When most writers think of world building they start thinking about space odyssey, fantasy realms, or worlds with lots of magic but I’m here to tell you that it’s just as important when building out real “fictional” places to help ground your readers into the reality of your story.
What is World Building?
It’s setting the stage for my characters, the actors, to play upon. This can mean anything and everything from their house, the city they live in, to far off magical lands. The Young Adult books I write happen in real places – my first novel, The Art of Lying, is set in New York City. The book that’s coming out this summer is set in my hometown of St. Louise and my 3rd novel is set in the Circus. Now it’s not a real circus, but circuses are real things – so I think it counts.
To make sure these places ring true for your readers, you need to think of three things: Key Landmarks, Elementals and Character Interactions.
For this category, think about things like places – buildings, parks, homes; food – local specialties, likes and dislikes of the characters; proximity from one place to another – do your characters have to travel, do they walk everywhere?
To help you decide on these key landmarks, go to the characters themselves. What’s most important to them? Do they need coffee in the morning to get going? Do they have a specific route they take to work or school? Then think about your story, what main problem does your story need to have? What would help or hinder the conflict?
Once you have these key landmarks – you will need to use maps, pictures, interviews, or actually going there and doing real life research to help you get the small details right, which will go a long way to help with your setting and world building as a whole.
What year or time period is your book set? Present day, 1980’s, Colonial times, the future? What country does your book take place in? Things are going to be different in Ireland versus the United States, for example.
Real “fictional” places can also be historical places, or setting your book in the future, but in a real life city, so make sure you keep these places and times in mind.
What season are you in? It’s going to make a difference especially if your character spends time outside or needs to take public transportation, or is driving through the desert, or dealing with a climate change – like snow in Las Vegas (it happens, but it’s super weird).
Remember, to keep your plot points in mind as well – when do things have to happen? For example, my 2nd book has the characters trying out for the high school varsity baseball team and trying out for the Spring musical – those need to happen at a certain point in the school year.
How does your character interact with the setting? For example, if your character lives in the suburbs of St. Louis they are going to need access to a car, but if they are too young to drive what are they going to do? Bum rides off their older siblings, have to deal with car pools and their parents, or walk home?
My suggestion at this point would be to interview your characters and find out how they feel about where they live – do they love where they are? Do they hate it and can’t wait to move as soon as they can? Do they love the setting, but hate the weather? What does your character think about the setting you’ve placed them and how does that help or hinder your story?
As you can see, world building is a totally different thing if you are writing a fantasy world or something up in space where you are in complete control of the setting – you have a lot more options and maybe more creativity, but it’s just as important when you’re writing about real places and real settings to get those specific details right – even if it’s just a small thing like how the park smells or how the food tastes, it really helps ground your reader into the reality of your book and helps them focus on the story and the characters.
Let me know below one tiny detail you will be adding to your real world building in the comments below!!