“People say, ‘What advice do you have for people who want to be writers?’ I say, they don’t really need advice, they know they want to be writers, and they’re gonna do it. Those people who know that they really want to do this and are cut out for it, they know it.”
Over the last few days, some friends in an online writing group and I have been discussing worldbuilding in our writing. Long time readers will know that worldbuilding is something of a passion for me and my own worldbuilding in The Bell Forging Cycle often draws compliments. So whenever there is an opportunity to chat about creating and exploring secondary worlds I’ll gladly join in.
One question came up and I thought it was interesting: can a writer maintain the breakneck pace of an action story and still worldbuild? As a writer who has written three action-oriented novels, I believe the answer is yes. I figured a quick post would be the perfect way to go a step further and explain how I maintain pace and still write a plot-forward scene that expands a world. Show don’t tell, right? To demonstrate I threw together a quick scene, you can read it in all of its trope-filled glory below.
My opponent was Ver, a kudär, one of the desert dwellers. He wore the leathers of a Stalwart, cut from the backs of the enormous lizards that reside deep in the shifting dunes. His was a caste accustomed to war, violence, and bloody hand-to-hand fighting. That didn’t bode well.
Ver beat his chest and threw a handful of dust in the air above his tattooed head. Around us, the crowd chanted, “VER! VER! VER!” in a steady throbbing rhythm.
I rolled my neck; feeling it pop, and shook my arms to keep them loose. I wondered if I looked nervous. A damned kudär, here, of all places. They tended to stick to the fringes, away from population centers. Kudär didn’t usually fight in sanctioned matches. I’d need to change strategies; perhaps I could—
The gong thummed, cutting off my thoughts. No time.
So, let’s break it down. Here’s what I am doing in that tiny 143-word scene to expand the worldbuilding without interrupting the pace.
- I’m establishing the action immediately. A fight is about to go down. Just calling out an opponent introduces the tension. The pace is set, let’s keep it up.
- Relevance matters. Don’t throw in random details that don’t serve the scene. Keep your reader focused on what is happening in the moment.
- I begin to hint at some interesting stuff without getting bogged down in details. Everything is focused on the fight and then rolls from there. This is key. As my friend Jim has said, think of worldbuilding as a spice. Like any good chef, you don’t want to over season. Give just enough to enliven the imagination without derailing. Should any of these ideas become critical to the plot, they can get revisited. But for now, keep them lean, so the action keeps moving. But there’s a lot there, consider:
- The kudär. Who are apparently some sort of desert people?
- They hunt giant lizards for leather.
- Apparently, the kudär people operate under some kind of caste system.
- Ver is a “Stalwart, ” and apparently that means he’s accustomed to fighting.
- The kudär tend to avoid population centers. It’s rare to see one. Our narrator is surprised, this changes his strategy.
- This match is somehow “sanctioned.” Which opens up a lot of questions. By whom? Why? What for?
- I also threw in some personal rituals. Ver slaps his chest and throws dust like Lebron. I find little details like these important. Readers like personal connections. I feel like they go further in establishing character than most writers realize. Everyone has nervous tics or habitual fidgets. Play ’em up.
Seasoning worldbuilding elements throughout your story can help to expand the world. And you can do insert them anywhere. The trick is to layer in your deeper world, while you avoid reveling in it unless necessary. Reveling in detail is often where one finds the dreaded info dump. Remember: in the end, all things must serve the plot.
How about you? How do you enhance worldbuilding in your own work? What tricks do you use? Leave a comment and let us know!
Interested in my other articles on worldbuilding? Check out any of the links below.
- Fallout 4 and the Struggle of Consistent Worldbuilding
- Mad Max: Fury Road and the Art of Worldbuilding
- Right in the Feelies
- Middle Earth And The Perils Of Worldbuilding
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“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.”
Kari-Lise shared this quote with me today; it was too good not to post here. It’s solid advice from an incredibly prolific artist. So, what are you going to do? Wait around for the lighting to strike or are you going to show up and get to work? In the end, it’s up to you.
“Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.”
It’s Friday! That means it’s time for the Friday Link Pack, my weekly post covering topics such as writing, art, current events, and random weirdness. Some of these links I mentioned on Twitter, if you’re not already following me there, please do! Do you have a link I should feature in the upcoming link pack? Click here to email me and let me know! (Include a website so I can link to you as well.) Let’s get to it…
Alan Moore’s Advice To Unpublished Authors
“If you write every day, you’re a writer.” In this quick video recorded at St James Library, Northampton, UK, Alan Moore gives some advice to new and unpublished writers.
20 Misused English Words That Make Smart People Look Silly
Is it affect or effect, ironic or coincidental, do you get nauseous or nauseated? They are fair questions. Quartz sets the record straight on a few words people get wrong all the time.
Anne Frank’s Diary Gains ‘Co-Author’ In Copyright Move
Copyright laws are weird.
13 Miles Of Typography On Broadway, From A To Z
If you’re a writer, you should appreciate type. After all, typography is the communication channel to share your worlds with readers. In this piece for Hopes & Fears, Ksenya Samarskaya examines the type one finds along New York’s famous Broadway.
Meet The Designer Whose Collection Will Make You Scream
Costume or fashion? That is the question asked by designer Eda Yorulmazoglu in her latest, and wonderfully strange, collection.
Meet the Vendor: Saltstone Ceramics
My friend Sarah recently opened Saltstone Ceramics, a pottery studio here in Seattle. The work she has been creating is fantastic. (Kari-Lise and I own quite a few pieces now.) In this interview, Sarah discusses her journey, her work, and lots more. Find out more about her work at her website.
The Return of #FeedCthulhu
Ross Lockheart, of the weird fiction press Word Horde, is giving away ebooks of their latest anthology, Cthulhu Fhtagn! All you have to do is donate to your local food bank and tweet about it. Three lucky winners will win personalized autographed copies as well. Details in the post!
Our Generation Ships Will Sink
Sci-fi great, Kim Stanley Robinson, dives into the complexity inherent in the ideas surrounding generation ships and why he thinks they are not only impractical but impossible outside the realm of fiction. Great article.
Is Tom Brady A Fancy Dog?
Deadspin asks the tough questions.
Your Jetpack Is Here
No, really. I’m serious. Check out this incredible video of the JB-9, the world’s only true jetpack. Find out more at Jetpack Aviation’s website. The future is now people. The future… is now.
Prostitution Among Animals
“A few studies have been used to promote the idea that prostitution exists among different species of animals such as Adélie penguins and chimpanzees. Penguins use stones for building their nests. Based on a 1998 study, media reports stated that a shortage of stones led female Adélie penguins to trade sex for stones. Some pair-bonded female penguins copulate with males who are not their mates and then take pebbles for their own nests.”
H.P. LOVECRAFT STORY OF THE WEEK:
Under The Pyramids/Imprisoned with the Pharaohs
Written with Harry Houdini in 1924, the story is a fictionalized account of an allegedly true experience of the escape artist. What mysteries does Houdini find? Well, you’ll just have to read to find out.
GIF OF THE WEEK:
“Even if what you’re working on doesn’t go anywhere, it will help you with the next thing you’re doing. Make yourself available for something to happen. Give it a shot.”
Sadly, life conspired against me this week and there will be no Friday Link Pack for today. Sorry about that folks. We should be back next week. In the meantime enjoy this quote and if you’re really jonesing for some links check out some of the previous Link Packs.