Guest Post: Sit up Straight, I’m World-building Here

Here’s to an amazing blogger, author of comments, and giggler: Shim, otherwise known as magicandwriting.  She’s been around for a while and has made her presence known, all but demanding a guest post.  (Okay, she hasn’t demanded anything, but she deserves it.)  She has an awesome post for you, and once you’re finished with that, check out her blog.  Both are well worth your enjoyment.

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I’ve done a lot of world-building lately, and while in the process, I noticed a little something. I’ve come up with a lot of random information, stuff that may never show up in the story itself; however, I realized that it actually still influences the story.

See, there’s this little thing called perception. It affects a lot of things, as is kind of obvious.  Anyway, let’s say you have a scene that happens in a poorly lit room, and you want to describe the room. Chances are, you probably want a better description than the one I just gave you, since that really tells you absolutely nothing.

First, though who is your narrator? Who’ll be doing the describing of the room, I mean. If your narrator is cheerful, bouncy Annaliese, then when she comes into the room, probably the first thing she’ll see is that Caelan, who’s sitting in the corner, is decidedly not cheery.  In fact, he appears to be sulking. Then she’ll notice that he’s sitting in the darkest corner of the room—not that there’s really any corners that aren’t dark, with those heavy curtains pulled over the window.

But let’s say Annaliese isn’t your narrator. Maybe, instead, your narrator is anti-social, bookworm Audrey. When she comes into the room, she’s hardly going to notice Annaliese or Caelan; instead, she’ll see the dusty, unorganized bookshelf, or maybe that there’s a broom sitting in the middle of the floor that really should be put to some use, preferably before someone trips over it.

Now, what if your narrator was Caelan?  He probably won’t really even acknowledge Annaliese or Audrey when they come into the room. After all, he’s sulking and he doesn’t want anybody to bother him.  So he’ll probably stare at something remote, such as perhaps that funny wrinkle in those heavy curtains.

While these really aren’t the best examples, my point is that personality and mood can affect how your narrator sees the room and what he or she sees first. Annaliese saw how dark the room was and who else was in the room, while Audrey saw how messy the room was, and Caelan saw a particular detail first, rather than the room itself. If the characters had looked any further, they probably would have seen the same things as each other—but they each saw it in a different order.

But here’s the thing. You see, it isn’t just a character’s personality that will affect how they see things—the world will also affect it. Let’s say your story is set in a world where it’s common for every man (or woman) to bear arms. That means, technically, it’d be more noticeable if a character did not carry a weapon than if he or she did. Yes?

Think about this for a moment.

What if your story were set in a world where everybody has bad posture? Would your character notice this? Or is this something that’s so normal and so part of life to them that it’s just not apparent? The answer to that, of course, depends on who your character is. If your character comes from some other place, where people actually do stand up straight, then maybe they’d notice. Or if you have a character who’s particularly observant, perhaps then they’d be aware of it. The other thing is, it could also be something in the character’s backstory that makes them notice. For example, I personally happen to notice the way other people sit and stand because I have a slight bit of scoliosis that’s caused by my own poor posture, so now my attention has been brought to it.

Do you see what I’m getting at here? This one little detail can show your world-building and your character development. It suggests that at least most of the people of this world do something or have some kind of hobby that makes them slouch, such as being bent over a keyboard all day.  It also shows something in your character, such as that they’re attentive.

Of course, it’s all very subtle and you can’t always use this. The only time it works is when it fits with your character. After all, if a character who’s not always that observant suddenly picks up on something like that, it’d seem awfully out of place. So you have to be careful.

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8 thoughts on “Guest Post: Sit up Straight, I’m World-building Here

  1. Mmm, I think I said this to her when she first showed me, but this is an excellent post. I know that, I, for one, too often overlook small details that can influence the story in perhaps not massive, but important ways, nonetheless. Although thsoe small details, like you said, are able to delve much deeper into world-building and character development- which we can all agree are a couple of the fundamentals of the story.

    Perhaps that’s why whenever I finish (or the lack of finishing) my first draft and go back and read it, there are always these holes in the details where things don’t quite match up, or characters and events contradict themselves because of some detail that was overlooked.

    Or perhaps that’s just the nature of a first draft. Whatever it is, great post, Shim, and those examples are perfect. And yay Liam for giving her the post. 🙂

  2. Very true, Shim. Description definitely varies depending on the character and what is considered “normal” in the society.

    Something for me to work on for sure. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

    1. (Also, Liam, perhaps you might…actually link to her blog in the post? I mean, I know she’ll comment at some point, but in the post might be good too.)

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