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Monday, February 15, 2010

Creating the World for Your Story

Characters inhabit stories, but those stories make their homes in worlds of their own. The job of the writer is to create those worlds. Sometimes, the writer outlines that world sparsely, but at other times, the author creates a world of rich detail and complexity.

Hemingway and Fitzgerald captured America and Europe in the first half of the 20th century. In the science fiction and fantasy genres, Frank Herbert’s Dune and J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings featured complete worlds peopled with intelligent beings who were not humans. In imagining the desert planet of Dune, Herbert made certain that the ecology was scientifically defensible. Cormac McCarthy created a believable dying Earth for his novel The Road.

As a writer, you do not need to create an entirely new world for your story. However, you will need to create a place for your characters live, move and breathe. This means that you will have to know something about terrain, climate, seasons and weather. Your towns and cities will have to have stores, houses, apartments, streets, water mains, electrical grids and fire departments. The reader needs to feel that these things exist, particularly when you do not mention them directly in the story.

Your job as a writer is to sketch in the world so that it does not detract from the story. The descriptions of the world need to be subtle and to advance the story whenever possible. Balancing the story's setting against the plot line is a delicate task that will take practice.

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