Tradecraft Tuesday: J.S. Wayne’s 8 Laws of Worldbuilding

One of the most common complaints I hear from new writers is about the trouble with worldbuilding. This has always puzzled me because the world in which your story is set is the first and most basic component of creating a convincing reality for your reader and characters to wander through. However, since I freely admit I’m not neurotypical to begin with, this may be a quirk of my own mental wiring and not necessarily a slam on these new authors to whom I’m referring.

So, let’s talk about what it takes to create a world.

Rule #1: Thou art God…

Okay, this sounds just a little self-aggrandizing, but think it over for a moment. Everything that could happen in your world is a consequence of your pen and your brain. You can create an entire multiverse whole cloth in a few dozen sentences, and destroy it in a couple of words. You can write the laws of physics, society and science to suit your purposes and blithely give Einstein, Euclid and Mobius the finger the whole way.

Rule #2: …but thou shalt not be a lazy God.

Lazy writing is, in my opinion, the single greatest sin a writer can commit. Writers who take refuge in cop-outs or say, “Well, because…reasons!” are writers whom are unlikely to see me revisit their work ever again. I’m not talking about the occasional slip or getting a word stuck in your head until it pops up 15 times on a page. (I struggled with this just yesterday when I wrote my #MasturbationMonday post!) Every rule you put into place must serve a purpose, and every rule you discard from the reader’s familiar existence must have at least a chance of being satisfactorily explained.

Rule #3: Thou shalt be consistent.

Just because you’re God doesn’t mean you get to ignore the laws you put into place without consequences. Ever seen Bruce Almighty? Yeah…it’s like THAT. If your laws and rules have loopholes, you need to be able to explain them convincingly and logically in a way which actually strengthens, rather than weakening, the “realistic” feel of your world.

Rule #4: Thine actions must have consequences.

So, okay, you’ve set up the basic rules and laws of your universe. Let’s say the speed of light is 1.02 times that of the “real” universe. (Quotations because we can’t even necessarily say we think of the same color when we hear the word “blue,” never mind whether the world we inhabit is “real” in the philosophical sense. It’s real enough for us…but how do we even know WE’RE real? See how this rabbit hole can get very deep, very quickly?) What are the consequences of the higher speed of light? How does that influence the very fabric of your universe? What changes? What remains the same? You can apply this same logic to gravity, centrifigual force, magick or anything else your little heart desires, but the consequences must be logical and cohesive enough to “feel” real to the reader.

Rule #5: Thine characters must interact believably with their world.

You can have the most finely-tuned world (universe, multiverse, whatever) in the history of ever. You may know its history and how it came to be right from the smallest possible subatomic particle to the present. But if your characters don’t or can’t work within the framework of the world you’ve developed, they’re either going to be Mary Sues or completely unbelievable, if not both. Which leads me to:

Rule #6: Thine characters shalt have real flaws.

No one cares about a perfect character who never does anything wrong, no matter the reason or the justification. Superman’s a good example of a “perfect” character who is constantly tested. His perfection and the reason he’s such an enduring presence is because so many people wonder where his lines and limits are. What happens if he loses his shit and decides he’s going to appoint himself judge, jury and executioner? What happens if he cuts loose when it’s not justified and winds up doing fare more harm than good? Superman has his flaws, and your characters should too. Make them bipolar. Give them PMS or acne, or both. Give them a nervous tic, a complete inability to create a sensible sentence in the presence of someone of their preferred gender or make them dyslexic. Flaws are relatable; perfection is not.

Rule #7: Thine characters shalt have real emotions.

Just as the actions and reactions of your physical and metaphysical world have to make sense, your characters’ emotions and reactions should be true to their internal realities as well as the external circumstances. What “true” looks like is up to you, but consistency here is key as well. Take Mr. Spock for example. He doesn’t generally freak out or get worried about much, so when he does lose his shit, everyone sits up and takes notice.

Rule #8: EVERYTHING IS UP FOR GRABS.

You don’t HAVE to build a world like everyone else is doing. In fact, the ONLY unforgivable sin in worldbuilding is to create a world that sounds just like that novel that got released last week. Dare to be unique. Change things up to suit your story.

If you must dispense with anything, reality should ALWAYS be the first casualty!

And with that, I’m going to say good night, good luck and happy writing! Be sure to keep checking back, because every day is something new in my world!

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