Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Adding More World To Your Novel

Okay, so on Monday I talked about strengthening and using relationships in writing. It's something I'm learning and working on while I edit my second novel, Surrender.

The next phase that I've been considering and stretching and growing in is thus: world building.

See, I'm not what you'd call a super-deep person. When I read a book, I don't really care about the society or the world or how it came to be or anything like that. So as a writer, I don't really think to include those things.

I write the kind of books I like to read, and they're light on the world building. Heck, most of the time, they're light on the actual setting! I just find that I like a very fast, emotional read, and setting is neither fast nor emotional to me.

Well.

Apparently, I need to amp up the setting and world building in Surrender. This has been difficult for me on many levels, but I think I've managed to learn a thing or two along the way.

So today, I give you a few tips I've learned about adding more world to your novel.

Tip #1: One sentence is sometimes enough. This sounds simple, and it is! I seriously thought I'd need to drone on and on (and on!) in order to give the background of my society. But it turns out that a well-placed, well-crafted sentence is sometimes enough.

This pleases me greatly, because then I don't have to slow down my action in order to convey information.

Tip #2: Edit on paper first. I'm a huge fan of editing on paper, because for me, it's like note-taking. I'm not really writing new scenes or anything like that. I'm simply reading my MS, taking in all the notes my editor has written in the margin, and finding places for that one sentence explanation.

I mark these places on the hard copy of my book. I write all over my MS, and this allows me to really see what's going on in my book. I'm very visual/tactile in that way.

While I'm editing on paper, I also keep notes in a journal. I'll jot down on which pages items about the world are already mentioned, and on which pages I'm planning to add more explanation and what that explanation is about. This helps me keep the sequence of revealed information in the right order.

Tip #3: Spread the building out. When I first got my edit letter, I sort of had a tiny panic attack at all the additional explanations that were needed. I seriously thought they all needed to be addressed in the first chapter. But they don't.

As I read my novel and found the spots that would house further explanation well, I realized that not everything has to be explained in chapter one. Or two. Or even ten. (I feel rather silly about this now, but yeah. Edit letters are scary. Awesome, but scary.)

Tip #4: It is, in reality, okay to establish the setting. I'm sure you're going, "Duh, Elana!" but for me, setting is a huge weakness of mine. As I said, I just don't care what a house looks like. I can't imagine why anyone would care, and so setting is not something I consider too heavily. But as I've been editing, I can see the value in establishing the setting in my futuristic society. Some people probably want to see it better than I've written it.

But I'll tell you, this is one I'm repeating to myself all the time. "It's okay to establish setting. It's okay to establish setting."

So editing in more setting and world building is...going. Are these things you gravitate toward doing naturally? How do you weave in setting and world building without slowing the action?

34 comments:

Adam Heine said...

I love world-building, and totally agree on Tip #1. That's the bet way to infodump: in small, bite-sized chunks that people hardly notice.

But I'm like you on the description. I always forget to explain what settings look like, so I'll have to chant your mantra as well :-)

Laura Pauling said...

I usually have to add in just about everything when I revise. I underwrite. Sometimes we think world building has to paragraphs but like backstory it can be woven in. Good luck! Half the road to improving is knowing your weaknesses!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Now you see why I write YA contemp. I don't have to worry about setting as much as in YA dystopian. Works for me since I'm exactly the same as you, Elana. Setting isn't a huge deal for me (I do like some details, just no a lot).

I do, though, like to use setting to reveal emotions.

Holly L'Oiseau said...

I love your insight because this is my weakness, too!

Matthew MacNish said...

Eh, I'm pretty much the opposite. Too much, too soon, too slow, too descriptive. I haven't had this confirmed by any pros or anything, but I know it's true. I love detailed descriptions and complex worlds in books I read, but I know the way I do it is getting in the way of pacing (among other things) right now.

Miriam Forster said...

I love worldbuilding. LOVE IT. I kind of want to marry it, actually...

My problem is finding the right research balance. Too little and I can't visualize the world. Too much and I never start writing the book! :)

(I once did a post where I pointed out that the rockstars of good setting are historical fiction writers. If you want to see setting woven in really well, find a good historical fiction and take notes.)

Christa said...

Ack to world-building. I am so bad at this. It's my Achilles Heel. Sigh.

storyqueen said...

YES to number 2! I edit the same way...hardcopy and notebook (but I kind of like a legal pad because it makes me feel important...)

Shelley

bel said...

When I read, I tend to skim through the long descriptive paragraphs. When I write, I don't even consider them! I will definitely consider your advice. Thank you!!

Stephanie McGee said...

I have no idea if I do this well or not. It's not something anyone's ever commented on when they've read anything that I write. Although I have gotten comments on Book Country on one project that they want more setting in the first chapter. More scene, I guess, and not so much the world-building since it's a contemporary. I guess the most important thing with incorporating setting is to make sure that whatever's there is a necessary growth of the action.

Stacy Henrie said...

I think I tend to gloss over this in the writing process (or end up repeating myself by mentioning the sky in every chapter), so for me the setting details are something I weave in more in the editing stage.

I hope the edits are going well!

Tiffany Garner said...

I definitely come at this a bit more naturally. Sometimes I spend too much time on the setting, though, and not enough on the action. I'm working on that. I've found that when you build the setting into the action, it works much better, like in my current WIP: "I drummed my fingers against the stone bridge." You know he's impatient and you know he's outside on a bridge. (I wouldn't have used my own writing, but it's the first example I thought of)

Good luck, Elana!

Heather said...

I think I'm a lot like you on this area of writing. I've been told a time or two (or three) that I need more detail of my surroundings. Thanks for this. It will be something I use when I start editing again!

Angela Brown said...

