Monday, August 22, 2011

C.J. Land

This week's topic is how do you put together the world your characters live in? I laughed when I read it. Why? Well, my whole life I've often questioned why things are the way they are in our world -- usually after hearing about recent government corruption or some grave injustice done to the little guy.

I'd often start off by saying "In C.J. Land…" or "If I ran the world…." much to my family's amusement.

Yes, yes, I'm admitting it here and now. I may not be the person to judge someone's worthiness to ascend heaven, but I have a very clear moral and ethical compass and most things are either "black or white" for me. Split second decisions, I go on gut and instinct. Doesn't mean I'm always right, but eh, I live with the fallout.

Drives my husband crazy, who is very much a "shades of gray" type of person. Which could very well be why we're such a good match. Never a dull moment as we debate the rights and wrongs of an important situation.

"That eight year old child spoke rudely to his neighbor, with arrogance and disdain dripping from his tone. His parents should be smacked for not raising him right."

Yes, that is the kind of pig-headed stubbornness you'll hear from me. And if I were to expound more on what is wrong with today's youth I'd probably get locked up, or you'd look at me like I was some angry ninety-year-old man yelling from his front porch. So, let me climb off my crazy soapbox and get back to the topic -- which is world-building.

For me, world-building is not hard. I throughly enjoy playing out scenes in my head where I'd walk up to the mother (whom I probably know) and politely lay out why her child is a raging brat or has the table manners of a three year old. But, since it wouldn't gain me any friends, I wisely keep my mouth shut. And trust me, some days that's very, very hard (especially since my house has been over run with kids this summer who have crappy table manners).

I grew up reading high fantasy novels. After reading The Hobbit in seventh or eighth grade, I was hooked. I especially enjoyed the glossaries found in most fantasy books. It would often help me understand all the aspects of the author's complex world. And if the Lord of the Rings was written today, I'd bet you a thousand bucks the publisher never would have let the names Sauron and Saruman both be used. We're watching the movies with the kids right now and the closeness of the two names drives me crazy.

For me, building my own world is the same thing -- creating a mental glossary of terms and characters. It may be in my head for most of the writing of the first book, but now, with book three being written, the terms are clearly laid out in the earlier books for easy reference for me as well as the reader.

Want to create a contradiction in your world? Easy-peasy. You're the creator. If a rule doesn't match what you've previously set up, think of an exception to the rule and how it might work. Sometimes, details are implied in your finished product, other times you may have to flat out explain it within the text through teaching or an interview scene between two characters.

How do you keep it all straight? Keep notes or start your glossary early. You may not use the long version in your published book, but it will ensure you make no glaring mistakes along the way.

What are some techniques you use in world-building? Please share, I'd love to hear!


~~ C.J. Ellisson ~~


  1. The biggest thing I do is believe wholeheartedly in my world. I can picture every aspect in my head and if someone was to ask me a question about a place not used in the book, I could answer it. I also stick to the belief that somewhere, just maybe, the place really does exist. I make it real for me and then I can make it real for the readers is what I guess it boils down to.

  2. I love this post. There're so many things to consider when world building. Not the how, but the why as well.

  3. I keep notebooks, glossaries and lists. I love creating worlds. The best part of writing, I think.

  4. I'm not sure what I do to build my worlds... they're just kinda there. Don't know how to explain it. The whole writing process is a bit of a mystery to me. And seventh or eighth grade was about the same time I got hooked by The Hobbit. I'm looking forward to the movie. I hope it will do the book justice. And I'm very much a black and white kinda girl, too.

  5. Excellent post. I especially loved your bit about changing the rules to suit the world you want. Of course. You're the boss! :-)