“I’m writing nonfiction. I don’t need to build a world in my book.”
World building is especially important for nonfiction writers because your goal is (usually) to convince your readers to make some sort of change in their lives. You want them to start doing activity A, stop doing activity B, think X about Y, or buy the service you offer. Even if you’re writing a how-to manual, you want the reader to stay interested in following your instructions. You need to convince them that you’re leading them in the right direction.
To do that, you must paint a vivid picture of the benefits they’ll receive for trusting you.
Build up the world they’ll get to inhabit if they do what the book wants them to do. If you’re writing a weight loss book, describe the ability to run up the stairs easily. A cookbook? Describe the aroma and taste of that first delicious bite of food. A business book? Describe the financial success and sense of pride that comes from a job well done. Wherever you want the reader to go, describe that world for them. Make them want to go there with you.
Your challenge for this week:
1. Pull out your introduction from the week about narrative voice.
2. Write an additional 300 words describing the world the reader will inhabit if they use your book as a guide.
3. Use sensory details (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch) to breathe life into your descriptions.
4. Show it to a friend and ask for their honest opinion. Revise as necessary.
How are you doing on your book so far? Share your successes and frustrations in the comments!
*This Week’s Word Count*
Your book is as long as: The number of words this dog knows
Your book takes place in a world. It might be our world, it might be the world of the past or future, or it might be someplace completely invented. Whatever the setting, your job as a writer is to bring your readers into the world of your story.
When describing your scenery, here are a few things to remember:
Do use sensory details (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch) to describe elements of the world.
Do connect the settings together–if your characters start in the living room and then teleport to the kitchen without a scene break, the reader will feel confused. Describe them traveling from point A to point B.
Do use the architecture and terrain as plot points. Let the world make things happen.
Do keep a list of continuity points and rules governing the world–if the basement floor is slippery in act one, Bob shouldn’t sprint across it with no problem in act two.
Do your research–if your book takes place in a real area, past or present, read up on it to make sure you preserve the facts.
Do give your characters adequate food, water, and bathroom breaks. (Most readers won’t notice this, but there will be a few people who wonder, “How did they spend three days in the cellar without a latrine?” For believability, it’s best to make a note of this.)
Do make a map of your world if, like me, you tend to forget where you put the different buildings and landscaping.
Do vary your settings–use indoor and outdoor locations, fancy and run-down areas, day and night, dry and humid, etc. This will help readers keep track of what happened where.
Do create far more detail in your head than you put on the page. Readers will be able to sense that level of richness in the information you choose to provide.
Do select what you include carefully–only use details relevant to what the characters are experiencing, or details which further the plot. This will help readers remember them.
Do use what you describe–if a setting is incredibly detailed, but nothing important happens there, readers will feel cheated.
Do love the world you build–the more invested you are in creating a three-dimensional environment, the more your readers will feel drawn to it.
DON’Ts: (Actually, just one)
Don’t write pages and pages of description. (Yes, many literary giants did this in the past, but modern writing is stylistically different, and most authors can’t get away with that anymore.)
No, seriously. Don’t go on too long about your setting. Readers will get bored.
Your challenge for this week is to write a description of the setting for the meeting you wrote last week between your protagonist and a secondary character. The catch? You can only use 50 words.
In your book, you’ll be able to write longer descriptions than that, but this exercise will help you practice packing your words with rich detail and leaving out extraneous information.
Have questions? Want to share your 50-word description? Leave a comment and interact with me and the other challenge-takers!
*This Week’s Word Count*
Your book is as long as: A slightly longer newspaper featurette