Creating the Fictional World
In the last post, we discussed how to do a backstory but there is another technique which can help expand the realism and fascination of the continuous dream you’re crafting. I call it creating the fictional world (CFW).
What is creating the fictional world?
With every story, you place your characters not only in a plot but also a setting (or world). The world may be another planet, another time period, or the house down the street. Doesn’t matter. Just as you do backstory to develop your characters, you can do CFW to leverage your setting/world to deepen the impact of your story.
Backstory and CFW have many similarities but CFW is different enough to warrant separate treatment. Most importantly, CFW is not description. Description of your world has its place, of course, but CFW is more focused on how your fictional world influences your characters’ thoughts and actions.
How to do it
As with backstory, this technique works best somewhere in the middle of writing your story or, at very least, when you have a good sense of your plot and characters. Doing it beforehand can lead to a stilted feel as you try to shoehorn them into your world.
To consciously explore the world you’re creating, you can ask yourself:
What is distinctive about my fictional world? An answer of ‘nothing’ is not the right one. A completely generic setting means you’re losing an opportunity to enrich your narrative. If you’re having trouble with this, think back to when you first conceived the story. Why did you pick the setting to begin with?
What aspects of your world might intrigue the reader? Pick two or three of the most prominent.
How does my distinctive world affect the characters’ thoughts and actions? Are there morals, customs, values, unspoken expectations and even external events of your setting which can and should influence your protagonist?
Let’s use my novel, Kimono Spring, to work through the technique.
What is distinctive about my fictional world? It happens in the 50s and is seen through the eyes of a child.
What aspects of your world might intrigue the reader? 1950s, Japanese-Canadian, seven year old girl.
How does my distinctive world affect the characters’ thoughts and actions?
- My protagonist (the little girl) observes but doesn’t comprehend what is going on in the adult world. The reader understands more than the little girl. Possible scene: parents fight over discipline. Reader realizes the marriage is in trouble but little girl is just relieved that she won’t be punished.
- Caught between two cultures when post-war hate of Japanese still strong. Possible scenes: the family experiences prejudice at work, shopping, etc.
- The 50s’ pressure to present a perfect picture to the world. Possible scene: Mother trying to deny Japanese heritage to conform to 50s’ ideal.
Don’t go crazy about this
You can easily see that this could get out of hand. Don’t work this exercise with every item of your world. But try it for a few distinctive aspects. The huge upside in this approach is that it often gives you ideas of scenes to write.
A fully realized world will help you create a fully realized novel.