The Joys of World-Building (by Brenda Hiatt)
I’ll confess right upfront that I love world-building. In fact, it’s probably my very favorite procrastination technique. Nothing will make me pause in the act of writing like realizing I need to get some detail or other straight—whether it be my timeline (what happened when, stretching back several books now), calculating how much antimatter it would take to blow up a small town, researching online when a typical high school football season begin and ends these days…you get the idea.
Lucky for me (though not for my writing speed) my Starstruck series has multiple settings I get to play with. First, there’s my whole little (fictional) town of Jewel, Indiana, with all its landmarks, shops, cafes and other quirky places in its tiny downtown. Then within Jewel, there’s my main heroine’s house, where a lot of story happens, a couple of other important characters’ houses where more action takes place, and of course the local high school where all the teens come together for learning, fun, angst and adventure. Each of those settings needs enough depth and detail to support the various ways my cast of characters interact with it and each other.
But I don’t have to stop there! Sometimes the story moves beyond Jewel to much more exotic settings I’ve created for my world-building pleasure. The most extensive of these is the secret, underground colony of Nuath, on Mars. Since it developed independently of Earth for nearly three millennia, it has its own culture, complex social hierarchy, governmental structure, and technology (modes of transport, communication, etc). Back on Earth, I’ve also got my main Martian enclaves of Bailerealta in Ireland and Dun Cloch in Montana, each with its unique mix of Martian tech and Earth culture. Nor am I ruling out more settings in the future!
For each setting and my story world at large, I’ve created complex histories, maps, lists of important secondary characters and their roles, government charts, royal lineages and more. By now I have tons of setting, history and character notes I can keep checking as I write the next book in the series—one reason I love writing in Scrivener, which lets me drag my whole “story bible” from one book to the next for easy reference. It’s super important to me (probably way more than it is to any of my readers) that all of my story “facts” are consistent from book to book and particularly within a given book. (I get particularly obsessive about my timelines, some of which overlap!)
Needless to say, only a fraction of all this research/world-creation actually makes its way into the pages of my books, but I still appreciate having all that material available for myself while writing. I need to know as much as possible about the world my characters live in before I can make them live and breathe for me as I spin their tales.
As a reader, I’ve always felt that thorough and detailed world-building that surrounds the characters with a fully fleshed-out world makes their journeys that much more believable. As a writer, my number one goal is to draw readers into my stories so deeply that they’ll remember them long after they finish the book. To do that, I strive to create characters and stories that will feel real to my readers—as real as they feel to me. A big part of that (and definitely one of my favorite parts) is constructing realistically rich settings for my characters and stories to inhabit.