April 3, 2013

Writing Club Wednesday: How to effectively worldbuild using Star Wars (and a little bit of Mean Girls), by Alex Brown

Hey Misfits! We have another very special guest post today on the blog by Friend of the Misfits Alex Brown.  And boy does she have a fantastic post for you guys! Take it away Alex!

I made the Kessel run in less than 12 Parsecs –

How to effectively worldbuild using Star Wars (and a little bit of Mean Girls)!

Hello, dear readers!  First I’d like to shout-out and thank the YA Misfits for letting me hang out on their blog today and talk about one of my favorite things ever: worldbuilding!

Before we begin, I’d like to throw a disclaimer in here: I’m not a worldbuilding expert, but I have placed in a couple of writing contests because of my worldbuilding, and really do love that part of writing, so I wanted to share the tips that have worked best for me.  Writing is subjective, though, so if you disagree with any of my tips, I won’t get mad :)

Worldbuilding is an important part of the writing process, regardless of what genre you write in.  I err more on the side of Sci-fi/Fantasy, which is what one might associate more heavily with worldbuilding, but Contemps, Mysteries, Thrillers, and everything else under the sun need strong worldbuilding as well!

But how do I make sure my worldbuilding comes off as something organic, and not as some massive info dump? Am I even doing this right? What if I don’t know ALL THE DETAILS about my world when I start?

You may be asking.  Well, don’t worry – I’ve got a few quick and easy steps to help you build that world.

Long Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away…

Tip 1: Pick a setting – and commit to it! 

If you’ve seen Star Wars (and even if you haven’t) these words might seem a little familiar.  With these eight little words, George Lucas let us know that this story was A) not taking place anywhere that we would know B) it also wasn’t taking place during any time that we would know.

Your setting, and the little hints you give about it, are a pretty big part of worldbuilding.  When considering where to set your story, ask yourself why you want to set it there.  Once you’ve figured out why it should take place in New York City, Mars, in a volcano, a movie theater, or wherever, then figure out how your characters fit into it.  Your characters and your setting can have interesting relationships – they could be working together (like Katniss and the woods in The Hunger Games) or working against each other (like ).

My approach to worldbuilding is a lot like putting a puzzle together.  You find the corner pieces, the ones that are constant and won’t move, and then you start trying out pieces to see what goes where, until you find the right fit.  Establish some rules, then play with them to see what works and what doesn't!

But make sure that whatever constant rules you have (like, people float around more than walking) stay constant unless you find a logical way in your world to break them.  Writers are all about getting readers to suspend disbelief, but readers will also know when you’re just making stuff up because you can.  Keep their suspension of disbelief up and create a world where it’s totally fine if people float around instead of walk.

Do or do not. There is no try.

Tip 2: Know your narrator(s)!

Had Yoda been narrating all of Star Wars, I probably would’ve had to think an extra step ahead to decipher what he was saying.  The story also would’ve been vastly different, as Yoda sees things through an entirely different lens than Luke.

It is important to consider how your narrator operates within their environment.  How they observe others and how others observe and react to them, are all important parts of your worldbuilding process!

Your characters will inform a lot of your worldbuilding.  Is your narrator wealthy?  Were they always wealthy, or did they just recently get all that money?  The way a character who’s always had money views the world will be quite a bit different from the way a character who just recently became rich will look at things.

Or, if your narrator has some sort of power, then that power might either be A) hidden, because they don’t want others to find out or B) flaunted out in the open, because that power is celebrated or accepted as the norm. 
This choice can influence your worldbuilding, because if your character is trying desperately to hide their power, then society must not be very welcoming to that kind of thing.  Or maybe other people with that power had been captured and studied – so society itself isn’t bad, just the government science types who want to study said character.  Conversely, if said character is flaunting their power because it’s the norm or because they’ve been lifted up to God-like Superhero status, that’s important to know, too.

To provide a more contemporary example, let’s examine a (very exaggerated) high school.  

You see what Tina Fey did there?  She went through and defined all the cliques, and the movie showed us where they all sit in relation to each other in the cafeteria.  This 40-second scene does a good job of setting up the environment in a way that the narrator and the audience can understand.  At the end, Cady (Lindsay Lohan) is even warned to stay away from “The Plastics,” which is an excellent way to segue into my next point…

Never make a Wookie mad.

