feel of things. Those will give you the greatest impact.

Liz said...

Are there restaurants? Do people eat out? How does that work? I got so tripped up in one novel over this.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I write medieval fantasy and I cringe when I realize how much me and other authors talk about the sanitation issues. I try to not completely avoid it but let's face it, there were no hot showers and flushing toilets to take care of needs. And you need tiolets after having a lot of that stew.

Lydia Kang said...

There are so many things. Besides the ones you mentioned, climate, and culture, and language...

Alicia C. said...

That is a good way to handle things. Makes descriptions pretty concise.

Alicia C. said...

I can be forgiving about exposition IF...IFIFIFIF! it's well done. And not just the author spewing information on the page so you have it. Yawn.

Yes. Made up words, foreign words...all that works well. Though I will say...it plays havoc with my scrabble skills. I think I have a GREAT word..and I realize it's a 'fake' word from a book I just read. Sucks.

Alicia C. said...

See now, this is a good point. Just how MUCH detail do we need? I think maybe it's just assumed they pee? I think Rothfuss was trying to make the point that EVERYONE always ate JUST stew. Nothing else. (maybe I didn't do a very good job paraphrasing). No Venison. No Sandwiches. Just stew. He found it kinda odd.

Alicia C. said...

Hmm. Interesting. So you have to figure out which elements of what type of world you want to share with the reader. Is this multi-dimensional? Sounds like a pretty intense undertaking!

Alicia C. said...

And I try to remember that essentially I'm only in one person's head (at a time anyway...). So I'm only gonna know what THAT person knows, or sees/smells/tastes...etc. Makes it a BIT more manageable.