Craft Discussion: World Building

CraftandWritingThis month, Jen hosted a discussion on world building and the process that goes along with creating our stories, whether they be short or longer projects.

What, in your opinion, encompasses a “world” in any given story? Is it strictly a base setting, or is there more to it than that?

Julie: I think world building can mean a lot of things, and it depends on the story. It also depends on what serves the story, and some of the world is built in the syntax of the lines. The rhythm of sentences can contribute to how a world is built or perceived by the reader. (Can you tell I’ve been reading about syntax?)

Anne: For me, the “world” is everything from setting to how it affects the characters and/or situations. Without world-building, there can be no dragons in Manhattan. No magic in New Orleans. It’s the base, for sure, but it seeps into every aspect.

Audrey: It definitely depends on the story, but in general, it’s the backdrop for every scene, what your characters live and breathe.

Jen: I agree, it’s everything. It should be full of sensory details, too. I want it to be almost tactile.

Julie: And of course, there are the things that make world building the foundation, the setting and norms and rules.

Anne: World-building is important even if you’re not writing fantasy.

Jen: Rules are a big thing, but especially in the genres we frequent. I think there are more rules in fantasy worlds because so many factors can be manipulated.

Julie: Yep. Every story I learn something new.

Okay, this is a chicken or egg question. What came first, the world or the characters in it? Where does the concept originate?

Audrey: Either. Both. Sometimes I start with characters and the world forms around them, sometimes it’s the other way around. For my story The Heap, I still haven’t figured out half of what’s happening in that world (Which is part of why I haven’t finished it yet). When I wrote The Rape of Persephone and Nymphs and Satyrs, I definitely had the world in my head first, but usually it’s a situation or character that I start with.

Julie: Usually what sparks a story for me is a line or a particular situation that a character is in. The hard part is often backtracking and figuring out how to make that situation fit within the context of a world. If I have a world, but nothing is leaping out at me that needs to be written, it doesn’t go anywhere.

Jen: I find that I only need a small snippet of character or goal to build a huge world around them.

Anne: It depends on the story, I think. When I wrote Being Human or Autrefois, I was very conscious of using the world they were in to inform the story. With others, I start with characters in a situation and go from there. My novel-length works are seeped in world-building first. My short stories are places to play with another option.

Do you ladies enjoy world building for longer projects or the shorter ones we create for CT?

Julie: I spend a lot more time world-building with longer works, but there still has to be a particular character’s situation that catches me. I get lost in the world if it’s fully built but I’ve lost an emotional connection. Sometimes, world-building is the last thing I want to do. Or I use the research excuse to get carried away by the internet. So, it’s probably more enjoyable at first for shorter works, but at the same time, once I’m immersed in a world I create for a longer work, I’m not starting from scratch every time.

Jen: I really like the big projects where the world just flourishes, but I think it’s kind of fun to do the short one-shots where you get a quick glimpse at something that could be so much bigger than what you’re presented with.

Julie: Yeah, it can be fun to play in something for a little while but know you’re not stuck with it. Like dating.

Jen: Haha, wow, that’s kind of true.

Audrey: That’s tough. I really like the short projects. It’s a fun challenge to see how much of a world you can create in 2000 words or less. But sometimes there is a world that sticks with me and I want to know everything about it.

Jen: I agree!

Julie: Maybe I’m a bad writer. Sometimes I like only having to build enough to support a short project.

Jen: No way, I agree. It’s really fun to condense an entire world into so few words and if it’s done well it makes me so happy.

Anne: Yeah, I’m like that too, but I like world-building. Period. The shorter projects are sometimes easier because we start with a prompt that helps me form something. Longer novels are sometimes harder because you have to stick to the rules you began with for 60-90k words. But I enjoy both. I feel like everything I write—short or long—I try to make the world-building feel real. I want the reader to leave with a sense that there’s so much more going on out there.

Jen: That’s the key, I think. The reader has to be left wanting that world.

Anne: And believing it.

Jen: Yes, yes.

Audrey: So true.

How intense is research for you guys? Are there things that bog you down in building?

Anne: Audrey trolls the internets for hours and then never uses 90% of it.

