Originality: Building the Unique World

OMy debut novel, WIVES OF LUCIFER, has been through many incarnations since the first draft, almost as many as my young protagonist, but one aspect has remained stable: the setting. In this story, I invented alternate world concepts for what many would call Heaven and Hell and struggled mightily with taking the traditional concepts for both and turning them on their heads. I’m not a religious person, although somewhat schooled in the world’s religions, but have more of a cosmic and otherworldly view, heavily influenced by my background in astrology and the sciences. When I set out to create this new world, I discovered it was much more difficult than I ever imagined. Readers will suspend their beliefs somewhat, but only to the extent that they can accept what you are offering. There have been many times when I’ve read a story or seen a movie/TV show and declared, “Oh come on! Who would ever believe that could happen?”

Writing fantasy is pure delight. Dreaming up fantastical images and beings, or powers for your characters, can be enchanting and thrilling, and it’s easy to lose yourself in the incredible world of your own imaginings. As the architect, however, you must consider the structure carefully, building it brick by brick and avoiding the dreaded info-dump, something I easily fell prey to in my early writing.

Drafting the blueprint for my fantasy world, I discovered something called The Iceberg Principle, also known as The Theory of Omission, and attributed to the famed writer Ernest Hemingway. It essentially resulted from Mr. Hemingway beginning his writing career as a journalist, which required he write succinctly—just the important facts, sir—as word count dictated how much he could include when reporting a story. When he began to write ErnestHemingwayfiction, he applied this habit by giving his readers only about 10% of what they really wanted. Hemingway believed the true meaning of a piece of writing should not be evident from the surface story, rather, the crux of the story lies below the surface and should be allowed to shine through. He claimed that good writing meant the reader should crave a conversation with him, asking for all the little details he wouldn’t share. Give them just enough so they understand what is going on, and to whet their appetite. And the more you as the writer know the easier it will be because you know the whole picture and you can narrow down just which details are essential for understanding. After that you can drop in others for fun or as added description.

When presenting any setting it’s necessary to avoid longwinded and isolated explanations. Instead mix them with action and dialogue. And remember the most important rule of all. Show your world to us, don’t tell it to us! I let my readers learn about the orphanage for the souls of dead babies by having my protagonist assigned to work there, hence it is discovered through her eyes and actions. I introduced my version of the Jinn by having her accidently bump into them where they unfortunately get stuck to her body and explode, covering her in slimy green goo.

Mr. Hemingway sums up like this: “A few things I have found to be true. If you leave out important things or events that you know about, the story is strengthened. If you leave or skip something because you do not know it, the story will be worthless. The test of any story is how very good the stuff that you, not your editors, omit.”* He claimed that only the tip of the iceberg should be visible in fiction—the reader should see only what is above the water—but the knowledge the author has about character and setting that never makes it into the story acts as the bulk of the iceberg. And that is what gives your story weight and gravity.

Well said, Mr. Hemingway. Your words are gold, just like always.

So craft your unique world carefully and painstakingly, then eke out little snippets as you go along, keeping your readers razzled and dazzled, just enough to draw them in…or perhaps…to dream about.


Up Next…  Robin with Pro the Prologue or Against?

Author: Caryn McGill

Caryn is a former high school science teacher, school district administrator and adjunct college professor.

8 thoughts on “Originality: Building the Unique World”

  1. World building fascinates me. I write contemporary fiction, but also must world build sometimes. I enjoyed hearing about Hemingway’s advice! I’m showing my world through the eyes of two 13 yr old boys:-D

    1. Sounds cool! I love writing through the eyes of teens, maybe because I’ve really grown up when it comes to fantasy! Good luck with your story!

    1. Yes! The adverbs! I got killed on that early on and still have to consciously pluck them out~ Just call me Ms. Purple Prose…but I keep working on it!

  2. Fantastic writing advice. It’s something I’ve tried for for a while now, but that initial lack of confidence keeps pressing me to say more than I should. With every draft I go through it gets easier, however.

    1. But don’t let it stifle the images. I always say it’s in the editing. Just let it spill onto the page and then trim it down later. And you’re right, it gets easier the more you work at it. Like most things…right?

      1. Absolutely.

        I do a mix of plot and pants these days.I’ll come up with a few cool ideas for scenes, and once I have enough of those, I start writing around them. Once I hit a road block or a plot hole that is insurmountable, I stop and plot plan the project in detail.

        1. Plot and Pants! I love that! A great title for a future blog? Well, you have to know by now that I’m the “pantster” in the group and I doubt I’ll ever change. Of course I do plot eventually, mostly for flow and fact-checking as I don’t write my scenes in sequence. I just couldn’t bear the thought of plotting out an entire story beforehand like so many others do. Maybe not the most efficient, but way more fun…at least for me…!

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