World building: Putting It Together.
And now for some more advice on building your world. Last time, I talked about things you would need to help you keep your information organized. This week, it’s a bit more general advice. Ways to help you think yourself through issues/ideas you may be confused or unsure about.
Remember, this isn’t something that is 100% going to work for you. Everyone is different, so your mileage may vary – quite a bit, at that.
- Talk it out.
If you can’t decide on one idea or another, open up a blank document and “talk” it out with yourself. Or, better yet, with a friend or collaborator (I recommend Google Docs for this).
Some people like to argue with themselves about which way they want a story to go, or the pros and cons of using one idea or another. If that’s you, hey, that’s fine! It’s wonderful, even. It helps sometimes, believe me, I know. The problem is: sometimes you get so caught up with chasing this idea or that idea, that you forget where you were going with it. Have it written down helps you 1. Stay on track, 2. remember all the ideas you come up with, and why you discarded them, or kept them, and 3. Oftentimes, you will come across an entirely different idea that completely blows all the others out of the water.
Just remember, when/if you use this method: do not delete anything. No thinking, “oh this sounds stupid” and hitting backspace. Type it out: “This is stupid, what was I even thinking? ARG! Next idea, please? Brain?”
When you are entirely done discussing whatever issue you’re trying to work out, and you have a final decision on what you are going to do, then go back and delete all the extra crap.
Bullet point the information you want to keep (remember: keep it organized). You may even want to bullet point the ideas you rejected and why they didn’t make the final cut. That can help prevent the wishy-washy “Why didn’t I do this instead?” question that likes to rear its ugly head halfway through the damn book. You’ll be able to go “Oh yeah, that’s why!” and move on much quicker.
- Diversity is good.
Think about it. Look around you. Chances are, unless you live in a backwoods small town, you’re going to see people of all colors and beliefs. There’s going to be families with mostly blondes in it. Another with mostly brunettes. There may even be a couple redheads in your community.
Now look at the world you created. Is everyone exactly the same? If they are, you might want to make sure you have a really good reason why. I’m not saying you need the “token black guy” or the “nerdy Asian” stereotypes. You just need to have more than busty blondes and chisel-jawed heroes. Spice it up. Why can’t the hero be the Average Joe or Jane? Why can’t the guy with the sculpted muscles be the spunky sidekick?
And don’t get me started on the sexualities. Just, seriously, spice. Spice is good. Spice is wonderful.
- Pointed diversity is insulting.
This goes back to the “token black guy” thing. If you are just including a character of color/sexuality/gender to be “inclusive” – DON’T.
It’s an insult to the people you’re “trying” to include, your story, and yourself.
- Do your research
This is where it can get fun, believe it or not. You just have to make sure you don’t fall into the Wikipedia abyss. This actually also ties into a major pet peeve of mine regarding research vs. creative license. I understand that sometimes it’s tempting to just write whatever you want, and claim creative license – research can be tedious, believe me, I know – but when you do your research, it shows and it really helps to make things so much better. It feels more authentic. Plus, a person who reads a lot of that particular genre will be able to tell that you’ve put in the work, and will appreciate your story all the more.
There’s also the chance you’ll get a new idea to play with, which is always a bonus.
And now for one that is slightly off topic, but still important:
- SAVE YOUR SOURCES.
This one probably sounds insulting at first (“Psh, like I don’t know how to bookmark a site!”), but trust me: sometimes that’s not enough. When I say “save your sources” I mean save them. If the site won’t allow you to download the page, screenshot or copy and paste the important information into a word file and save it (as well as the site address and/or authors of the article). Writing a book can take a long time; you don’t want to do what I did, and lose one of your sources when the person running the site loses interest and lets their domain expire. The internet WayBack Machine can only do so much.
On that same note, however, make sure your information is up to date. Don’t use information from the 1950s to write a book in 2018 (unless your story is actually set in 1950s, in which case, your characters can/should only act on the information available in their own time…).This bit of advice is mostly aimed at those of you who are working with ideas that aren’t very well known, or societies that a lot isn’t known about (ie: Sumer, FreeMasons, certain types of cults, religions, etc.). Whether it’s because people lose interest over time, or other reasons – in the case of cults, societies, and religions, anyway – a lot of the sites with somewhat useful information tend to disappear.
I know some/most of us probably use Wikipedia for our sources, but even those pages change sometimes, so the point remains. Save your information.
Keep in mind: I am not here to tell you how to write. We all have different styles, and let’s be honest, there is no real expert on writing. There are professionals in a field, but that does not make them “experts” and what works for them might not work for you.
The suggestions I’ve made here are not rules. These are simply ideas and tricks that I’ve picked up along the way – ones that I wish I had heard about/figured out long before I did. I hope you find them at least somewhat useful.