Critique Group

Set The Scene

In Natasha Hanova on April 24, 2013 at 6:00 am

I love it when a story grabs me and pulls me into a make believe (or altered) world. When the author  weaves a setting into a story  so seamlessly  I don’t even notice until the moment when I think ‘this place might be real.’ But, world building is a daunting task. Whenever reading, I pay extra attention to how authors do this.

Here are a few things which draw me in:

  • Consistency. Once the author establishes rules for how the world works, they serve as guidelines for what to expect later. For example, in HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, she established the rules that govern Panem and the twelve outlying districts. Readers know each district has to send a boy and girl to participate in the Games and they know the dismal outcome. While reading the book, I kept thinking, “There’s no way she’s gonna kill this character,” yet Collins stayed true to her world’s rules and beloved characters died.
  • Believable paranormal elements. Sounds like an oxymoron, I know, but hear me out. Even though paranormal writers dally in the supernatural, there are still certain things readers of the genre expect. Ghosts are incorporeal. Zombies can’t talk. Vampires burn in sunlight. Valkyrie can’t resist shiny objects. Whenever writers deviate from these standards, they’re tasked with making it believable (and consistent). It can be done. I’m sure we can all think of books where paranormal creatures break traditional expectations.

    Cave Entrance

    Photo Credit: Debbie Johansson (Flickr)

  • Close to accurate cities. When it comes to books set in real cities, whether historical, modern, or something in between, it’s important to get the major things accurate. St. Louis has a humongous arch which can serve to help ground readers. New York has the Statue of Liberty which character might stir emotions in certain characters. There are also a number of natural landmarks that pop up in books to help orient reader, swamps in Louisiana, mountains in Colorado, Flint Hills in Kansas. Using elements that already exist, places where people  go, streets and intersections people are familiar with goes a long way toward lending a ‘real’ feel to fiction.
  • Rich setting/characters. One of my favorite things about author Kresley Cole is how real her settings are. She incorporates all five senses (sound, taste, smell, touch, and sight) into her scenes in a well-balanced way, so the reader doesn’t feel overwhelmed with description. Cole also has strong heroines and heroes whose personalities stay consistent (decisive, not wishy washy). Her characters only undergo personality change after major trials and tribulations.
  • Normal Things. This goes hand in hand with setting. These are the things we all experience or can relate to which make a setting real. It’s the sound of a crumpled brown paper towel, the hum of a vending machine, the chill of a hospital, the sight of sunlight filtering through window blinds, the delicious taste of chocolate, etc.  These everyday things help readers feel closer to a story.

What additional elements do you include in your world building? What draws you to the type of books you like to read?

Happy Reading & Writing!


  1. […] posting over on the Novel Clique blog again today. This weeks topic: setting and/or world building. Hope you drop by and leave a […]

  2. My motto is: When you’re fibbin’, stick as close to the truth as possible. 😉
    Great post!

    • That’s a great motto because if not carefully constructed, once a reader doubts something, there’s a risk of shattering their suspension of disbelief and BOOM, they’re kicked out of the story.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Melissa.

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