The art of world building

I read an interesting post by Nathan Bransford today where he posed the question, “if you could live in the world of one novel, which one would you choose?” Now, I always like questions like this, maybe because the nerd in me likes imagining what life would be like if I were in each of the worlds I read about.  I’ve come to a few conclusions over the years; I wouldn’t want to be in any of these sword and sorcery novels where I’d have to do a lot of running, and nothing where my life is constantly in danger or where the world is very uncomfortable.  And by uncomfortable, I mean worlds like Cherie Priest’s “Boneshaker” where you have to walk around with a gas mask to breath the air and there are gangs of super-fast zombies traveling around.  In fact, any world with zombies is automatically O-U-T.

Which leads me to the one series I would like to live in: Harry Potter.  Who didn’t see that one coming? Embarrassingly enough, from the comments it looked like about 90% of the people answering wanted to live at Hogwarts.  So, instead of being bothered by my lack of originality, I decided to take a closer look at why everyone wants to be a wizard in the world of Harry Potter.

What’s there not to love about Hogwarts? Before going, you’re told you are special and belong in this whole other, better world, where you can do magic, live in a really amazing castle, and take classes that are full of fun things like how to ride a broomstick or transform items into other items (and honestly, even potions seemed like a pretty cool thing to learn).  True, there’s that whole He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named thing, but really, it seems like a small price to pay.

J.K. Rowling is able to create a whole separate world, with so much detail and so many fun little facts that it feels like a real place.  And while I’ve read many other books that accomplish this just as well (see “Boneshaker” above), none of them seem nearly as fun.  This is why I think the Harry Potter books are so popular; the characters are good and the storyline is good, but again, I’ve read books that are just as good and better.  But the world of Harry Potter is such a fun place that readers love these books, just for the chance to belong in that world for a couple of hours.

I’m still working on the art of world building in my own work.  I know the key is including plenty of little details that might feel insignificant or pointless at first, but that illustrate how this new world is different from other worlds.  If done right, these little details will eventually tie in to the main plot, becoming important, much like the room of requirement in the Harry Potter series, which started out as a comment from Dumbledore about a room full of chamber pots in the first book and became very significant in later books.  But what else do you need to do to make your world come alive? Suggestions? Comments? Thanks, and happy writing!

Published in: on May 19, 2010 at 9:45 pm  Comments (6)  
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