It’s time to meet the 1st featured author of the SSS! Introducing… Kathleen Palm!
The Art of World Building
By Kathleen Palm
Every writer is a world builder. Every. Whether the story takes place on Earth, fairyland, or an alien planet, writers must set the scene, for none of us want our characters wandering about in a landscape of nothingness. No one wants the reader to feel as if they aren’t walking the deserted streets of some ancient city, journeying across a foreign world of waving purple grasses, or staring into a sassy sky full of magic. Writers want readers to experience everything, the setting itself becoming a character, which makes world building so important.
Depending on where the story takes place decides how much construction happens. If the tale unwinds on Earth, in a sweet small-town school, the car-logged roads of a big city, or a creepy house at the end of a tree-lined street, world building consists of details. We live on Earth, or most of us anyway, so we know the history, we know about the animal life, we know about religion, we know the rules of this world. So the readers only need the tiny details to bring the story to life.
However, for those who take the stories to places that exist only in our minds (granted we will argue that they are real!), there’s so much more. Taking readers to worlds they’ve never been, means to start with the big things and add layer after layer until BAM… IT’S ALIVE! Cue evil laugh.
For my debut YA fantasy DOORS, to be released this winter (shameless plug, sorry), I created many worlds. Depending on how long my main character Bryn was there, dictated how much I needed to build. Her home world, a few worlds she stayed for days, others months, and simply glanced at many more. My imagination ran wild as I dreamed up everything and anything and gave it life on the page.
World building begins with what if. It might start with an idea of the landscape…What if there’s a world made of rainbow-colored crystals? A creature might spark an idea…What if there’s a world where giant, deadly bugs emerge from the ground and attack? At times the people who inhabit the world inspire it…What if there was a world where, over hundreds of years, slavery had split one race, changing them into two races, a greater and lesser version?
What if there was a group of islands in a vast sea? What if a great storm and disastrous flood had left a devastated people? These are the questions that brought Bryn’s home world of Solun into existence.
Once the world starts to form, once the color of the sky is established, how many suns or moons, the shape and colors of the landscape are revealed, the work has only begun.
What of the world’s history? How did the people, animal life, and landscape develop? Heck, your world could be a spaceship, but why/how is it there? History sets the how and the why and brings reality and life, for so much of what happened in the past dictates the present.
What about the people? Of course from that question we get a bajillion more… What do they eat? Where do they live?
How do they live, what about their community or government? Do they have money? Clothes? Language/ways of speaking?
How do they relate to their surroundings? How do they fit on the world?
What about creatures? Are they dangerous/friendly?
Whew… head spinning yet?
So back to Solun… because of The Great Rising, when the sea rose and swallowed the land, Bryn’s people fear the water. They stay away from the sea as much as possible, I mean why wouldn’t they, it tried to destroy them. When the storms ended and the two suns or Keepers as they are called drove away the clouds, a group of rocky islands remained. Creating, you got it, sun worshippers. They live for the Keepers. Their hair styles reflect the rays of these great glowing orbs. Their fabrics are colored red, orange, yellow, and brown, but never blue or purple like the sea. Their rituals, their hand gestures, their expressions all revolve around their beliefs. The Keepers protect them, so they do not go outside in the no-light—the words dark and night foreign to them.
The islands are what we would refer to as tropical, but they are mostly rock. The people work hard, farming every inch of land they can to produce enough food. They live simply to please The Keepers with schools to teach about the past, about their culture and beliefs. Prayers are central to their lives. Very few trees remain after they built houses and bridges, so most houses are rock with canvas roofs. They are governed by a group of men known as the Elders, who are in charge of all the rules and punishments, and hold onto plenty of secrets. All these things affect what the people do, how they live. All these things drive my main character, make her who she is.
So much to think about. So many questions. And more will appear as you go. Remember, the more details the better. The more real your world becomes, the more the reader will get pulled into the story. Layer in the sights, sounds, and smells. Weave your characters into the place and let them sing together. And beware, not all your knowledge, all your work will make it on the page, not every detail of the history will need to be told. But if you know and your characters know, it makes all the difference.
Whether you build a sweet world full of flowers, a sassy place with dancing, furry critters, or a landscape teeming with danger, pay attention to details. Ask why. Ask how. And have a fabulous time.
Kathleen Palm loves the weird, the scary, and the fantastical, believing that magic makes the world a fabulously strange place. Her kids, husband, cats, and dog add laughter and general chaos to her life, which includes writing, reading, and watching creepy television shows, featuring demons or time travel. An author with REUTS Publications, she is working on her debut YA fantasy DOORS, scheduled to release winter of 2016. Her short stories DARK WOLF and TOGETHER can be found in the anthology FAIRLY TWISTED TALES FOR A HORRIBLY EVER AFTER.
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