Aug 8, 2012

How do you Build your World

(shhh....don't tell me anything!)
I am in the middle of reading The Night Circus, which is every bit as amazing as I had hoped it would be.  But one of the things, perhaps the strongest, about Morgenstern's writing is the way the world is built.

If you have read it, you will know that from page one, the reader is pulled into this place and details about the setting just fall from the prose.  I feel like I am there, that I know exactly what this mind blowing magical place is like.

The genius in this is I don't feel like I'm missing out on the characters or the plot in favor of the description. 

As you may be aware, I'm a high school teacher, and with that I teach a creative writing class.  I don't let them write scifi or fantasy until the 4th quarter because they need to hone their skills to write character and plot and maintain the same POV before I will let them, but even with this, I will sometimes get pages of description about the landscape of the story at the cost of the story. It is one of the hardest parts of writing, especially if there is a world that is unlike ours.

But even if the world is ours, we need to remember to see it through the voice of our narrator.  We need to remember to balance the details of the essential with the details of something we describe beautifully that doesn't have anything to do with our plot or characters. I truly believe this is one of the most challenging parts of writing.

And let's be honest, this post is probably more as a reminder for me than anything significant I could share with you :)

How do you balance the world building with the story telling?  Is there a book you have loved that did this well? 

16 comments :

S.P. Bowers said...

I so need to bump this book up to the top of the list.

Excellent reminder. I always need to work on my world and setting.

Kelley Lynn said...

Well, according to two editors, I don't build my world as well as I could ;) haha. I guess I lack in description, but nothing that the next rounds of edits can't fix!

Michelle Gregory said...

my favorite author, Mary Connealy, does a great job of balancing world-building with story-telling. i learned from my last book - too much "looking around" from my characters and the description didn't do anything for the story. now i'm trying to weave it in as a way to reveal character too.

Juliana L. Brandt said...

Mmm! The Night Circus is definitely one of my very favorite books! (zipping my lips to make myself not say more ;) I can't wait to hear what you think at the end!

I need to go back and re-read it to look for the worldbuilding. It's just so seamless.

J. A. Bennett said...

I love a book that has good world building. I want to be totally sucked in from page one. And you're right, sometimes description can be distracting. Sounds like a great book :)

Andrew Leon said...

Personally, I don't think there is ever a need to be detailed in world descriptions. Give just enough description to allow the readers to fill the rest in with their imaginations. It makes the story the reader's, not just the author's.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Agree with Andrew. I like just enough description so that my imagination can take off and fill in the rest. And Lord knows I don't write with heavy descriptions!

Lisa Regan said...

I'm a minimalist, I tend to leave out all this stuff in favor of dialogue and action! LOL. I always have to remind myself to stop and "smell the roses" in my writing.

Ink in the Book said...

I love the creativity involved to create a world. It's exciting and a lot of fun.
I am working on the details that make a "world" part of the story and not the story part of the world.
I haven't read Night Circus yet, but you better believe I will now:)
Thanks so much for sharing!

Angela Cothran said...

This has been on my list for a while. I need to bump it up :)

Nicole said...

World-building is one of my favorite aspects of telling a great story, but it also has to complement the story's pace. I think it all comes back to the characters. They're the ones that drive the story and interact with the world. It all starts with them.

Guilie said...

I don't really read sci-fi or fantasy, but world-building doesn't apply just to those genres. I love fiction that takes me to places I've never been, or shows me places I know in a different, deeper, light. A writer that can do that, like you say, without spending extra words on description, without taking me out of the story to explain stuff, is a genius in my book :) As a writer I use Mexico and the Caribbean often as setting, but because I write for a largely English-speaking audience, my first challenge is precisely this one: how to convey an unfamiliar setting to the reader without spending pages on description and, most importantly, while keeping it all in the voice of the narrator? It's *not* easy, haha. Thanks for the post, Tasha, and the recommendation!

Catherine Noble said...

Normally I find too much description distracting, but I sooooo know what you mean about The Night Circus. It's a work of art and an absolute delight to read! I'd heard it was a NaNoWriMo project, and couldn't believe it, but after reading her blog I found out it took five years for her to write. And you can tell; it's just so beautifully written. It seems to be comprised of lots of vignettes, which slot in perfectly to the story. You'll enjoy the rest of the book :)

Emily R. King said...

Sometimes I get in a mood where I want to write everything how I see it instead of how my MC sees it. Naturally, I do a lot of rewriting. Ha!

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I have never tried to create a world that is outside the bounds of the the real world. I wouldn't even know where to start!

Jess Stork said...

I'm with Kelley. I have some problems making the world come alive through my words. Here's to hoping I get better!