Yesterday my SBB Sarah and I had a chance for a short field trip. It’s always fun to spend time with Sarah and I always enjoy the discussions we have about life and writing. Yesterday the topic turned to worldbuilding vs. wallpaper in writing.
The term “worldbuilding” was popularized at science fiction writers’ workshops back in the 1970s. It involves developing an imaginary setting with qualities such as a history, geography, and ecology for their story. In other words, an author must create an entire world for your characters to live in.
But worldbuilding is not just for Sci Fi or Fanstasy books. When an author takes the time to develop their character’s entire world, the result is a richer reading experience. Taking time to think about your characters world will also help you as the story develops. A little bit of planning in the beginning will save a world of hurt later on in the writing process. Even if you do not use all of the information you have created, small brush-strokes of those elements filter into the story.
Wallpaper on the other hand is when you add a few words or key phrases that try to convince the reader that they are in your character’s world. The writing can be flat and is sometimes difficult to draw the reader in.
A good way to tell if you have created a wallpaper world is to ask yourself:
“If I had a magic time machine and moved my character to another time and location, will this story still make sense? “
If your answer is yes, you need to consider adding more details to your character and your plot. Still confused? Here are some examples:
In the book Jane Eyre, would the story still have the same impact if it took place in modern day London? Of course not, the historical setting and situations built into that world are so integral to the story that it cannot take place anywhere else.
Here is another more recent example:
In Harry Potter, would the story still have the same impact if he attended a school in Alaska, or an inner city school in Chicago? No, the world that J.K. Rowling created is essential to the success to the story. By creating a rich world filled with magical creatures, spells and an awesome castle for a school, you have a world that your readers jump into and follow right along with Harry.
So how do you build a successful world for your readers?
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have an extensive checklist for worldbuilding on their site.
Author Holly Lisle also has a post on worldbuilding that is very helpful.
It isn’t necessary to go into this much detail for every story, but it might be worth it to take a look for ideas. With a little work, your characters world will much richer and a more interesting reading experience for your readers.
Writing on the Sidewalk