Creating Your Fiction World
by Marg McAlister
As a reader, what do you expect when you start a novel?
If you're like most people who read fiction, you hope for characters that engage you and a plot that intrigues
you. These are the core elements of any novel.
However, it is possible to create a good, solid plot AND to have a sound knowledge of the elements of character
creation without really understanding how to make all this work on the page.
You need to be able to add colour and life to your story world. If you don't know how to do this, your plot is
just a scaffold, and your characters more like ghosts than living people.
Writers of science fiction and fantasy usually have a good sense of what is needed to build a believable story
world, because they have to INVENT those worlds. They MUST know the social networks, the technology, the terrain,
and the magic or science that underpins their fictional world. Writers of historical fiction also need to closely
examine and research these things.
Writers of contemporary fiction, however, may write a novel - or series of novels - while barely giving
them a thought. That is a great pity, because an understanding of how to shape your story world could make the
difference between an acceptance and a rejection.
To illustrate the point, we will use YOUR world as an example. You have just become a character in an imaginary
book. Let's explore all the facets of your world.
1. Your body and mind
The shape and condition of your body will determine much of what you can and can't do. People with good looks
and a likeable personality usually find that more doors will be open to them than someone who is plain and
ill-tempered. If you are fit and well, you can do more than someone who is grossly overweight or constantly ill.
Are you in good health, or poor health? What lies behind your current level of health? Also, regardless of your
looks and health, we all know that money can open many doors that might otherwise be closed people. Which brings us
2. Your socio-economic group or class
Where do you fit in the social strata? Is life a struggle because you don't have enough money? Do others
with money find it easier to get what they want? Are you envious of them? Are you constantly thinking of ways to
get more money? Does this affect your general well-being? Are you in danger of losing someone or something that is
important to you because of lack of money? Or are you 'poor but happy'? (Remember, we are talking about a fictional
character here. However, relating it to your own life will help you to understand why these things are important in
3. Your personal history, and where you stand in world history
Your own journey in life so far, and the path others in your family have taken, will have influenced your
current situation. What choices have you made? What choices do you regret? Can you identify a turning point at
which different choices would have made a huge difference to where you are now? What choices have you made that are
good? What choices were not so good? What world events have influenced your journey? (For example: wars, terrorism,
global financial crisis, plague, etc etc).
These days, in developed parts of the world, technology has a huge impact on people's lives. Many of today's
children take it for granted that they can get out of bed and view television, access the Internet, drive to where
they want in a car, and so on. What would happen to these children if they were taken back in time 100 years? What
would happen to anyone who relies heavily on technology if this is taken away? How will advances in science,
medicine, health, and communication affect your characters? How would YOU adapt if these things were taken away?
Where does technology fit into your story world?
5. Your surroundings
You live in a certain place on the planet. You are accustomed to a certain climate. You know your neighbouring
suburbs, towns, and cities. You know geographic landmarks - rivers, creeks, beaches, deserts, forests. The weather
affects your activities on a daily basis, even if it simply means you have to take an umbrella or wear a warmer
What if a change in circumstances meant that you were forced to survive without any of the infrastructure you
take for granted (shops, emergency services, medical services, transport, shelter) - could you manage? When you
describe the physical setting, how can you bring it to life? Writers of fantasy are adept at helping readers to see
their imaginary worlds - but can you do the same, with a contemporary setting?
6.The Social and Political Structure That Supports You
What system of government do you have - at a local level, at state level, at national level? What if the current
leaders were overthrown? Who would step in? Who is in charge? What powers do they have? What powers do YOU have?
How would this affect your life? How important is freedom to you? What if you did not have this freedom? Do you
have it in you to fight for what you believe to be right? What if women were completely subservient? What if men
were completely subservient?
A lot of what is mentioned above would be covered if you created a comprehensive character profile for your main
character. However, much of the time, writers neglect to think about the wider world of characters - where they are
in relation to the rest of the world and to the society in which they live.
Next time you create your characters' world, think beyond their immediate environment to all the 'outside'
influences that could change that world in an instant. Consider, too, that every one of your characters carries
their own little 'private world/ around with them - think of it as being a bit like an aura. Now give thought to
what happens when two worlds intersect - or collide!
copyright (c) Marg McAlister