Jen: Oh, shots fired!

Audrey: That’s true. I do use random ideas that I get from the research that I do though.

Julie: I don’t let myself get bogged down for CT—due both to time and length. But it definitely happens with longer projects.

Jen: I’m supremely bad at research, and I feel like I’m the odd one out in this group because of it. Not as if that’s a bad thing, I just think I need to learn how to do it without getting overwhelmed.

Julie: Yeah, I haven’t figured out the happy medium of not getting bogged down to knowing enough with some longer projects, which is why I’m not currently working on a novel. Although there are several on the back burner… Usually science bogs me down.

Audrey: When I research, I’m usually looking for details to make my world feel real like time period specific food, clothes, and buildings.

Anne: Since world-building is very important to me—both as a reader and a writer—I will research to the end of the earth. Especially if it’s a place I’ve never been to or a culture I’m not familiar with. With long projects, if that research is getting in the way of writing, then I will leave a note in red in the text saying: RESEARCH THIS! and move on. The most important thing to do is get your first draft finished. For shorter projects, if the research isn’t working, then I drop it because of time constraints and move on.

Julie: That sounds like a good policy.

Jen: Yeah, I like that.

Audrey: I had lots of fun researching 1940s slang and fashion for Ridgemoor Manor, but if the research isn’t interesting me, I move on quickly. I love how many details are in Anne’s stories, though. She is a fountain of wisdom. If the internet doesn’t give me answers, I just ask her.

Anne: I’m a fountain of random shit. And when Audrey asks, I just make it up.

Let’s talk about favorite worlds. Whats your favorite Cimmerian world that you didn’t write? What about your own?

Julie: Y’all complain about them a lot, but I liked the elemental world you built for the story series. The harpies were pretty badass. I might also be a sucker for stories that use elemental powers, although they have to be done well. Each character had her or his own way of using it, and the names were unique to their powers. I enjoy Audrey’s Greek world, too, because of the modern twist to the old classics. It feels very shiny.

Audrey: I am a huge fan of Desert Cursed by Julie. I love the heat and dryness and how the story feels ancient and modern at the same time. In my head, I picture the girls in medieval-ish Spain, but it could be post-apocalyptic. My Greek world is my favorite, too.

Jen: I’m a huge fan of Julie’s WipeCo. It was so sleek and streamlined all the way through.

Anne: I loved Jen’s bird girls. It had all the elements of a good faerie tale. I loved Audrey’s The Butcher’s Daughter. There’s so much more that can be done with this story, and I hope she revisits someday. And, last, but not least, I loved Julie’s Dragonheart. That girl was vicious and vengeful, but I really empathized with her.

Jen: I was going to say Dragonheart, too! It was so visceral, and I love that. And I loved Anne’s Autrefois.

Julie: Ooh, yes. That was sexy. The bird girls are awesome, too.

Jen: Audrey kills with the Greek worlds. They’re seamless.

Anne: Julie’s WipeCo was divine. Also, Jen’s centaurs. Again, she’s really good with making things mystical and surreal, but accessible and touching.

Jen: Honestly, I think my centaurs are my favorite.

Julie: I love the pairs. Maybe because I want one :p

Jen: Squeee!

Audrey: For Anne, I’m torn between The Sea the Sea the Sea and Being Human. I love the cold, darkness of the wild ocean, but “Being Human” happens close to home and I think about it every time I drive Colorado Blvd. now. And Jen really created something special with Stone Wings/The Breaking. I had a really strong picture in my head of that story.

Jen: Thanks, Drey! I love human/animal pair stories with my whole heart.

Okay, what published worlds do you wish you’d come up with?

Anne: Holly Black’s Curseworkers’ series. It’s so unique. Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles was ground-breaking. Maggie Stiefvater’s Scorpio Races is right up there, too.

Julie: I was always really obsessed with the daemons in His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. I liked Holly Black, too.

Audrey: Me too, Julie (with the daemons). I love His Dark Materials trilogy.

Jen: I always loved Amelia Atwater-Rhodes’ world in the Shapeshifters series Keisha-Ra. It was fierce and beautiful. Oh God, let me live in the Scorpio Races, please!

