This month, I actually picked a theme! (I know, you should be proud of me). All February, we’ll be talking about the basic tenants of creating your story, most of which take place within the first chapter or two, or before you’ve even started getting words down on the page (depending on your style of writing).
We’ll start with what is perhaps the most important:
Defining your world
Even if you’re writing a straight up fiction novel, set here on Earth, with no funny business about the world in general, you need to define your world. You need to know the era you’re set in, you need to know the politics of the world in general (especially the countries in which your story will be set), and you need to know what’s going on around the world, that might affect your characters or might sway the story in any way. You’ll also want to keep up on current events in your time frame, which will make it easier for your readers to attach themselves to the era in which your story was written (wars and tragedies are especially good for this, for some reason).
Here’s the thing:
If you don’t know your world before you get into writing your story, both your story and your characters end up suffering for it. You need to know as much about your world as possible, especially if your story is set in the future on Earth, or on another planet altogether.
For instance, if you’re story is set in the future on Earth, you’ll want to note what’s different. What level of technology have your people reached? Do you need to invent some new technology to make your story make sense? Where do normal people live? Where do rich people live? Where do poor people live? What’s the quality of life? Is overpopulation a thing? Have there been any political changes of note? Have any countries merged? Are there any wars on? What do people wear? How do they travel? What do they do for work? What’s the primary language? What's the new style of architecture?
If you don’t know the answers to these questions, your world isn’t fully born. You don’t have enough to go on, you don’t have enough information for your readers to latch onto, for them to fully make sense of what’s going on in your story.
See, the thing is, this is the world in which your story is taking place. This is the backdrop for the entire story. If we can’t see the backdrop, then what’s the point of it even being set here? Why is the story set here instead of present day, on Earth? Or if it is present day Earth, why isn't it set in WWII era? There has to be a reason, and that reason can frequently be found in the world itself.
So, here’s what you do:
When you’re starting a new story, a new work, a new novel, sit down and write the answers to these questions. Be as descriptive as possible. Use your imagination, but try to remain as plausible as possible. Do some research, if you have to. Play with it. Have fun with it. Be inventive.
Then, while you’re writing this story, you'll have these answers to refer back to. You can see whether your characters would actually go where they’re going, because you know now, whether there’s a war on. You know what time everybody gets off work and when rush hour is. You know the answers to basic questions that will mark your story and make the setting (which is different from the world, and which we'll talk about on Thursday) far more realistic for your readers.
You’ll thank me, when you’ve given it a try.
I didn’t do that, when I wrote my Earth-Space series, and now I’m having to go back and add in all the things I should’ve known before. Talk about a pain in the butt!
p.s. Why is it that in science fiction, we’re pretty sure every world but Earth only has one central government and one type of ecosystem (i.e. desert planets, ocean planets, etc.)? Why?! Make your worlds diverse!