Welcome back to FiYoShiMo, we’re back today with the rest of the world building tools. We did three yesterday, and here are three more today.
World building tools are designed to create the bigger, broader picture. You can get really fussy and lose yourself in the details or the over-thinking of them.
We’re going to talk tomorrow about how you can use what you’ve built here in concert with your plot to develop a strong story, so I think this is a good spot to point out that it’s not enough just to have a strong plot OR defined characters OR a rich world. It’s about the synthesis of all three elements, partnered with your voice, driven through the ways you engage the reader, that all make a story great.
Now, onto the toolbox once more, dear writers.
The Punishment & The Prize
This will come back tomorrow, but now I want to introduce it and give it a little shape. A punishment is the negative consequence for breaking established rule and order. And it should exist in your world. Preferably, there’s more than one, so that you give the antagonist some amount of tension as they will effort to avoid these consequences. Maybe it’s a superprison. Maybe it’s the tarnishing of their social status. Maybe it’s banishment to some alternate dimension. Maybe it’s death. There has to be some kind of sanction levied on the character(s) for being transgressive.
A prize is something available as a reward in the world. Yes, this is often part of the specific story plot (Someone wants to rule the world, cue evil laughter), but just like punishments, there needs to be MORE than just your plot in the world, even if the plot involves the whole world (as it may in fantasy or science fiction, for instance)
Having the plot resolve favorably for the character should earn them a prize. And there does need to be more than one prize, so that you break the cycle of every badguy trying to take over the world (if that’s the one and only prize you’ve created), and the tension of that effort being eroded time and again by the badguy of the week failing to do so.
The reason why a plot sticks out in a story, or even in a series, is because it’s different than what usually happens. Time-traveling cyborg ninjas riding fire gorillas don’t attack every day, so it’s significant when they rip through the portal from Dimension G and lay siege to the city.
There has to be a sense of normalcy established in the world in order to make the action stand out. If those ninjas attack every Tuesday, then invasion Tuesday becomes the new normal. A story’s world will always seek homeostasis until the conflict and/or plot prevents this, which is what compels the protagonist to do something about it.
Without that stability, it becomes difficult for the reader to gauge just how much they’re supposed to worry or connect to the plot and the characters. The bigger the unknown looming danger that’s external to the story (at any minute the planet could explode, in addition to this cop needing to stop this criminal, for instance), the harder it is to care about the cop’s efforts.
If you take stability too far, the result is a world that’s far more static than dynamic. There’s a reason we so often talk about a world that feels “lived in.” That sense of vitality helps the story feel like it’s about more, or has more, than just whatever the plot involves.
Let’s say you’ve got the story about a big war in space, involving huge factions and many planets. If you want that war to have weight, if you want it to be a big deal, here are some of the consequences of war to represent in your story: resource scarcity, damage to property, a population shift, conscription, or even occupation.
When the events of the world have tangible effects that you can say more than a sentence about, when those effects are factors in the obstacles and opportunities characters face, that’s how you have a sense of activity in the world.
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how plot and world building intersect, and you’ll see some of these tools come back into play.
See you then.