An oaken hull, sacks of grain draping over the beams of the lower deck's closet, and a cold, harsh voice speaking to you. A bare-chested Dunmer stands before you, steel-grey skin and a long scar running right through one of his bright red eyes. His voice grinds from his throat.
"Well, not even last night's storm could wake you."
And, in ten seconds, we are engulfed in Morrowind.
That's the opening scene of the game -- the third of the Elder Scrolls series which I so openly declare one of the prominent inspirations for my work in the fantasy genre.
Today, we are going to be talking about world building and how you as an author can create an immerse, believable, intricate world through your writing. A topic of paramount importance to fantasy and science fiction writers especially, I'm going to show you 5 elements of your world that need to be developed and capitalized upon in order to surround your reader in a place they won't want to leave.
You know your world. Your characters have lived in it their entire life. They're used to it. Treat it that way.
You're not going to explain every interesting building or every reason someone refers to a past event. Your readers can catch up. In fact, they'll LIKE being treated like one of the regulars in this world. That's how immersion starts. Make it so alien to them and yet so normal to the others that they are FORCED to live in it - explore it, breathe it, be fascinated by it - as if it really exists.
This, of course, is one reason why first person is usually a little easier (I didn't say better, I said easier), to introduce the reader to a new world. The narrator is the person who's blase, who's lived in it forever.
Take Hunger Games for example.
Make sure your narrative and your characters adopt callous attitudes towards the world they live in. They can have opinions. They can have memories.They can describe details. But nothing should be new to them. Yet.
How is your world governed and, most importantly, how does it affect your character? Is it a kingdom? An Empire? Dictatorship? Republic? Democracy? Theocracy? Anarchy? If it's an empire, what are its diverse provinces? If it's a monarchy, who are its allies and enemies? If it's a dictatorship, whose the leader with absolute power? And WHY? And no matter WHAT you choose, make sure you have history behind it that YOU are aware of (not that you dump in the first two pages) that can be referenced throughout the book and explain WHY things are the way they are and what sort of repercussions it has on the story.
Here is one of of the most important ingredients, as it shapes the creed, temperance, motive, and heritage of your people, just as it does in the real world. What do your people believe in? What do they argue about? Have they a strong moral compass, or our their gods quarreling themselves? Is it monotheistic or polytheistic? Will the God/gods play a personal role in the story, or is their faith just as mysterious and debated and emotional as ours?
What about the power of the church? Does it have any influence over the government? Are the clergy benevolent or do they prey upon the gullible?
Determining the religion in your book should tint everything else about the world you created in subtle ways. With my fantasy book, religion revolved around fire not existing; heralded as demonic. Therefore, what, can you guess, became the theme of righteousness?
Water was dripped over foreheads in churches, painted in stained glass, injected into architecture, drizzled throughput entire cities on man-made waterfalls, locked in the Emperor's very desk.
Religion should be as prevalent in your story as it was in mine -- or NOT prevalent, if that IS the religion. Maybe most of your people are atheists. Why? And how does that affect the world? Less reverence for life? More? This is your chance to subtly and naturally (the ONLY way allowed in writing) to seep in your own faith.
We all believe we'll see something the moment when die, whether that be light or darkness.
What does your character believe they'll see?
No matter what era your world is currently in, it was around before the reader visited. Make that present. Immerse them in history and legends so rich, they wish you'd write a prequel. Make them find the past just as fascinating as the present. When designing fantasy/sci-fi worlds, you have to think forward, backward, and sideways. Think of the world as two mirrors facing each other, delving on forever and ever. If you can give your reader the impression that this world has so much history and wonder, it is impossible to discover everything, or that is has so many endless possibilities for the future that it could go on for infinity, they'll never want to leave.
5. Make Them Citizens
Sometimes, this happens upfront. Good. That's called initiating event. For me, I plunged the reader into the world immediately and clearly established fire's extinction. Then I barged it back into reality. If we're successful, it is then that our efforts pay off. The reader CARES that fire is back (...hopefully. Oh Lord). The reader UNDERSTANDS the magnitude of what it means. Of what dragons soaring back into the present from ancient history meant in Skyrim. That care and surprise is what will have their eyes riveting over the lines of your manuscript.
Am I missing a number here? Anyone have a #6 for me? I can never learn enough from the real pros out there now reading this page.
Anything to add, Laura?