I love world building but have had to learn to incorporate this information in different, balanced ways. With some high fantasy writers, this comes in the form of some lengthy exposition. But as I've gravitated to different genres, I've learned that setting and world building can be woven into a scene through sensory reactions and dialogue.

Michelle McLean said...

I used to go way overboard with my setting descriptions. I seriously had a passage 4 PAGES LONG describing in minute detail what the inside of my character's house looked like.

I've learned to tone it down LOL

I also edit on paper. I'll do a few rounds on the computer first and then my last pass through is on paper. However, I always go through and make note cards with each scene detailing the characters involved, the setting, the POV, and what's going on. And then those go on my cork board.

That way I can see my whole story all mapped out and I can see where things need to be moved, changed, added, subtracted, etc.

Then after I fix what I think needs fixing, I print it all out and grab a handful of red pens and post it notes :) When I find areas that need something, I stick a post it note on the corresponding note card. And mark the crap out of the ms, of course :)

Cynthia Lee said...

I love setting but, unless you're writing literary fiction and you happen to be a genius, I think a few tight, evocative sentences concerning the setting will suffice.

In a sidenote, I really hate it when a writer describes what the main character is wearing. I really don't care what ensemble they happened to pick that morning. I have no fashion sense in real life so that may be a reason. :)

Krispy said...

Setting and certain aspects of world-building are important to me when I'm reading. Other than "seeing" the scene, I like having some kind of footing on the society/time period/what-have-you. Like what's "normal" and what isn't?

In my own writing, I'm still trying to figure out that balance between establishing setting and not slowing down the action. I think setting is winning out, so I need to cut back on it.

Kara said...

I tend to worldbuild, I have to be careful to find balance:)

Randy said...

The first novel I wrote involved a lot of world building. It took place in 800 AD England as well as Hell, Limbo, present-day Earth, Paradise and Heaven. Because these are locations that are so different from our world, it required some sort of desciption for each new scene. Beyond that, I introduced background and setting information about my worlds when they were required by the events of the scene.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

I count on my CPs to tell me if I need less or more details. I tend to owner-write and then my trusted peeps tell me "less is more." And they are usually right.

Editor letter. Eek. Mine is coming soon. Awesome but scary indeed.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Owner-write? Stupid spell check word replacer. I don't even know what that means. OVER WRITE.

Abby said...

This is great. I often need to go back and word build too. Not fun, but sometimes necessary.

Also - I've got a mention your post yesterday on my blog! Well, it will be on there tomorrow. :) Come by and check it out.

Jemi Fraser said...

I'm not a big fan or reading or writing huge bits of description - so world building can be rough in my drafts too. I like your tips - thanks!

Martha Ramirez said...

Great tips, Elana. One of the biggest compliments I received from agents was on world-building. I wish they could have pointed out those spots LOL. But I think as long as you have the character interact with the setting in a way that doesn't feel like telling, for intstance how does he/she react to her surroundings. It could help.

Tere Kirkland said...

Setting is actually one of the easiest things for me to incorporate.

I try to focus on how the characters can interact with the setting to bring the setting to life.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I can so relate to what you're saying. I don't like setting much either and it's one of my weaknesses. Thanks for the tips.

Elle Strauss said...

I'm also more about emotion and dialogue, that I often skimp on setting and description. A little can go a long way, but your characters are just in a white walled room without it.

Jeff King said...

I try and do it all, but I love your tips!

June G said...

God bless you! This is so pertinent for me. I'm similar to you in that I like to focus in the interpersonal interaction of the characters. I have to remind myself to put in description and setting.

My friend has told me more than once, "I'd like to know what the kitchen and town looks like"...lol...nice to know even an expert such as yourself struggles with this. I'm bookmarking your tips and trying some of them out--especially the part about writing in hardcopy. Thanks, Elana!

Ishta Mercurio said...

I use the "video-camera" technique: I visualize what everything looks like through my MC's eyes, what she is seeing, what she notices, and I put it on the page as we get to it.

My big problem is having enough worked out ahead of time - I made the mistake with my first novel of not doing enough world-building before I sat down to draft the thing, and then it was a MONUMENTAL task to go back and put it all in. It's soul-sucking and overwhelming, and I'm still not done. So for my next book, I'm working on outlining the world and figuring out as much as I can now, before I sit down to write any of it.

Brenda Sills said...

I love when I'm reading along and catch details of a story's world - they're delicious to me! I feel so much more a part of the story, the characters lives, etc.

I love learning about new things - it's the same in a novel - I love discovering some new thing about the story world.

And you're right - a little can go a long way. Your one sentence solution sounds awesome. A lot depends on the story and the voice of the author on how much story building goes into the book. Savory, well-placed details infuse life into the story.

Thanks, Elana!

JainaKay said...

I have the same problem - even when an author does spend time on description, when I'm reading I tend to skip all that stuff and get on to the action! So it tends not to go into my stories. Thanks so much for the tips - they'll be really helpful for me!

Leslie Rose said...

I thought your world building in POSSESSION was way high in the cool zone. I run a movie in my head as I read and you gave me quite a palette to paint with. I love world building which probably comes from being a scenic designer.

L.T. Elliot said...

So you'll hate this about me--I love world building. But then again, I'm an adult fantasy writer and it's all about the world building baby. Okay, I don't go all crazy about it. No one wants PAGES of "the trees looked like..." but I love being immersed. I.E. In George R.R. Martin's latest book (A Dance With Dragons), he has a scene where some characters are floating down a river on a little boat and all around them are these ruins of societies that no one remembers. Statues are sticking out of the water and steps are spiraling under the surface and there's this nugget of history about it being a place for lovers that met its doom. And that just sucked me right in. How cool would it be to see something like that?
*This Geek-Out brought to you by a complete fantasy-nerd*

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