How My Main Character Taught Me a Thing Or Two About My World

Posted: December 20, 2010 in Writing
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As you know I have been nose deep in world building work for my novel.  I’ve been researching biomes, trees, plants, animals, animals that eat the other animals, rivers, the critters in the rivers – well you get the idea.  World Building is a ton of fun and the more you get into it, the more you’re world comes alive.  It becomes this living and breathing place that exists completely on its own and independent of the story.  I saw my world coming together and the more I got into it, the more engrossed I was in my world.

Though I made excellent progress, I think I got carried away.   I lost sight of my main character.

I read this excellent blog post  on Anna Staniszewski’s Blog about world building through your character and it’s just confirmed what my writing partners hipped me too – you can do all the elaborate tree naming and fruit creating in the world but you can’t forget the person who has to navigate through it.  I got so wrapped up in creating my world that I completely forgot about my main character Damaris.  Even worse, I was overwhelming myself with so many details, not discerning first what was necessary to flesh out and what wasn’t.

So how do you keep from falling into this trap and make your world building more effective?  It all starts with a really simple exercise of free writing.

Take your main character and take him/her through your main city/forest/town/village.  While your character is “talking” to you via first POV keep the following questions in mind:

·         What is the very first thing he notices?

·         What does she smell?  Does it remind her of anything familiar or stir up a memory she would rather not remember?

·         What would he most likely want to buy in the market place?

·         Would she be caught dead in the tavern?

·         What does he think of the common people?  Does he feel at home or are they beneath him?

·         What are some things he has never seen before?  Strange aliens?  Exotic fruits?  Or even centaurs?  How does he react?

·         What does she hate most about this forest?  Too many trees?  Too many bugs?

·         What was the most memorable part of her trip?

I learned so much about my character when I wrote about her visiting the city of Ophira for the first time.  I learned about her favorite places, what she has never seen before, and those places she would rather not go.  Taking that information I was able to tailor my world building to my character’s experiences, using her as a guide to what’s important in my world.

How about you?  How has your main character help your world building?

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  1. Anna says:

    Thanks so much for linking to my post – I’m glad it was helpful! I love your list of questions, especially the one about what your character might buy at the marketplace. World-building can be such a pain, but it’s also kind of fun, isn’t it? 🙂

  2. M. McGriff says:

    You are so welcome! World building can be a pain, especially if didn’t do it right the first time! I guess better late than never, right? 🙂

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  3. alberg137 says:

    I’ve always preferred minimalism when it comes to the actual description of the world of a story. It’s so much more fun to read a story that drops little hints about the weirdness of the world without coming right out and telling you everything. It probably comes from my chronic aversion to description in general.
    But character…character is everything. If you tell the world as your character sees it instead of how you see it, you’ll be on the right track.

  4. M. McGriff says:

    I agree! I don’t want to read 3 to five pages dedicated just to description. I’d rather experience it through the characters and how they interact with it. If the character deems it important enough to notice something particularly “weird” about their surrounds, I as the reader know it’s important to the story.

    Thanks so much for stopping by! 🙂

  5. Amala says:

    I don’t word build so much for my short stories, and I’ve not written enough to novels to feel as if I have enough practice.

    When I wrote my last novel, I built a world that was quite detailed and logical, but I didn’t want to bore the reader by including all the little details I worked out. My fear is that if the novel is read, readers will have unanswered questions.

    It’s so hard to find the balance.

    Building the world around the character is a great tip. I’ll keep that in mind for the next novel and world.

  6. M. McGriff says:

    It is so hard to balance. That’s why keeping the characther in mind will help keep you focused on telling the relevant things about your world to your reader as opposed to telling them everything! This was the biggest lesson I’ve learned so far! I’m really glad you found it helpful!

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