Friday, September 6, 2013

"Hooking the Reader through World Building," with S. Alex Martin

S. Alex Martin is an author of young adult soft science-fiction, a blogger of writing tips and tricks, and a rising college senior in Pittsburgh. He's written and self-published three hard sci-fi books since 2004, and is finishing the fourth draft of "Embassy," the novel he hopes will become his debut in traditional publishing. You can follow him on his websiteTwitterPinterest, and Facebook.

Welcome to my first post in our newest series, "Hooking the Reader through World Building." Today I'm going to talk about some key elements to your stories' worlds and environments. So stick around and take a few notes!


This is the most essential part of world building. You aren't going to set a fantasy novel on a spaceship with laser cannons. You're going to have mountains and vistas and magic and dragons and ugly creatures and dark forests and castles and straw towns. Imagine if "Lord of the Rings" happened in the "Star Wars" universe.

Another aspect to consider is what can the setting do for the story? Think of your main character's goals. Is he trying to run away from something? Is there another world that is better than the one he lives in? How will he get there? Who will he meet along the way? What obstacles will he face?

Incorporate all of these elements into the setting. Marshes, mountains, rivers, graves, deserts, outer space, lack of air in a spaceship, traffic on the interstate...heck, even a flight delay. Make it work for your world.


If you want your reader to visualize your world, don't start throwing abstract imagery around and assume your colorful words will paint a picture.

No. Just don't. Please. The key to effective imagery is this: simplicity. Use the words that get the job done -- and nothing more. Don't start bombarding your story with similes and metaphors. I beg you. Sure, it's okay to use one or two. They won't hurt anyone. But if you compare every river to a winding snake, or every building to an elegant's going to get old FAST. Just say it as it is, and stop.

Then sprinkle on some grander visuals -- but limit them.

As I like to say: "Don't paint. Build." It's fine to paint the main character's personal views to help emphasize what they think, but nature and cities are nature and cities. Make it easy for your reader to see the world by keeping your descriptions SIMPLE. Or, as the heading says, concrete.


Who here can trek 1,000 miles in four days on foot? Anybody? No? Well that's a good sign. Now, have you ever read a book where characters walk impossible distances in no time at all? Or, say, cross a city in a few short minutes?

As authors, we need to be wary about relativity. Space and time play a HUGE part in world building. Unless your characters have teleports, or use magic to cross the country, prepare to dig in and figure out a way to fill in the journey.

Leave us with the sense that the characters did more than skip across the city, arm in arm a big smiles pasted on their faces. No, show us some of the jay-walking, brake lights, stop signals, crowded sidewalks, and beeping horns. The tug of the current in the river, the chill of the icy water on our skin, the weight of our waterlogged clothes, the short breaths we make as we try to stay afloat.

This stuff happens in real life, so why would it be so easy in the story?


That concludes this week's post! Hope you're able to use these tips to develop your story worlds better and pull your readers into the next level of the story. If you liked what you saw, please share this post and leave a comment below!

Until next time,
S. Alex Martin

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