Every story has a world that it’s set in. For some books, say contemporary fiction, developing that world is relatively easy. If you’re writing a traditional fantasy, worldbuilding can be long and time consuming, because you’re creating everything and rules for everything, from the number of moons your planet has to the culture. However, every book still has some worldbuilding.
I love worldbuilding. It’s one of my favorite parts of writing and when I do it well, it helps the story to fall into place. I learn about the people and the place and I can use it to make my story stronger.
Worldbuilding for Contemporary Fiction
With contemporary fiction, your worldbuilding is obviously less intense than with fantasy. But you still need to do it. If you choose a city you know, that’s real, make sure you know:
*Where real buildings in the city are located
*What the most common jobs are
*Where kids go to school
*Where popular hangouts for kids are
*What adults like to do there in their free time
If you get 1% of it right, people will believe everything else you write.
If you can go to the place you’re writing about, all the better. It will give you the sense of the town and the people who live there. If you can’t do that, use mapquest.com, google.com, or yelp.com to find where buildings are and to learn about some of the activities people can do and where they go. You can also check out discount activity sites like Groupon and Living Social. Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites can allow you to connect with people from that area and learn what they think is fun.
If you’re making up a place (or even using a real one), consider creating a map. Know where the grocery store your character shops at is, and how long it takes to get there. Know if there’s a less expensive grocery store that they don’t go to. Know where the school’s are, the hospitals and know about area activities. Think of it like you’re creating a travel brochure for the locals. Obviously, the questions you ask will depend on the character, but consider asking yourself:
1. About the schools.
- Where is the high school? What’s the football team like? The basketball team? The baseball team? What women’s teams do they have? How many kids get scholarships? Have kids ever been recruited? Who’s the favorite teacher? Who’s the least favorite teacher? What is around the high school? What’s the mascot? How big is the school? How many kids go there?
- How many elementary schools are there?
- Are there any colleges? Public or private? How big? How does this affect the town when kids are in-school and out of school?
2. Where people spend their leisure time.
- Coffee shops? Libraries? Book stores? Parks? Abandoned buildings? Restaurants? Bars?
3. What are the most common jobs?
- Do they require a college degree? Does this make your character more or less likely to go to college? If people graduate from high school, do they go right into working at the local restaurant, serving coffee and pie? Or do most people leave after high school? If your character is an adult, how do they fit in? Are they overeducated, undereducated? What is the main industry? How many hours a day to people work? What jobs are there for kids who want to make money?
- How much money do most people make? Is it enough to live on?
4. What does the town celebrate?
- Do they have fireworks for their annual Fourth of July celebration? Do they have a parade every year? What holidays are celebrated? How do they celebrate holidays that are religious in nature? Do they celebrate the founding of the town every year?
- Do people constantly come in and out? Do people know everyone or are there constantly strangers in town? Do they have a season that’s extra busy from all of the extra people and activities?
6. How do people get around?
- Buses? Cars? Walking? Biking? Metro? Subway?
7. What do most people believe?
- Is there a church on every street corner? A mosque, a catholic church, a temple and a protestant church? Do motivational speakers speak weekly at the town’s only hotel?
8. Where do most people shop?
- Where do they buy clothes? Where do they buy food? High quality? Low quality? Why?
9. What major landmarks are nearby?
- Forests? Mountains? National parks? Locations where historical events took place? Big cities? Famous buildings?
Make Your Notes Accessible
Pinterest makes it really easy to pin things that are relevant to your world and the place(s) you’re writing about. You can also create a folder or a notebook or do some combination of things that works well for you.
The truth is you’ll use very little of this information in your novel. But it can help you plan your novel and it can help develop your characters. It might reveal hidden sources of tension, if your character is an ambitious high school student who can’t wait to leave the town behind, when most people never leave, it can create tension. On the other hand, if you have a character who wants nothing more than to get married to her high school boyfriend, have kids and work at the local grocery store for the rest of her life, her world will be thrown into overdrive if he gets accepted into a college in another state.
Worldbuilding will also reveal bits about your character’s view on the world he or she lives in and the people he or she will interact with. It can help you become familiar with the world, too, so you can navigate it easily.
How do you create the world your characters live in?
Next Monday, I’ll cover the basics of worldbuilding for fantasy novels.