We’re moving again. Even though I tell myself before, during, and immediately after every move that I’ll never do it again, life gets in the way and I find myself packing boxes and going through a surprising accumulation of stuff. It’s a tremendous chore to pack, sift through, and unpack everything you own, but it can also be a good thing.
First there’s the feeling of a new start that is inherent with any move. It can also be one of the most stressful situations we can be in – up there with divorce, change of jobs or schools, marriage, and new babies. But life is constantly changing. We’re forced to either accept the tides of change, or get sucked under. Personally, I like the opportunities that moving brings with it (I guess that’s why I keep doing it). While I’m grumbling about all the work it is to move, I try to focus on what’s ahead. I imagine my new home, and in my head I decorate to my heart’s content. I place furniture in different rooms, paint walls, hang pictures, and visualize how it will all look. I talk about it at length to my husband, and make long lists of what to keep and what to toss. It’s exhausting, but also strangely liberating. It’s personal world-building in the very truest sense.
Writing is the ultimate in world-building though. We’re literally crafting characters, worlds, situations, and outcomes out of the ether. Our job is to make the reader enjoy the journey and be able to make sense of the world we’ve created. Even the most outlandish fantasy stories must contain key elements of grounding for the reader to hold on to. If the writer fails in that, they’ve lost the reader, because he or she can only go by what’s written in front of them. They can’t see inside the writer’s head for the details that failed to make it to the page. If something is jarring or seems completely out of place, the writer risks upsetting the dear reader to the point where they close the book and become dissatisfied and distrustful of the writer.
Writers are entrusted with a great deal of responsibility. Not only do characters need to have substance and value, but consideration must be paid to things like time, place, costuming, language, point-of-view, and what characters see, smell, hear, and touch. Be careful of the info drop though, since no reader wants to slog through pages and pages of description before getting to the good stuff – action and dialogue. It’s a careful balance, but when achieved, brings the reader right into the heart of the story. They’re right there chasing the bad guys, or up in the rigging fighting (or being) pirates, or falling deeply in love. The reader is taken out of his/her everyday life and given a chance to be someone they aren’t and explore places they may never see. That’s what they pay for. They buy a book in hopes that it will transport them. World-building is complex, but must appear seamless for it to come to life.
Like moving to a new home, the first page of a book is a brand new start. A new adventure. As a writer, you determine where you’re taking the reader. You get to decorate to your heart’s content, and when it comes time to edit, well, it’s like down-sizing; you take away the things you know you aren’t going to need, and even get rid of things you once loved, but no longer have a place for in your new home. You build a new world full of hope and promise, and is a reflection of the story you are telling yourself and visitors. Welcome readers to your book like you would to your home. If you’ve done your job, they’ll return for another visit.