Story Corner: World Building

Hello friends!

Looking for my fairytale madness entry? GO HERE!

Having been up late at night and early in the mornings with contractions recently, I've taken to watching special features on the extended editions of Lord of the Rings.

It amazes me how detailed these stories are. So much so, that the filmmakers were able to take descriptions directly from the text and create the sets, the props, the characters, etc.

On the other hand, I dislike how wordy Tolkien is. It's a brilliant book, but not one that I'd call "light reading".......

As I've watched these clips and listened to people talk about the books, I had to ask myself, what is required when it comes to building a world? How does a writer balance plot and dialogue with description?

The logical answer is to describe unknown things as you come across them. I think J.K. Rowling does an amazing job of this. She sometimes will even call a thing by one name until Harry actually comes across it, and only THEN give it a description. (I'm referring specifically to Dementors, which are called "Azkaban Guards" up until Harry sees one on the train.)

For me, the worlds I've created so far are very similar to our own. Forests, trees, fires, castles, etc. So I haven't seen a huge need to go into a lot of detail regarding those things. The other elements of a world (culture, economics, religion, magic, etc) I try to explain as they become necessary. But somehow I still feel like I'm doing a poor job... perhaps it's BECAUSE my worlds are so familiar.

In a very different world, like in MISTBORN for example, the prologue alone builds a good third to one-half of the world. We see the life of those living on plantations both from the Lord's eyes and from his slaves'. We also get a feel for the government system, and the desire people have to be in the capital city. We meet one of our main characters and immediately like him. Then chapter one shows us how the underground criminal system works in major cities, while introducing us to another main character. We don't really interact with much of these things for the rest of the book. But we know they're there, and the author can reference them at any point throughout the story knowing we'll understand what he's talking about.

Then there's another thing... I've been told (and have had it drilled into me by agents and fellow aspiring writers) that a story needs to capture our attention from the beginning. I see it all the time: show, don't tell; no info-dumping; start where the real story starts.

I guess it just takes practice to know the difference... and I'm not sure I'm there yet.

Maybe it's because I'm such a plotter. I focus so much on the characters and the things happening to them that I get caught up. I forget to explain the world around them, or don't realize when I should be doing so.

To that end, I have two questions for you today...

1. What elements make a world?

2. How does one balance describing those elements with the events taking place?

I'd love to hear how YOU do it!

-DC

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