World building has been on my mind lately. I’m three-quarters done with my middle grade fantasy manuscript, and I’m ensconced in its world. But am I deep enough?
Back in June at the NJSCBWI conference, I attended a workshop on world building with John Cusick. He started off the session by reading from M.T. Anderson’s Feed. (I promptly made a note to read it.) John used the opening paragraph to demonstrate how Anderson successfully builds his world – even though there’s almost no description. John spoke about the texture of a story and that setting is comprised of physical location (both macro and micro), time period, society, and the character’s personal history in that world. Typically, he used a distinct metaphor to his theory: Plot is the car. The World s the road. The Protagonist is the driver. Without all three, there is no journey, and thus no story. He continued to discuss the methods of world building, whether from the outside-in or the inside-out, the tools to use, and the fact that world building in itself will generate plot and character ideas. (Sound like something you need? He taught a great webinar on August 9th. I’m betting he’ll be teaching it again.)
I can attest to his last point: my world-building exercises may not be as detailed or as rich as, say, Christopher Paolini’s or J.K. Rowling’s – would;t you love to see their writer’s notebooks? – but simple as they were, those exercises took me where I needed to go. Plot lines and character traits seemed to magically appear. Yes, I drew a rudimentary map. Plenty of diagrams about the characters. Most importantly, I can see the world in my mind’s eye just as I can revisit North Carolina or Venice or even Siesta Key Beach in my memory any time I want. World building is associated with genre fiction, especially fantasy and science fiction, but doesn’t every story live in its own world? Austen certainly created a world that lives on in her novels, and she mirrored the world around her. The same can be said for more contemporary works like McEwan’s Saturday or even French’s Broken Harbor. Both of those novels do a wonderful job of creating setting, of showing us our world, our times.
Hmm. Time to delve back into my story’s world. I need to finish this draft in the next two weeks so I can begin revising and querying!