This week’s Thursday Writing Prompt is about world-building. Fantasy and science fiction are two genres that come to mind when I think about authors who need to invent scenery. But alternate history and even contemporary fiction may require you to make up a place for your story. The problem with historical and contemporary fiction settings is that they must have some degree of accuracy to be believable. Readers will notice anachronisms in your story, and it can put them off if it’s too clunky. It drives me crazy when I watch a TV show or movie about the Middle Ages and the men are riding around on thoroughbred horses. (Google it if you want to know why, or leave a comment.)
World-building is a craft. Patricia C. Wrede’s article, “Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions,” on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website, offers a wealth of information and things to think about when constructing the setting for your story. It’s not just about the planet or countryside or what the city’s buildings look like in your story, either. You need to populate your world with people or aliens that have customs and fashion and language and all sorts of other things. There’s so much that we take for granted on a daily basis in our own lives that we seldom sit down and think about all the things that go into making a culture. But as writers, it’s worthwhile to sit and do that thinking, either before or while you’re drafting your story.
For most of us, we won’t need to invent everything for our stories, but it’s worth taking a look at Wrede’s list to prompt yourself for new ideas. So for this week’s writing exercise, pick something from Wrede’s list, such as Daily Life, and write some narrative about it. You can make up something or write about contemporary daily life, such as how the employees in the local grocery store are dressed. You’ll be surprised, but the more common something is, the more difficult it can be to describe, because if you even get a tiny detail wrong your readers will know it instantly. On the other hand, if you can describe it faithfully (and artistically, too!) your readers will feel that you know what you’re writing about and they’ll take the story much more seriously. Careful world-building and description can transport your audience into your story, which is exactly where you want them to be.