Tip 3: Use Context Clues

In Episode IV, there’s a scene where Chewbacca’s playing some sort of space chess game with R2-D2. R2’s about to beat Chewie, and Han throws an off-the-cuff remark about not wanting to make a Wookie mad. 

This little example is a bit of worldbuilding.  I could already tell that Wookies were a little intimidating (I mean, the dude is well over seven feet tall) but this remark, even if it was a joke, lets me know that Wookies might have a temper problem/might be sore losers/aren’t good things to get mad.

Little things like this go a looooooooooooong way in building your world.  If you just toss in a small detail, like the leaves on the trees are always blue, or a character has been levitating things since he was 10, it can help the reader understand some of the rules to your world.

But be careful how you do this.  Don’t just randomly toss in details to toss in details.  If you’re having trouble deciding what to put in and where/when, just take a step back and think about how you see the world.  When you walk down the street, you aren’t noticing that the dew dripped off of the tall, old trees great blue leaves as a black car zoomed by, going more than 10 mph over the air speed limit, while a man with green hair held onto a pink dog as he waved to a woman across the street.

Or maybe you’re way more observant than I am (which is entirely possible). But even now, as I’m looking out of a café window, at a quick glance I notice that A) It’s snowing and B) Cars are driving by. 

These little details should build off of each other to create a complete, coherent world.  If this doesn’t happen, my last tip might help you out!

She doesn’t even go here!

Tip 4: Make sure that whatever you’re doing makes sense for YOUR story.

If the worldbuilding in your story isn’t adding up, then you might be in this situation:

The writer would be the girl on-stage, and the reader would be Tina Fey.  You don’t want to lose the reader/not be the authority on the world you created, because it’s YOUR world.

As a writer, it’s pretty awesome to get the chance to create whole worlds/Galaxies/schools/cities and do what you want with them.  But, as I’ve said before, readers will notice when something doesn’t make sense (this is why CPs and Betas are amazing!).  If something gets pointed out that is a plot hole/inconsistent with your rules you can figure out a way to change it to make it consistent to the rules, or bend the rules to make that exception work.  It’s your world, so it’s your call on how you want to address the issue.

But the important thing here is that you address the issue in the best way possible for your story.  Don’t be that girl in the clip, standing up on-stage, pretending she lives in this world.  Actually live in this world.  The more real it is to you, the person creating it, the more real it’ll be to the people reading about it.

So, there you have it! My worldbuilding tips, with a little help from Star Wars and Mean Girls!  Do YOU have any worldbuilding tips?  Leave them in the comments section below!

Alex Brown is a YA Sci-fi/Fantasy writer who spent a few summers hanging out with Canadian tourists during her teenage years.  She writes stories about girls who would rather do the rescuing than be rescued, and always tries to include a good sword fight or two.  She is very, very happy to be one of the inaugural winners of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award and loves writing (and reading) stories with diverse characters. She's addicted to Twitter, so you can find her here: https://twitter.com/gravity_fail09 and sometimes she blogs, alextriestoblog.blogspot.com too!  


Maggie Hall said...

Love this, Alex! Especially #3--that Wookie remark is such a great example. And you're right--that kind of thing helps so much!

Maya Prasad said...

Cute examples! I especially liked "Never make a wookie mad." Just a great way to toss in a world-building detail. It takes some cleverness to work in this stuff, but you can definitely have fun with it!

Alex Brown said...

Awww thanks, friends!!!

Yeah, the wookie example is probably my favorite one :) And worldbuilding can totally be a fun thing for both the writer and the reader --I think that's why I love it!

tawney13 said...

This was great! World building is a complex monster but you put it all in perspective, Star Wars style. I loved that. I loved the videos that accompanied tip 2 and four. Love, LOVE the never make a Wookie mad. You did a wonderful job and this does make me want to watch Star Wars and see the world building Lucas did!

Alex Brown said...

YAY! I'm glad you liked the post/want to go watch Star Wars again! I'm quite partial to those movies :)

Worldbuilding is indeed complex, but I think it intimidation factor is all in how you approach it! It can be a bit scary, but it can also be weirdly fun haha

(also, wooooo! for Mean Girls videos :P)

erica m. chapman said...

You had me at Star Wars AND Mean Girls!! Great post, very informative!!

Thanks for stopping by ;o)

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