Write On, Wednesday: World Building for Women’s Fiction

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By Leslie Lindsay

I have been working on the second draft of my first novel for awhile now.  It’s one of those two- steps-forward-one-step-back type of thing.  If you’re a writer, then you probably know exactly what I mean. 

An important piece to the second draft  is adding my “magic” (as my writing partner likes to refer to it).  Call it your “voice” or character development or perhaps worldbuilding, or whatever you need to, but just make sure you get it in there. 

Wait a minute, back the novel train up!  “Worldbuilding,” you exclaim “is for fantasy and sci-fi, not for women’s fiction.” 

Oh, but I beg to differ.  Every book–whether it’s historical fiction, a spy novel, or women’s fiction–deserves to have special attention paid to it’s ‘world.’  Worldbuilding is simply constructing an imaginary world often in conjuction with a fictional context.  Here’s how worldbuilding can enhance your work: 

  • It defines a sense of place
  • Worldbuilding is the landscape of imagination
  • It adds depth and meaning, perhaps symbolism and way to infuse theme
  • Can be a great way to brainstorm within your work
  • Worldbuilding connects you to your writing, makes it more “real.”

Think about women’s fiction for a moment.  Where do these books typically take place?  Perhaps the city or a suburban community?  Maybe at work.  In the country…okay, so it could be anywhere.  That’s part of your worldbuilding.  Now take some of these elements and apply them to your setting:

  • Landscape/terrain
  • Climate/weather
  • Animals (does your protagonist have a pet?)
  • Transportation (does she travel by fancy SUV or the El?)
  • Architecture (does she live in a fancy highrise penthouse apartment or a Craftsman-inspired McMansion in Cherrydale?) 
  • Slang/dialects (does she speak with a southern twang or nasally city-speak?)
  • Who does she spend her time with (PTA moms or business professionals?)
  • Does she have children?  How old was she when they were born?  Does she fit in with her parenting cohort?
  • What does she own?  A house?  A car?  A vacation home?  Are material possessions important to this character? 

Try this exercise:  Close your eyes and go to your imagined place.  It is real or fictional or both?  Where is this world?  Is it now or another period of time?  Why are you here?  What’s the weather like?  Does it feel cold?  Warm?  What are you wearing?  What do you feel like doing?  How do you feel here?  Does the physical landscape reveal anything to you?  Symbols or themes that can become more apparent in your work?  Are there values here?  What do folks do for a living?  Are their rules or regulations?  What are they? 

Pull in closer. 

Where are you?  What does the housing look like?  Do you smell anything?  What do you hear?  Are you safe?  Are you happy?  Are you comfortable?  Why or why not?

And now some questions to ask:

  • What problem do you (character) face?
  • What do you want?  (protagonist’s goal)
  • Why do you want it?
  • What do you struggle with deep inside?
  • What is wrong in this story world?
  • What is your protagonist trying to change? 

You can go on and on here…but the idea is to come up with more ideas…flush them out, write them down and incorporate them throughout your story.

Go on, write on Wednesday!

(some suggestions on worldbuilding from the Write-by-the-Lake Writer’s Retreat at Madison, WI.  June 2012 by Kathy Steffen.  www.kathysteffen.com)

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