After a long hiatus, we continue our blogs on World Building, not to be confused with World Design, as we have discussed in earlier blogs.
Opening a scene is like opening the curtain of a stage play. You can reveal the interior of a spaceship or a throne room. Then the actors enter the stage. It could be a janitor with a bucket or a jester laying a fart cushion on the throne. In either case, the audience is now mentally prepared for what is to come. Scene work in a similar way. Good, but what does this have to do with World Building?
For me, World Building is about characters interacting with their environment in a narrative setting. In these blogs, we'll discuss exploring your world through interactions rather than through descriptions. This is what we call Show-don't-Tell.
Now, the concept of Show-don't-Tell is poorly understood. But it's an easy concept for bloggers and critics to through around. It sounds so simple to do Show Don't Tell, don't overload the reader with exposition, right? Right?
We know what the Tell means because, in the Vlogger/Blogger sphere, we often love the point out flaws in fiction. But rarely, how to do it right. Sure, they'll tell you their interpretation of a character's arc and why it is that great. But rarely explain the fine details of why we care about these stories to begin with.
The thing is, you can make fun of bad writing. Good writing, however, is tough. Because A. you can't make fun of it. And B, you have to understand the creative process and communicate how it works.
But the fact of the matter is, explaining how commas work isn't very sexy because aspiring writers want to learn how they can become the next J.J.R. Martin. A very depressing topic for creatives because it doesn't have that much to do with writing skills.
Show-Don't-Tell describes the world through actions. A good way to practice this is by writing comic book panels. Why?
In the comic book industry, as a rule of thumb, a sentence is a single panel.
Wait, does that mean we can copy-paste a novel into a comic script? In theory, this is very unlikely. But, if you write a certain way, the transition can be quite painless. However, if you consider that the industry standard for comic-book pages is around 100 USD to create with an average of five panels a page. Yeah, you have to trim that stuff down.
So, how does one write a comic panel? Well, in the same way as discussed in How to Write a Sentence. But to recap.
1. A sentence can only have one action.
2. The character who is performing the action we call the Subject
3. The item the Subject is interacting with we call the Object.
"Maurice is writing a letter."
(for the color blind)
Maurice = the subject
is writing = the action
a letter = the object
Simple enough, right? But this sentence lacks something. This sentence lacks atmosphere. It lacks the inclusion of the lamp and the room. This is the context. And for a sentence to work, we now to clarify the difference between the sentences Subject Object dynamic and 'the rest' or Context.
"During the midnight hours, after secluding himself in his studies, Maurice would be writing letters by the light of his desk lamp with nobody but a bottle scotch for company."
In this situation, knowing how the use the 'past particle' and 'present particle' are key. But for that, check out, How to Write a Sentence.
And with that, we continue with scene construction.
Scenes are like short stories with a beginning, middle, and end. You introduce the situation and the actors, describe the development of the situation, and end it with a conclusion.
For the introduction, I like to influence the reader so they have the right mindset going into the situation. I do this by introducing the atmosphere through the eyes of the characters. In a narrative sense, this is "The characters observing and experiencing the environment." Alright, how do characters experience the environment? By their senses.
The senses, and related attributes, include,
sight: Light/dark, colors, movements, body language, size, distance
smell: Disgusting smells, appetite-inducing scents, (un)familiar smells
touch: Warm, cold, rough, smooth, pain, hunger, fatigue
emotion: Fear, awe, empathy, apathy, excitement, disgust
The emotional reactions tend to be connected to one of the other three senses. The smell of garbage can repulse a character. The smell of food can make them hungry or greedy. The sight of soldiers can make them afraid. Feeling something soft makes them want to hold an object. This way, you write seen with passive descriptions. Here are some examples.
- Environmental conditions: When he entered the basement, to his dismay, water was seeping
past the bottom of the door.
- Character actions: The sloshing of water reverberated through the basement as he
stepped into the water which had been seeping through the
- Character reactions: His face contorted as he opened the door.
- Character comments: "It smells like a wet dog in here!"
As we can see, a character has entered a flooding basement. And whatever is causing it ain't good. And we did so without ever mentioning a flooded basement.
The goal of using the sense is to make the reader relate and also draw their own conclusions.
For example, you don't want to think for the reader.
"As the first drops were dripping from the sky, Jenna unfolded her umbrella to keep herself from getting wet."
Regarding reliability, most people know the smell of garbage, food, etc. However, especially in Fantasy, writers then use comparisons such as. "It smells like a wappadoodle in here." What does a wappadoodle smell like? I am dunno. It's one of those tropes that turn me off from Fantasy, but I guess many readers don't mind it.
Still, to grab and keep the reader's attention using plain English is important. I don't know about you, but my immersion doesn't increase if I have to reach for my thesaurus to make sense of what's happening. And in the age of the internet, expect to have readers who know English as a second language.
Some other examples to describe a situation or environment.
A tight space -> Emma squeezed herself between the crates. Having barely enough room to breathe, she moved sideways while coarse wood was scratching her skin.
A bog -> Emma covered her nose against the scent of lingering farts while trying not to topple over as the feet were sinking deeper into the peat with every arduous step.
So, we have a whole bunch of recommendations on writing a sentence and describing environments. But how to open a scene?
Let's go back to the stage at the start of the blog. Imagine opening the curtain for your audience, and now think, what do you want them to see? What do they smell? How do you want them to react? Now, think what that would be like in a comic book. The first panel on the first page! What is the character doing?
In Example 1, the main character is recalling his adventures as he is writing a letter which brings us, the reader, to the moment when it all began. And he does so, alone and in a dark room, suggesting hasn't gone well for him.
In the next scene, we open on a shot of an airship approaching a platform in the middle of the pacific ocean. Followed by a shot of soldiers inside of the interior of the ship with an out-of-place character sitting in the back, struggling with what appears to be a medical brace.
To learn what is going on, you'll have to flip to the next page. Or subscribe to our website to stay informed about our next updates.
Anyway, these story scripts were taken almost verbatim from the short stories I wrote years back because I visualized my sentences. Instead of comic panels, you could imagine your story to be a movie as well, and imagine every sentence to be a separate camera shot. It helps you visualize what action should be front and center in the sentence and what context to include.
I hope you found this information useful. In the next blog will continue our tips on world-building. If you enjoyed it, please share it, and to support our projects and involved artists, please check out the support us section of the site and get some unique rewards to boot, like coloring plates and desktop backgrounds. For just 2 dollars a month, you would help greatly and get some awesome content. Btw. we recommend Subscribestar, because Patreon is becoming less reliable as time goes on.
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