Today I have a great author with us to talk about World Building. D.A. Adams, created an amazing world for his book series, The Brotherhood of Dwarves so I figured he would be a great author to chat about World building.
On World Building with D.A. Adams
Please, allow me to preface everything I’m about to say with this disclaimer: I don’t consider myself an expert or an authority on world building, so take all of my advice with a grain of salt. That said, I do believe there are some paramount fundamentals for creating a new space that all writers should adhere to. Most importantly, all writers, regardless of genre or style must partake in some form of world building because all fiction involves inventing an alternate reality in which their story takes place. Even if the story is set in the “real world,” any attempt at capturing the essence of our reality will fall short because our world is simply too large, too complex, and too dynamic ever to be rendered flawlessly in any medium. The best any writer can hope to achieve is creating a reality in their story that the audience will accept and believe.
To do this, the foundation of the world must be grounded in verisimilitude, or a likeness to reality. Regardless of how far-fetched or different from our universe the fictional world may seem, for it to be trusted in and believed by the audience, there must be something that connects it to our reality. An audience will believe in a magical school in an alternate dimension where kids play a form of lacrosse on flying broomsticks if there is something that they can relate to, such as the underdog overcoming the bully. The audience will believe in an all powerful energy that certain people can tap into for incredible powers if there is something attached to it like the tempering of selfish desires. So when you are creating the laws of your world, you must find something that grounds it in reality so the audience will believe you when you bend a law or two of our actual reality.
Also, it’s imperative that societies remain modeled after something that exists in nature, not necessarily human societies, but something that follows a believable order of organization. Perhaps, you model your society on the hierarchy of ants or maybe the reproductive cycle of a gourd. Either is fine as long as you create this hierarchy and remain true to it. This organization and structure should be thought through and researched before the actual writing takes place. Otherwise, you run the risk of contradicting yourself during the telling of your story. There are exceptions to this, of course, as part of writing is discovery, but for me, it’s important to know all of my cultures, races, and societies before I begin telling the story. Another important factor here is the “black sheep” or “renegade” phenomenon. In human societies, there is always a counter-culture that defies authority, regardless of how effective that authority may be. You must keep this in mind whenever creating a human-like society or you risk creating a flat, two-dimensional, unrealistic culture that your audience may not fully believe. At this point of world building, research is crucial. Please, let me repeat, research is critical.
While verisimilitude and realistic social structures are important, there’s another major consideration when creating a new world. If you get stuck, make it up. Sometimes, the best elements of world building come from the writer’s imagination, something new and foreign. While this may seem contradictory to my previous comments, it’s actually an integral part of the creative process. Like I said, no matter how hard you try, you cannot fully capture reality in any art form, so sometimes a creative leap is needed to give the world a unique element. For me, this came in the use of mirrors by the Kiredurks to grow food underground. While this was grounded in reality of something I saw on TV years ago about the Japanese experimenting in office building with piping in sunlight through hoses and mirrors, I have no idea if it would actually grow plants. However, because it seems slightly plausible, no one has complained about it or said that it couldn’t work, so that flight of imagination seems to have worked, and it makes the Kiredurks unique among the dwarven races. Creativity is a writer’s best friend.
So to summarize, always understand that whether you are writing a hard science fiction piece, a whimsical fantasy, or a slice-of-life comedy, you will be creating a new world for your story. To make this world believable, give the audience some likeness to reality to which they can relate. Model your societies on something that really exists and stick to those laws of organization. Research, research, research. But don’t be afraid to try something new and creative. If you follow these basic fundamentals, you should at the very least create a world that your audience will believe and accept as real within the scope of the story.