Write On, Wednesday: Creating a World So Believable Your Critique Partners Think You’re Having an Affair

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By Leslie Lindsay

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Last evening, I took my writing to the library critique group.  I have been going and sharing my work with this bunch of writers for about two years now.  I know most of the folks pretty well, even though it’s not an inclusive group–it’s constantly changing, as all good groups do.

These writers are very familiar with the current story–well, novel–I am working on.  It’s title, “Slippery Slope.”  It wasn’t really intended to turn into a novel.  Heck, I never saw myself as a novelist…it sounds so fancy and grown-up.  But I knew I wanted to write. 

There is a point of all of this:  I got some good feedback.  I got some ideas for revision.  I got some new thoughts, too.  Thank you, fellow writers.  But here is one thing I wasn’t expecting to hear:  “Oh my!  It sounds like you are really having an affair!” 

Helllooo!!  My character is.  Emphasis on character. It’s an emotional affair at this point, but I think that still counts, huh?  (and no, I am not having an affair…I am too busy and too dorky.  The opposite sex stopped looking years ago). 

On the otherhand, I am very pleased that my writing was convincing enough to make this woman feel as though I was really having an affair.  (That’s good writing, if I do say so myself).  And any writer should be able to create a world which is believable to readers.  It seems as though I have succeeded in that front.

Here are a few more ideas for world-building–which is really a term that came into vogue in the 1960’s-1970’s for the sci-fi realm.  But there is world-building in all books, whether they take place in Scilon-ville or Suburbia.  Mine is right smack in the heart of the ‘burbs.  I know this world well and perhaps that’s why I am so good at describing it?  Alas, I really know nothing about infidelity, but well…

Some thoughts from my time at Write by the Lake in Madison this past June from Kathy Steffen on Worldbuilding:

  • Gives readers a sense of place (grounding)
  • Every great book has worldbuilding and is evidenced in what people say/how they say it, what they wear, how they navigate the world around them…weave it into your story, don’t just dump it on the reader. 
  • Make it interesting and exciting, keep it active
  • Words and descriptions should stem from the feeling you want readers to experience (could tie in with your theme)…e.g.  “gritty.” 
  • Make it matter.  Should help develop meaning and motivation, reveal insights, show the world through the protagonist’s POV
  • Make it real.  Don’t assume anything.  Build that world till is is real to you.  Get lost in the description by using all of your senses.  Close your eyes and envision the world. 
  • All worlds need shades of gray.  Your character can think in terms of opposites, but you–the writer–cannot.  Let your reader fill in the blanks.

Go!  Write on, Wednesday!

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