Let’s just walk through this quick…
You have read Worldbuilding Part 1 (ahem—right?) and learned how important it was to develop a rich, thoughtful, and dynamic world. You heeded that oh-so-valuable advice and rushed to compile a world that would take your book to the next level. You have then twiddled your thumbs for WEEKS in anticipation of this very article.
And now here we are… Worldbuilding Part 2: Integrating Your World From ‘Once Upon a Time’ to ‘The End.’ Try to contain your excitement.
One of my least favorite parts of the modern era is social media (and I say that as an individual who manages social media content for a living). Yes, it creates connections and opens doors that never existed before. But sometimes I wonder if we want those things open. For instance, have you ever followed a writer on social media and been exposed to their writing process? It never ceases to amaze me how some authors fill binders upon binders up with notes on plot, characters, and worldbuilding.
The problem, and therefore the point at which showing this process becomes an issue, is when you do not see those hours of work within the book. Where did those binders of worldbuilding go? More often than not, the richness that would have helped propel that book to the best seller list ended up on the editing room floor because so many authors do not know how to use the work they created, resulting in it either being omitted from the start or they drop it in the manuscript with massive paragraphs of exposition that an editor would be quick to slash.
But that does not have to be the fate of your binders (upon binders) of work! Stick with me and I’ll take you through some ways that you can work in the world from start to finish.
“Sweet summer child.”
“Winter is coming.”
When it comes to incorporating a world through dialogue, George R.R. Martin is a master worth emulating, with the three examples above providing excellent examples of why. The world in the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series is incredibly complex, containing unique religions, long history, and even a change of the seasons that differs from the world we know. Martin introduces these differences throughout the novel in various ways, but one way that he ensures the readers understand the world from page one to page yet-to-be-determined is by writing a multitude of adages for the characters to repeat that organically remind readers of the unique qualities of his world. And these adages are literal magic.
For example, one of the most common curses uttered by the characters in the books is “seven hells.” The characters speak it at a point that the readers immediately recognize it as a curse, even without it being familiar or ever explained, but it also clues them into the religion that permeates Westeros and contains seven deities with a matching collection of seven hells.
To me, this is magic because you see just how deeply this religion has permeated the world of Westeros. We also see an experience that feels so deeply human because many of our common curse words in the real western world are drawn from religion in the same way. Just by changing the curse words, Martin creates a world that simply feels all the more real.
Let’s say you are writing a modern romance about an aspiring actress heroine. You decide that she and the hero will hit a bump in their romantic journey when she receives an offer to film a TV show a thousand miles away.
When do you think you should introduce this excellent TV opportunity? If it is the moment that her agent calls to let her know about the career-launching shot she has been waiting for, then you are wrong.
The production of this TV show should be considered as a component of your worldbuilding because there is so much happening out of the action of the novel to get this show up and running. You should have a little bit of knowledge about the players involved in this before you start writing, even if just to easily whip out some names of production members who are watching when the hero crashes the set for the romantic finale of the novel.
If a more deliberate introduction of the TV show within the pages, such as showing the heroine at the audition, find a different way to make sure readers know it is out there. This could be as simple as the heroine briefly mentioning the long-shot audition within a larger plot-influencing conversation. Doing so ensures that the readers know it is out there, meaning they won’t think you whipped something out for the sole purpose of creating conflict.
Similarly, if your protagonist will be traveling off somewhere terrifying to solve a problem, consider introducing the spot in passing earlier so that the readers can share the protagonist’s fears when they find out they must go there.
Replace and Layer
It is always a lost opportunity when writers pull from the “real world” when they could pull from their fictional world.
Why send your character to Starbucks when they could head to that quirky coffee shop that provides some local color?
Why hurl your fantasy hero into a rose bush when you could hurl them into a monstrous plant with thorns tipped in poison?
Why use what your readers know when you could use what they don’t?
Though you have to be a bit cautious about how you introduce your unique elements to avoid expository explanations about them, you have so many opportunities to create a more dynamic experience for the reader by giving them the ability to truly escape their own world for the one you gave them. And if you have put in the work on your worldbuilding prior to writing, you should find it easy to draw from what you have to create this experience.
And trust me when I say that they will appreciate that enough to travel from cover to cover.
So Don’t Screw it Up
You’ve done the work. Make it shine.
In a 90,000-word novel, be sure that plenty of those words are going toward creating a book that truly gives the readers something complex and intriguing. You know what your world is capable of, do not let it get lost.