Why it’s not as hard as you think it is
By Brittney MacDonald, Life & Style Editor
No matter what fictional genre you write in, at some point you will have to do a little bit of world-building. For writers unaware, “world-building” is the term coined to define your construction of setting in a broad sense. If your story is set in the modern day, it would be the city, country, and whatever rules/agencies that are in place to govern, oversee, or create the laws of that world. Essentially it establishes the parameters of where your characters live in both a geographical as well as legal sense.
Certain genres make this easier than others because, depending on setting, the reader will already have a preconceived notion of how certain worlds work. For example, if a story is set in modern-era Canada, you probably won’t have to go into great detail explaining how the Canadian government functions. Just using broad strokes and showing how certain things affect your characters is enough to keep the reader engaged.
That being said, if you are writing something that involves creating your own world—most commonly seen in stories with elements of sci-fi, fantasy, or the paranormal—you will have to go into greater detail to explain various aspects of that world, so that the reader understands how it functions on a base level. This can be intimidating, especially to new writers, because you can feel overwhelmed with the need to explain everything all at once. As an avid reader and an authorial dabbler, I am here to tell you that it is quite a bit easier than you might think.
Many readers prefer to be shown things through character interaction or experience, as opposed to being told things through long lines of exposition. This preference means that you can gradually craft the reader’s understanding of the world throughout the story, as opposed to just dumping information all at once. Discuss things about the world as they become relevant. If you are writing in first-person, this makes things both harder and easier. Harder because you cannot explain something outside of your focus character’s understanding, but easier for exact same reason—a thief may not understand how magic functions, but they know that messing with the mage up the street is dangerous. See how that works? This also gives you the opportunity to explain things later should your characters become more educated.
Showing your world-building this way—through character experience or relevancy—will help you pace your story and not weigh it down with unnecessary description. It also means that you can be a bit lazier in your construction of said world. In other words, you don’t need to have everything ironed out right from the beginning. You can play and develop the intricacies of the world as you go, which is always fun.
The only major downside to writing this way is that you run the risk of repeating yourself. Repetition used sparingly to briefly reinforce understanding of what is going on is okay. Do it too often and it becomes annoying. To avoid this, I recommend re-reading your work and keeping notes on when certain things are mentioned. In most word processing programs you can do this by adding comments, which you can then back-reference if you so desire.
World-building is a strange process, especially for people unused to putting their imaginings to paper. It takes practice, and you might find yourself going to friends or family and asking, “Does this make sense?” All of that is normal. Keep at it and you’ll be weaving the mysteries of YOUR universe in no time.