Julie: There’s a Scott Westerfeld story about zombies that uses a loophole I think is ingenious. The Lioness Chronicles, too. And Mercedes Lackey’s Companion Horses.

Jen: Oh, PEEPS?! It’s so good!

Audrey: I love the worlds in the Hunger Games and Poison Study (by Maria V. Snyder – who is amazing at creating worlds) trilogies.

What areas do you think YA lit is lacking as far as worlds? What concepts are you ready to be rid of or find tiring?

Julie: I’m not done with dystopians by any means, but I think at some point the market will get sick of them. I think there are some dystopians that are just a shiny facade but don’t really hold up beneath it.

Anne: YA is a beautiful place to be as far as world-building. Everything old is new again. I thought I was tired of vampires, but then Holly Black writes The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. I thought I was done with werewolves, but Jennifer Lynne Barnes wrote an engaging series. I’m not a huge fan of dystopians, and I don’t seek them out, but Jen suggested Coda by Emma Trevayne … and I liked it a lot.

Jen: YOU READ CODA? I’m so proud!

Julie: When I saw the trailer for Divergent, I felt like it was doing a lot of things that The Hunger Games did, but not doing them as well. However, I haven’t read the books, so I imagine that’s not entirely the case.

Jen: I enjoyed Divergent (the novel).

Audrey: I love dystopian. I secretly hope it never goes.

Jen: I really like dystopians, too. I just find them really engaging. I hate to say that I’m tired of vampires, but I think I’m tired of vampires.

Julie: I had a vampire-like idea that was supposed to be my March prompt. It has not manifested yet.

Jen: By all means, please change my mind!

Anne: I’d like to see a smartly done zombie book (a la: Danny Boyle’s movie 28 Days Later). And by that, I mean, not dead rising. I simply cannot get behind it. They’d rot away.

Jen: Defeated by logistics! I want new dragons in YA, badly.

Anne: There are actually some good dragon books, like Seraphina by Rachel Hartman.

Jen: You are a fountain of everything I wish I knew.

Audrey: I’m excited for some strong stand-alone stories. And I would like to see more diverse MCs like Latina selkies or Asian fey.

Julie: That’s true, there are so many two- and three-part series right now.

Jen: I want to see more queers in the genre, definitely. I’ve heard tell of a few upcoming novels, but I am impatient. I would like to see some more LGBTQ themes and characters.

Julie: Yes.

Last question, ladies: Whats on your personal world-building bucket list?

Anne: One that I love and readers love. One where there’s more than one story. One that’s unique to my brand of crazy.

Audrey: I’m always considering expanding my Greek world.

Anne: DO IT!

Jen: Please!

Julie: I want to do something fun with werewolves, at some point.

Audrey: I’d love to write a world my readers love as much as I do. Someplace that feels like our shared secret place.

Jen: I think I really want to see my flying horses through.


Jen: But it does put my centaurs in a bad place.

Julie: How so?

 Jen: Too many horses?

Anne: Jen, that’s your brand.

Julie: It’ll be fine. Horses and people all the time.

Jen: I would also like to write something water-based. The sea. It calls me.

Anne: The ocean is my lover.

Julie: I’ve written a couple stories where technology is intimately connected to a relationship between characters. Not sure what my deal is there.

Jen: You’re good at the shiny, shiny technology, Julie!

Julie: I try.

Anne: If you love something, write about it. That love oozes off the page, and your readers will love it, too.

And that, friends, is the bottom line.

Join us for a new prompt on next Monday and bonus content throughout the week.

About jenwritesthings

Lover of gummi bears, puppies, and rain. I write things. Usually YA fantasy things.

2 thoughts on “Craft Discussion: World Building

  1. […] ~*~*~*~*~ A/N: Happy April Fools! I hope you enjoyed our mash-ups. We were inspired by last month’s Craft Discussion: World Building. […]

  2. […] ~*~*~*~*~ A/N: Happy April Fools! I hope you enjoyed our mash-ups. We were inspired by last month’s Craft Discussion: World Building. […]

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