A World that Breathes

6:00 AM

I've been planning this post for several months because I love any excuse to talk about world building. BUT. I'm an editor for the Project Canvas blog (which you should totally follow, like, thirty minutes ago), and there's a post already up on the blog, and a post that I recently edited, and they're both about world building. *sheepish grin* 

SO. I was racking my brain trying to think of a new spin I could take on the very broad topic of world building. 

So here's a question for you.

What does world building look like when it's done right? 

I don't know if you've ever read any of Shannon Hale's books, but I would recommend reading Book of a Thousand Days RIGHT NOW so that we can flail together because #GENIUS

I'm also super pumped because I'm getting to visit the world of my old WIP since I'm writing the sequel and THEY GET TO TRAVEL and I am so so pumped for this. 

Anyway. What are some good factors that make a setting truly come to life? What makes a world breathe?

#1: It's detailed.

You know all those world building posts that talk about how you need to do a bunch of brainstorming and get down all the little, seemingly insignificant details so that your world comes to life?

They're right.

Don't be afraid to ask lots of questions. Read posts full of them. Jill Williamson's book, Storyworld First, is AMAZING to get your brain gears turning. 

Do the work. You'll definitely be able to tell because it will bleed into your entire story.

One thing about Shannon's story that I liked is how not only was everything very detailed, but there were "little things" that made the world come to life. One of those was the different idioms characters had, carried over from their homelands. That was really cool to look at. 

#2: It's real. 

It's easy to go a little crazy with world building. Sometimes a little too crazy. And while creativity is great, you have to make sure you're still making a world that people could live in. A world that you could climb into a walk around in. 

In order to make a real world, however, you need to look around you. Study other countries and cultures. See how they tick, what makes them work. What kind of government they have, what kind of arts and recreational activities. Study what kind of people live there as a result, and think about how the world they live in might have influenced who they are, how they act, how they dress, speak, think, etc. 

Book of a Thousand Days was really good about painting the picture. You could see how the main character was so largely effected by her culture. Her people really influenced who she was and how she thought about herself, and it was stunning to see what power a setting has over everything.

#3: It's immersive. 

This is the overall top point of this post. Your story world needs to have a lot of aspects, but overall, your reader needs to be immersed. Your characters need to be immersed. It needs to be a world that you could go visit.

Your entire story is effected by story world. What your characters do, what they say, how they dress, what they think. Their internal struggles are effected by the culture of the world and the lies they have, their goals are effected by what society has to offer. 

Your story world is where your characters live. So it only makes sense it's what shapes them, and it's what directs their lives. 

It's what they have to work with, after all.

I hope you enjoyed today's post! I wish I could have made it a bit longer, but I just got back from a Thursday/Friday trip and I am, quite frankly, exhausted. If you have any thoughts or questions about stuff I didn't address, I'd love to chat in the comments with you! 

I love world building so much, and I really encourage you to go researching for some good world building posts. There are so many out there! (especially on the GTW blog)

Is your nano project/WIP in another world? What's your favorite feature of your story world, and how did you come up with it?


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  1. I love this post!!! <3 World-building is so complex but it can turn a story from good to ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT AHHH. xD As for my favourite feature of my story-world...hmmm. For Golden Revenge, it would have to be the Dreaming Rock. Inspiration for it came from Uluru, and the stunning beauty and cultural significance it has. :)

    Amazing post from an amazing world-builder! <3

    1. IKR. It totally did so for Book of a Thousand Days, and your world building is absolutely exquisite!

  2. OOH, Book of a Thousand Days! I read that awhile back, and I remembering REALLY liking it - but it's been so long that I've kinda forgotten it, so A RE-READ IS IN ORDER. (Shannon Hale was at the last Minneapolis Young Writers Workshop, right? (AND I'm will be super jealous if you get to go there again this year because JENNIFER NEILSON WILL BE THERE and she is one of my favorites authors EVER <3)

    Besides the bookishness - this was an awesome post, Hannah! I'm the worst when it comes to worldbuilding (because there are characters! And I want to work with the characters! WHY CAN'T THE WORLD BUILD ITSELF?? xD) so this was epic to read. Thanks for sharing!

    ~ Savannah | Scattered Scribblings

    1. YESSSS. DO A RE-READ. IF NOT FOR FUN, FOR THE WORLDBUILDING. And yessss she was! My copy of Book of a Thousand Days is signed :D *flails happily* And I got to have a workshop with Shannon Hale, so I got to be in three small-group classes with her, one of them on world building and IT WAS JUST SO INSIGHTFUL.

  3. I read Book of Thousand Days about a year ago, but it's time for a reread!

    Great post, Hannah! World building is definitely something I need to improve on! :)

    -Madeline Joy

  4. I've been writing contemporary lately so that's easier on the world building.😂 (Although not VOID of it, of course!! You still have to develop settings, even if they're easier to know because they're familiar.) But I looove developing fantasy worlds. Especially complex ones. 😍 I think the secret is in the details. Like just a detail on what they wear or how the peasants vs royalty act or what they're eating...those are the kind of things that stick out to me so much while reading other books!!

  5. I tend to do "this town is X and they harvest trees" for my worldbuilding. Which can lead on to further ideas (some even relevant to the plot!), but it doesn't really provide the kind of details you're talking about in this post. That's what I struggle with. (Which is why your/Melissa's/Project Canvas's worlbuilding posts are so awesome :D)

    - Jem Jones

  6. Keep on sharing your amazing blogs!


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