Whether you write in Fantasy, Romance, Science Fiction, YA, Erotica, Literary Fiction, Horror, or in any other genre, your world shows us your reality.  Some stories require little world development, (as earth already exists).  However, others require a great deal of thought and imagination.  But whatever story you choose to write, make your world a character.

WorldCharacters.  This main element keeps me flipping the pages of any great novel.  I love experiencing life from inside characters’ minds.  It keeps me on my toes, allows me to feel what they feel, hurt when they hurt, love when they love, and hate when they hate.  Writing from a POV (Point of View) is an incredibly valuable tool to develop.  But what does this have to do with the setting – the world?

Well, how do we experience life but through our senses?  Sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.  And let’s not forget what emotions these senses evoke, the reactions they elicit.  Setting can create tension, complement the mood of the scene, add dangers and surprises to the story, and most of all – can interact with the characters.

Imagine a world without weather – a world neither cold nor hot.  A world without sunlight or darkness – without homes, jungles, mountains, beauty, or horrors.  A world we couldn’t interact with.  If we could imagine such an “environment,” it would be a pretty boring place to live.

The setting of a story allows us a unique opportunity to exaggerate real life, show emotion through a storm, torment our characters, and experience beauty of the impossible.  You might already have a great story with interesting character arcs, a tight 3 act structure, and an awesome beginning and end, but if you don’t have a developed setting, you are missing out on a wonderful opportunity for exploration and experience.

One question I ask myself after creating a new world from scratch is:  How much of this should I show in my story?  The answer?  If you’ve done your homework – created fascinating countries and cities with rich history, know the evolution of your plant life and beasts, generated interesting cultures, wars, literature, languages, games, not to mention weather, magic (if necessary), oceans, and naming conventions – do NOT include all of this in your story.  Show only about 1%.  It isn’t possible to include everything, and if you try, your story will turn out heavy and boring.  Fiction is neither the place nor time for telling.  Take a college class or read some non-fiction.

Instead, show.  Don’t tell.  Let us experience and interact with this fascinating world through the characters’ senses.  Don’t tell us of the history of an ancient palace.  Instead, let your character’s hands run over the rough cracks and ancient carvings.  Let us smell the dust in a cellar that hasn’t seen the light of day for a century.  Let us taste the sweet fruit that exists only in your imagination.  Let us fear as your unique beasts threaten us, as your storms thwart us, as your prisons break us.  Let us fall in love with the colors of your mountains, the smells of your food…  The point is, show us the story that exists in your world – don’t tell us of the world itself.

Once you have developed your world, your characters’ interactions will become richer, the plot more interesting, the arcs more tense.  And if your story doesn’t require world-building, still, let the characters interact with the environment.  If we’re in a cafe, I want to know what the coffee tastes like and if its raining outside.  Show me an argument on the streets, subtle looks of passersby, the discomfort of a three-legged chair, the annoyance of being seated beneath a fan on a cold day.  The richness of your setting allows you to show the personalities of your characters, allows them to interact more freely, and creates a more realistic impression on the reader.

So make that setting a character!  Experiment.  Let your surroundings inspire your imagination.  Both most of all, have fun doing it!  The more fun you have, the more you fall in love with your story, and the more involved you are with your characters, the better the reactions of your readers.  They will love you what you love, hate what you hate, smile when you smile, and cry when you cry.

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Comments
  1. Matthew Ridenour says:

    Great question, Rien. And thanks for the comment. This is one of those questions I could write on and on about, so I’ll keep it simple. If I write a story as a narrrator, there is no POV – as the term is defined. One could argue that the narrator is still a POV – in a manner of speakng – but it is not generally defined as such.

    There are many ways to write from a POV – third person limited and first person being two of the most popular methods. But what it truly mean to write from a POV is from a character’s eyes – his/her/its perspective. The reader experiences the story through the characters – feels what they feel, hears what they hear.

    It is a matter of either being shown what is happening from a character’s eyes, versus being told about it from a storyteller. I can compare this to the experience of reading a history book versus actually living that part of history.

  2. Rien Reigns says:

    Setting is the weakest aspect in my writing and something I’m really striving to work at. I spend a lot of time world building, but I tend to forget the small things of having my characters interact with the little things of the world. Just curious, how do you not write from a POV?

  3. Mmm…that comment about a world without weather really resonates with me. That seems so obviously empty–and yet, it’s so easy to neglect to include those descriptions in a novel!

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