World Building

This month, my RWA chapter tried something new for its program: a video from the RWA Out of the Box, which has pre-recorded programs chapters can show to their members. The choice for our group was “World Building” presented by Kate McMurray.

Setting and world building are two terms that are often used interchangeably. If you think about it, there is a distinction between them. Setting refers to the location where the story occurs. The world building is everything that surrounds that setting: government, weather, geographic conditions, culture, economics, etc. Everything.

Usually when an author thinks of world building, she assumes only those writing fantasy, sci-fi, or historical genres need to create the world. Not true. Even if you are writing a contemporary, you still need to build a story world that immerses the reader. An obvious example is New Orleans. There is much about that city which makes it different from any other city. The same is true, if you write small town romance. Its world is different from an urban one. World building is something every author must do.

One question that often shows up on setting worksheets is: Why is this setting the only place this story can be set? I have a hard time with this answer, probably because I take it too literally.

When I mentioned this difficulty in the meeting, a chapter mate pointed out my book A Worthy Opponent could only take place in England’s rural countryside. The book opens with the heroine waiting to cause a carriage accident alongside a country lane. It had to be a rural setting, since she hid within the hedges while waiting. London had no roadside bushes to hide in. Also, the city had too many carriages; how would she know which one was the correct one? The story had to be historical because the heroine’s goal was to trap a man into marriage to provide financial security for her family. No social safety nets and no way for her to go out an earn a living.

That’s what writing friends are for, to help you understand the techniques you are learning, and why attending the meetings is so invaluable. You never know what you will learn.

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