When planning a story there are several decisions a writer must make about things like characters, plot, and theme. Two other equally important decisions are:
2. When does the story take place? The when also determines the broad framework of our genre.
Building a believable story world is vital to a successful story. Whether we’re writing science fiction, fantasy, historical, or contemporary, we need to know the story world our characters will live in and interact with.
Creating this story world is a combination of imagination and research. My characters don’t live in a vacuum or in one room with blank walls and no windows. I want the world they operate in to be believable.
If I set my story in Fort Worth, Texas, I need to study the city and the people, its neighborhoods and districts, its various cultures and subcultures, its government agencies and the state and federal agencies as well. My goal is to make the setting as real and alive for my reader as it is for myself. When I set a scene in the Fort Worth Stockyards, I want my reader to experience the sights and sound, the aromas of the food and the air on a hot summer night or cold winter day, the way my characters do.
If our story takes place in the future or past, we need to speculate and research what the setting of our story was back then. What if our story is a fantasy and takes place outside of our known worlds?
What was or will be the technology? What rules of science and nature govern how our world operates? Whatever we decide must make sense to the reader and be as accurate as we can get it. More research.
We make the story world come alive for the reader by showing it through the point of view character. A key here is that each character will have a different view, a different interpretation and different reactions to the story world.
Say our protagonist is married and lives in Fort Worth. He works for a defense contractor and she is a doctor in a large hospital. They live together, share the same house and neighborhood, the same church, the same children. They share the same physical, geographic setting, but their individual story worlds are different. And those of their coworkers, neighbors and family are even more different. Weave these differences in to make your story world more alive.
A great resource for creating a story world is Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Fantasy and Science Fiction. What he says about creating a story world, what to consider, works no matter what genre you write.
What are some of the things you do to bring your story world to life?