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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Oh, The Thinks We Can Think

*Please note the photos in this post have been removed. I will update with new photos once I have more time. Thank you.*

World building is a tricky test all authors must take. Envisioning a world, whether realistic or completely made up, and bringing a reader with you on your journey to discover said world is much more challenging than most people first imagine.

I see quite often when new writers (including myself) have a character walk into a room and describe what they see. This is the easy version of world building and honestly, it reveals the author for what he really is, a new writer.

World building, done correctly, through showing versus telling is much more difficult and much more challenging than you could ever imagine. I read through some of my earlier works and realized how much I botched up my earlier attempts at world building. And I could see exactly where I needed to improve and what I needed to change. Quite often, even established authors get this wrong.

I don’t think I’ve mastered this art either. It’s much easier to judge other authors work than to pinpoint where you’ve gone wrong with your own work in progress. So I’ve been thinking as I’m writing my newest project how to build my new world so the reader experiences it through the character’s eyes. This is called point of view.

A character who’s lived in the same place every day for the last ten years isn’t going to notice how the room looks — unless something has changed. Think about that for just a second. Point of view is everything in writing now. It makes or breaks a novel. Which character’s pov you use in the scene makes a difference, because a character that has never seen this particular room before is going to view his/her surroundings differently than someone who sees this every day.

So how do you bring your world to life for a character who has seen their surroundings before? Easy. You have said character interact with their world. As the character enters the room, does he lay his overcoat across the carved mahogany upholstered armchair? Or perhaps he lays the book he’d been reading atop the gold inlaid satinwood sidetable? Perhaps he strides through the pool of light spilling from the opened window. And why is the window open? Perhaps because someone else is in the room with him. Quoting Dr. Suess Oh, the thinks we can think.

This is important for foreshadowing as well, perhaps your character notices the gold letter opener and when he returns later, he finds it missing. Having the character enter a room and describe the room in a quick glance is honestly a boring way to introduce your world as well as taking the easy route.

Sometimes using the character who’s visited this room many times before is more challenging to write and much more intriguing than having a character who’s never entered our world before.

So take the challenge and write a scene from a character who’s witnessed his/her surroundings many times before and think of the creative ways he could interact with them, bringing his world to the reader one object at a time. See how different your story comes out and how honestly you start to learn more about your characters personality through his eyes as he views the world. A dressmaker who loves fabrics might view her world a little differently than a horse breeder. Can you implement some of their personality into their surroundings to bring their pov to the reader much more intricately than you normally would?

I’ve found this to be one my most challenging tasks as a writer and since this is a fairly new concept to me that I am learning more about with every day that passes I’ve spent a lot of time on getting the details right. Figuring out which details in the room will bring the character to life is half the challenge. An ordinary every day object to one character could reveal something special about your hero. Perhaps the unusual silver cigar table lighter is engraved in Chinese symbols because your hero is a sea captain and has traveled the world. These tiny little details you add breathe life not only into your story but into the life of your character and sets him/ her apart from all the other hero’s/ heroines.

What are some of the unusual details you’ve used to reveal your character through world building? So take my challenge, choose one of these lovely regency rooms or a picture of your own choosing, and create a scene with a character who has seen this room a million times before. Feel free to post here or do it for your own enjoyment. And then create a scene from a character who has never seen this room before, and notice the differences. Are you up for the challenge?


  1. Melissa,

    What a great blog! The tips are great. I agree that world building was a weakness for me at one time, and I always have room for improvement. I used to have my characters on a blank stage, because all I cared about as a reader was the characters' interactions.

    Once this was pointed out, I overcompensated by looking around a room and giving details. I bored myself. LOL.

    Then something I read clicked with me. Setting details that evoke an emotional response are going to have more impact, and those are the things a character might notice. For example, the singing of birds might convey a sense of happiness. (I know, lame example, but thanks to the screeching of my neighbor's tires at midnight and my inability to go back to sleep for a few hours, I'm sleep deprived.)

  2. Melissa, you are awesome! This is very good information. Even as long as I've been writing (and I do not think of myself as a newbie writer anymore) I haven't thought of this. This is a great blog. Thanks for sharing!


  3. Great post, Melissa! And so true. Weaving the world-building into our stories takes time to learn and, of course, practice, practice, practice!

  4. Thanks for stopping by ladies! So glad you enjoyed it. I've gathered so much information on writing over the last several months that I think I'm on overload lol. That was an excellent example, Samatha because often you can use your surroundings to convey a feeling or mood. You nailed it. I hope it helped some because I know when I took a class on this not too long ago, something clicked for me. Now I just have to learn to implement into my own writing lol. That's the trick. Have a wonderful day ladies!

  5. Melissa,

    Fantastic blog. World buidling is a challenge for me as well. I have been really working on building my world in relation to whose pov I am in. I'm going to take you up on your challenge. Thanks for proposing it!

  6. Let's see if Blogger will let me comment now. LOL.

    This is an area that I've struggled with, and one in which I still think I struggle. People tell me that my description is good--but when I read it, I still find it is so often lacking in meaning. Finding a way to dig deeper and see why a particular character notices these specific details is a difficult skill to learn, but one that, when in practice, makes the story so much richer. Here's hoping I learn this skill some day.

  7. Erin, practice makes perfect right? lol. And Julie I want to know how the challenge came out for you. I tried this on my own wip last night as a matter of fact and I found myself with two very different scenes. It was interesting to say the least. I still struggle with this as well, Catherine, but you're actually the one who nailed me on my lack of pov lol. Which in turn spurred my search on how to bring pov into my wip. It's been a very difficult journey to learn this particular part of the craft for me. So I hope I've helped someone "see" it much quicker than I did lol. Have a wonderful day and I hope you ladies have as much sunshine as I do here!