Does your novel's world have enough depth?

June 19, 2019


Writing is so easy to get caught up in. With the actions, the plots, and the characters, there are so many moving pieces all working at once that need your full attention to keep the novel moving along--it's so easy to forget crucial aspects. Depth of the world, and even just scene-setting, include some of the most important details to the story, and it's what so many writers often forget to elaborate on.

World development and scene-setting are my favorite parts of the writing process, so occasionally I will go a little overboard with trying to get the reader to see the world as I see it. When that happens, I'll need to sit back and remember that I'm not trying to force the reader to see what I see, I'm trying to inspire their own imagination so they may fill in the blanks. At the same time, however, there needs to be enough detail provided to guide the reader and to build a world around your characters.

The reader doesn't need to know what color the curtains and walls are in every room of the fortress, but if it's the fortress of a villain, perhaps the windows peak like the spikes of daggers and the carpet flows red like an open vein to her feet. That can also lead into a rant on showing and not telling -- just as important -- but I'll stay on topic.

There's always more detail that can be added to make a story feel that much more realistic, so the answer to "does your novel's world have enough depth" is no. No, it doesn't.

Before I even start writing, I fill a notebook with all the details of the story -- a map of my world, the appearance of the people in various regions, what their houses and daily lives look like where they live, how the climate differs. I like to look at countries that are similar to the places I'm creating then see all that describes that country and makes it what it is. Then, I describe how everything that makes up the country effects those who live in and around it in different ways.

It's also important to look at histories. Maybe your plot revolves around a dark ruler, but is that the norm for that area of land? Have they always had terrible, overbearing rulers? What led the country to fall to its current state? You may sit for hours developing small aspects of the story, but it adds precious depth that wouldn't come if you didn't have answers to those questions. Your brainstorming may only lead to a quick mention of it in one or two chapters, but it means more than you may inherently think to the basis of the story.

For writers whose work I'm editing, I send a handout featuring all the questions you might want to ask yourself when world building so as to add more depth, so here are a few of my favorites:

Characters are unique to each other. What makes each member of your family and friend group different from or similar to the next?

How is the region's government run & what are its drawbacks, even if it's good-natured? What are its foreign relations like?

How did past circumstances bring about a people's or a character's current situation or behavior? Think psychology.

Who is all being impacted by the goings-on of the main plot and how? What are the repercussions?

Sometimes, it may even be best to skim by the first draft without delving too much into the details and inner-workings of the world. I prefer to throw it all out there from the beginning. It all depends on how you draft. You know yourself and how you work best.

Hopefully, some writers out there finds this helpful! Let me know if there are any other writing topics you would want me to cover in the future.

Thanks for reading,
Taylor . x

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