Over the past several weeks, we've discussed several things novice writers often forget to include in their stories—things that risk marking them as an amateur. Many of these aren't minor and are essential to the reader experience. We simply get so caught up in our primary story that we, the writer, often forget about them.
Today's item is perhaps the largest one of all: the sense of a larger world, one that exists beyond the confines of your plot. One aspect of this is developing side characters' motivations, but mostly, it's about building the world itself.
What do I mean by the sense of a larger world?
Exactly what it sounds like. Readers need to believe that your world existed before your story and will continue to exist afterward. They need to believe things are happening outside the story while the story is taking place. This is what people mean when they say "the setting comes to life."
How can you create a sense of a larger world in your story?
The easiest way to create a sense of a larger world is simply mentioning things that have happened outside your story. However, you must develop those events first.
If you're working within a modified version of our world, you can research some real historical events and add a few stories that explain why your version is different from ours.
If you're building your own world, you can pattern geography, history, and culture after historical models, but there is no real shortcut to creating a whole world. You must create your own timelines, establish how nations communicate with each other, and outline how any supernatural phenomena or technological developments impacted cultural developments. For a standalone novel, you can get away with only developing some of this, but if you're building a series, this knowledge is essential; you won't be able to change certain world-building details once the first book is published.
Once you've established the stories that separate your story world from ours, you can pepper references to these throughout the story. These can be as simple or as complicated as you want, from an interesting curse to an extended tale of the history leading to your current story.
If you want readers to be fully immersed, you need to make them believe in your world. Building some key details about that world and mentioning them occasionally throughout your project is one of the best ways to accomplish this—so, start today.
Little Things Writers Miss is a series exploring common elements of world-building, character development, and story elements that novice writers often neglect. Every month on the 15th and 30th (or the closest weekdays), we will explore two of the little things writers miss, helping writers identify and eliminate issues in their own work.
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Dianna Gunn is the author of YA fantasy novella “Keeper of the Dawn” and the Write Plan content writer. She also blogs about creativity, life and books at The Dabbler.
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