World Building: Why Flaws Matter

World building, normally associated with sci fi and fantasy novels, is something all writers regardless of genre should find important.  Whether you’re writing a biography, a memoir, a mystery, or a fantasy, your novel’s world should come alive for the reader.  It’s pretty hard for readers to suspend disbelief when they don’t feel grounded in your story.

One way to accomplish world building is to think of your story world as another character.  Good characters have flaws, not only because it makes them more human, but because it makes them more interesting. Here’s why story world flaws are important:

  1. If something isn’t out of whack in your story, then you probably don’t have a story. Story world flaws are created by imbalance, instability, and/or corruption (also referred to as the Chaos Factor). In The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, we have a world called Panem which is divided into districts.  The people in the districts live in poverty, while the people in the capitol live in splendor.  This imbalance of power eventually leads to rebellion and insurrection.
  2. Flaws create conflict and tension. As punishment for a past insurrection, the government in The Hunger Games has instituted a Reaping.  Each year, young people from the districts are sent to the capitol to participate in a televised death match called the Hunger Games.
  3. Flaws create dilemmas that must be solved. Prim, the younger sister of The Hunger Games’ protagonist, Katniss, is selected to be in the Reaping.  To save Prim’s life, Katniss volunteers to take her place in the Hunger Games.  The act of volunteering then triggers other problems/dilemmas for Katniss (like how to stay alive) over the course of the novel.       
  4. Flaws can stem from anything, even things like natural resources. Story world flaws can stem from problems such as discrimination, persecution, censorship, and genocide.  Flaws can also originate from things like natural resources and who controls them.  Below is the Amazon.com write-up for Salt: A World History:

“In his fifth work of nonfiction, Mark Kurlansky turns his attention to a common household item with a long and intriguing history: salt. The only rock we eat, salt has shaped civilization from the very beginning, and its story is a glittering, often surprising part of the history of humankind. A substance so valuable it served as currency, salt has influenced the establishment of trade routes and cities, provoked and financed wars, secured empires, and inspired revolutions.”

Bet you’ll never look at salt the same way again.

  1. The world and its inhabitants should react with credible response to the chaos effect. Now that you’ve created a flawed world, your main characters should respond/react to those flaws in a realistic manner.  We’ve all seen those movies where the protagonist’s over-the-top actions (The Day After Tomorrow, anyone?) have killed our suspension of disbelief.  Writers, don’t let this happen to you.

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Interested in World Building?  I’ll be teaching a class this weekend for all genres of writing and for people who are currently writing a story or have an idea for a story. In class, we will discuss stories in which the world really comes alive for the reader. Everyone will leave class with a story bible template to help them jump start or finish their story world.
Email me at mork.jessica@gmail.com to register.  More info at: https://www.facebook.com/events/1159186177535739/?ti=icl

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