Worldbuilding: Part 3

At last! The final part of our series on worldbuilding—one of the most fundamental parts of any good book.

If you haven’t yet read part 1 or part 2… I guess…go do that?

So far, we have talked about the importance of investing time and energy into worldbuilding and finding ways to integrate your world into your book from start to finish through things like dialogue, foreshadowing and layering. But there is another place you need to add your worldbuilding: your plot.

Now this may feel like a step back from the previous step, where your world has already invaded the plot to some degree and is taking hold of your characters, but hear me out… How many times have you written the plot to a book just once? How many times have you followed the plot to a book in the same way you planned when you wrote the book?

For most writers, we learn as we go. We find out halfway through the book that a character isn’t strong enough to carry the burden of a protagonist. We go back to the drawing board. We start over. We write a few chapters and find out that our solid in theory side characters aren’t fulfilling the needs that we hoped they would. We go back to the drawing board. We start over. We figure out that that quirky coffee shop that Three Houses Press, LLplease-send-us-your-manuscriptC told us to write in instead of sending your character to Starbucks is actually a really cool place and you want your characters to spend more time there. We go back to the drawing board. We start over.

First drafts are never final drafts. Not when you are writing a book, and not when you are planning a book.

Now that you have gone through the exercises of creating a rich and dynamic world and found ways to keep the world in mind through dialogue, foreshadowing, and layering, it is time to go all the way back to your plot and see what else can change. At this point, you are an expert on the subject of your world, and you are going to be amazed by what you can do to step things up even further so that your world is no longer stepping in like a contractor to get the job done, but it is instead a true partner in the project with stakes just as high as plot and character. A contractor is replaceable, a dime a dozen (though some might do the work slightly better than others). A partner is not replaceable because they have to do more than just get the job done.  

To demonstrate the difference between a get ‘er done world and a true world partner, compare Hunger Games with Harry Potter. Note before we get started that Three Houses Press is absolutely not in agreement with JK Rowling’s latest episode of putting her foot straight in her mouth. We are firmly separating the work from the author and that’s that on that. ANYWHO.

Quickly describe the plot of books in one short sentence…

Girl must fight for her life in a child vs. child battle to protect her sister.

Boy goes to wizarding school and takes down the dark wizard.

In both examples, you get a really good idea of what the book is about. But in the Hunger Games example, you do not have the world included at all. In fact, as much as the series contains excellent worldbuilding details that help distinguish the districts and enrich the chapters, it is all replaceable. You could create different details, a different dystopian world, and still ultimately end up with the same book because it is more heavily built on plot and character, with the world serving more as a means to the end and a method to create a bit more depth.

When you describe Harry Potter, on the other hand, it is impossible to ignore the wizarding world. So much of the series is dependent on the contrast between the wizarding world and our own that it would be nearly impossible to move too far away from Hogwarts and the wizarding world as written and still end up with the same book. In this case, the world is as much of a partner to the book as the plot and the characters.

Both the Hunger Games and Harry Potter series were monumental successes. Certainly, both incorporated the world more than the average. But by going back and fully marrying the wizarding world to the plot of the book, Harry Potter is likely to forever stand in a different league.

So, go back to the start. Take what feels like a step backward to then take several steps forward. That is what writing is all about, anyway.

Happy worldbuilding.