Slipping Sideways into Your World

World Building. Gah. We’re not making gingerbread houses or constructing dioramas. We’re building worlds. People, this is a task usually reserved for gods (draw whatever parallels you wish).

I’m currently knee-deep in a revision (no, wait, chin-deep…actually, I’m breathing through a straw, Scooby Doo-ish). A big part of this revision is adding texture and depth to the world of my manuscript. Before diving in, I read many craft books on the subject and originally intended to share what I learned in today’s post. Frankly, Talia covered just about everything I wanted to say.

Why, oh, why does Friday come last?

Instead, I’ll tell you a few of the tricks/tools I’ve used in this massive world building revision: Wiki entries, viewing your world as a character, and slipping things in sideways.

Wiki Entries
This is something that Veronica and I worked on while she flushed out the worlds in UNDER THE NEVER SKY. I’m using it on my current revision too and it’s hugely helpful for me. Basically, it’s a method of organizing a Story/Series Bible.

Here’s how it works:
  • Take Talia’s World Building Checklist and make each its own heading (History, Myths, Government, etc. as well as any other critical concepts you see fit).
  • For each of the headings pretend you’re generating a Wikipedia entry with respect to your world.
  • Write/Type the answers. Actually do it, don’t just think about it.
    • Content is king here, so forget style and grammar (reference the real Wikipedia and you’ll know what I’m talking about).
    • Include elements that shape your world: Such as the rules of magic, any Celtic god genealogy, lunchroom social hierarchy, maps, and research on the type of dye the Tudor court used to get the color pink…essentially, put in all you’ve got.
  • This exercise will help you identify any holes and deepen the world.
  • Also, it forced me to spell everything out, eliminating my usual, “Yeah, yeah, I know it.”
  • Use your entries as a guide when you dig into the story and explore the world.
  • And, just like Wikipedia, let it be a living document. Change things as needed. Expand. Add pictures and doodles.

View Your World as a Character
As the title implies, here, it’s all about approaching a world as if it was another major supporting character. Meaning:
  • When we develop characters, we give them contradictions, strengths, lofty desires, and irrational fears. Look around, our societies have all of that, and the good fictional ones do too.
  • Like other characters in your book, major or minor, the world helps or hinders your hero’s journey. This could be weather or geography. It could be social stigma or reactionary phobias. Shoot, it could be the traffic.
  • Boiling it down, characters and worlds need to have complex relationships.

“Slip it in sideways”
At the SCBWI LA conference this year, I was lucky enough to attend an intensive run by the master Bruce Coville. While discussing world building he used the phrase, “slip it in sideways,” and it stuck in my head. To me, it means going beyond “showing vs. telling” into the realm of having the hero interact with the environment such that the world is revealed organically and with purpose.

Wow, easy to say, but HOW? Good question. Wish I had a sufficient answer. Unfortunately, I don’t. However, I’ll throw ya some examples.  

  • Katherine wore a gore-tex scarf, a down jacket, and thick wool socks. Looking out of the frosted escape hatch, she wished she had more.
    • I never said, “It was cold.” But the world and the character are at odds here.
  • Donna cuddled with her boyfriend at an overlook above the farm. Together, they watched the sun set over the endless rows of bloody slaves.
    • Again, no mention of what sort of society Donna lived in, but (I hope) you get a sense of something sinister.
  • Talia turns off the light on her nightstand. Three thousand eighty-seven pages of testimony and not a single argument the judge will buy. Such a bigot. They’re all such bigots.
    • Here I was trying to convey Talia’s conviction and how she’s squaring up to some larger social stigma.
  • The rising hair on Veronica’s neck tickles and she smoothes it. It couldn’t be Aether again. The roses are blooming. The storms are six months away.
    • With this I attempted to convey the electrical nature of the Aether, the fact that it comes in storms, and that there’s something strange about storms coming in the summer.
Now, add a bajillion more of these and ~BAM~ you've built a world.

Okay, writing this inspired me to try a new technique: a diorama.

I’ll let you know how it goes. 


I'm finding world building especially pertinent in working with my various stories.
My YA dystopian and YA fantasy, of course, have the obvious physical and societal building that has to be done. It can be hard not to just say things.
In my YA paranormal, there's certain mythos that I have to show. Same thing here, trying my best to show and not just tell.
That can be pretty interesting to do. But you provided some great examples here.

Thank you.

I like the idea of approaching the separate elements as wiki entries. A person could probably even create a website devoted to world-building. I'll stick with my notebooks (I'm on the computer enough as it is), but the same principles apply.

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