10.08.2014

Seeing the World

An author recently shared with me a wonderful "Ah-Ha!" moment that occurred for her in my World Building workshop. I'd asked authors to write down three tenets or commandments of the world in which their main character lives.  The author said, "I was really thrown for a loop when you asked us to come up with commandments for our story's world because I was like, "Well, it's the here and now so, ya know, our commandments."  But then it hit me that my character's world is actually her home and high school, and those are very specific to her and would have their own commandments. It was a wonderful light bulb moment that will really help me flesh out her surroundings and how they effect her on my next round of revisions."
"through the lens" - (c) 2007-2014 deranged-mongoose
Being able to see through the lens of our main characters. This is one of the most difficult and most important challenges for any writer. A story world--and indeed perhaps any world, including our own world!--doesn't actually exist in any real way unless and until it's perceived and seen by someone, and exactly how someone perceives their world is going to vary from person to person, from character to character.

As this author suggests, a story set in the here and now would, one might logically assume, have commandments or tenets that mimic our own. But what are these, really? If we were to ask ten people what they think the commandments or tenets are of our world today, I guarantee we would get ten entirely different lists. My list of commandments will differ from yours and yet we live in the same world. Or do we? What defines a world? Or should we be asking, rather, who defines a world?

Successful and compelling story world building--whether fantasy, sci-fi, or the familiar here and now contemporary--relies solely on an author figuring out how to see with their character's eyes, taste with their character's tongue, hear with their character's ears, touch with their character's fingers, and feel with their character's senses. Only when we figure out what and how a character perceives and feels when his or her lens is placed over the world can that world be brought into sharp, specific focus. And only then will a world come to life for our stories, ourselves, and our readers.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC


8 comments:

  1. Oh wow, Emma -- this is excellent. I must print this out and refer to it with each book I write. This little snippet also makes me really want to take your World Building workshop. Why do I live so far away?

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    1. Thanks, Beth! Try the exercise and see what results. Write down three commandments of the world in which your story takes place, as perceived by your main character. And then, to start exploring the internal world building of your character, write down three commandments that your main character holds to be true about him or herself at the beginning of the story. These commandments will undoubtedly evolve and change over the course of the story. Enjoy the process!

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  2. Yes, writing down the characters rules and tenets sounds like a good plan. I often have students interview their characters but this is a fresh twist on that.

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    1. This is a great exercise in addition to the in-depth character interview. Your students are lucky to have you guiding them!

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  3. I love this exercise! It is a reminder of your excellent workshops at SCBWIC last month in Charlotte. As I am writing a new character for my final Sean Gray book - I am using the character interview questionnaire with Rachel, Sean’s new girlfriend. And I am also asking these questions of Sean, a character that I have known for years, who first came to me as an eleven year old. It’s funny how I see him now – answering the questions as a thirteen year old 7th grader - building his world!

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  4. This is excellent. I did these exercises with my class last night; it was terrific and got them all thinking! Thanks for sharing it here--just linked to this from my wiki so they could read more!

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    1. Terrific, Carol! Thank you for passing it on...

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  5. I love how the accompanying picture is a great visual reminder of Emma's sage advice!

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