World Building for Writers
Readers like series, and writers love writing them; whether paranormal, romantic suspense, historical, or futuristic, these series take a lot of work on the part of the writer. Some beginning writers believe that only paranormal or science fiction works need complex worlds, but the truth is—every series needs world building. Details need to remain consistent from book to book, and from chapter to chapter. Characters need to have the same eyes and height throughout, the same hair color, and the same history. They also need to have the same personality!
All of this is part of world building. And when having a bit of difficulty with the latest in my Dardanos series, I turned to my best resource—the other writers I know and work with, as an editor at Astraea Press.
Here’s what I asked them and their responses:
In your own writing, how do you keep the details straight?
- Kay Springsteen: Charts with the ages of characters at the time of all main events in the world I created (it’s contemporary but it’s still it’s own fictional world) and books, and a timeline (just like the ones we made in history class back in the day) of major events.
- Rachel Van Dyken: I agree with Kay, using charts helps a TON! I also have a tendency to go reread everything just to make sure I have it right. It’s easy to forget little details!
- J.F. Jenkins: That’s a hard one to answer. Personally, I have to figure out what my end goal of my series is, vaguely , before I can figure out everyone’s role. Sometimes characters are a surprise and the story weaves itself together as I write and that’s where I discover where they fit into the big picture. It’s kind of hard to explain.
Calle J. Brookes: Thanks everybody. I use charts and time lines, as well as go back and reread. Do you plotters (and you know who you are!) find it easier to keep details straight? I tend to pants everything, then go back and make sure the details match up!
- Lindsay Downs: I have the story titles-written, planned out, or am writing all listed in chronological order. This way I know if I can mention a character or not. And as you might guess, I’m not necessarily writing them in order.
- Kay Springsteen: My details are always lined up from the start. I have several “Echoes” stories in my head and all with characters I’ve already introduced. They fit because the world has been in my head for 2 years. I know EVERY story, how it will play out, who will be in it, and the history of every person because in my head, this is all history…And I’m writing a “prequel” by popular request of fans of the series – finding it extremely seamless to write because the details of the history were all present, just not all of them told in the first two stories.
- J.F. Jenkins: I keep a google doc for each story that contains all necessary information I may need.
- Lindsay Downs: I keep the titles listed on a white board so if I come up with a story line I can easily put it in. For my main characters I use OneNote to keep all the data about them, this way I can refer to it easily when writing if I forget something like hair or eye color.
- Stephy Smith: I use two different character profile forms. One asks for the birth date. I use notebook paper for other things that may not fit on the profile or are not asked. I keep all of my research material (since I write mainly historicals). All of it goes in a 1 inch binder. For the following books I copy the information and add extra blank character profiles for the characters that haven’t been introduced before and add it to the new 1 inch binder for the sequel.
- Kay Springsteen: All of these are examples of different methods of world building. This a term many people think is only relevant to sci-fi and fantasy but it really encompasses all of fiction.
Kay has it exactly right—world building applies to every story. Accurate details are vital in bringing the world your characters live in to life! Beginning writers need to find a system for themselves to ensure they create believable and engaging worlds for their characters to live in. What works for one writer won’t necessarily work for another, but all the writers I spoke with agreed that world building is a vital part of writing success!
Kay, Rachel, J.F., Lindsay, and Stephy—thank you for answering my questions! It’s nice to see that even though some of us are plotters and some pantsers—and our methods are just as different as we all are—we all agree that world building makes a stronger novel!
Kay Springsteen is the author of the heart-tugging “Echoes” series now available from Astraea Press. Rachel Van Dyken is the author of the “House of Renwick” series. J.F. Jenkins—a fellow paranormal romance author—created the “Dragons Saga”. It’s full of excellent paranormal world building! Lindsay Downs writes about dogs—er…A collie named Dakota plays an integral part in her novels “Emily Dahill, CID” (Part one is now available!) and her “A Dog Gone Christmas” is also full of canine companions! (And as a side-note, Dakota has agreed to be interviewed in 2012 by my one-year-old daughter Peanuts Stinkerbell Brookes!). And Stephy Smith is the author of several detailed and engaging historical romances! Their books are also available from Amazon.com.