Monday, July 30, 2012

Creating A Believable World (Part 1) by Lindsay J. Pryor

When I received a subtle hint to write a post on worldbuilding, I was at first excited then tentative. I was worried that those amongst us who don’t dabble in the paranormal realm might not get anything out of it. But it was only when I started drafting this post that I realised whatever subgenre of romance we write in, we all work with the same guidelines. A story grounded in reality can come across as just as implausible as one set in another time or another world. Whatever the context of your story, suspension of disbelief will always be reliant on whether:
  • the motivation of your characters is plausible;
  • your page-turning plot is generated from characters interacting meaningfully with each other and the world around them;
  • your use of backdrop is appropriate to the tone, atmosphere and context of your story. 

So here are some tips to creating that all-important believable world:

1) Develop a strong heroine.

When I say ‘strong’, I mean a heroine with:
  • A clear goal (keep her business, save her child’s life, avoid a secret being uncovered)
  • Strong and succinct motivations (revenge, duty, fear, jealousy, survival)

It doesn’t matter if she’s human or faery. Whether she’s a lawyer or nurse or head of coven of witches, give her:
  • History that’s applicable to her motivations (family, past relationships, education, successes and failures)
  • Internal conflict (insecurities of fear of being hurt, not being good enough, determination to prove herself capable)
  • Strengths and weaknesses (resilient, defensive, suspicious, over-protective) 

2) Develop a hero who is going to push her buttons.

Once you’ve done all the above for your hero too, think first and foremost of your hero and heroine (or the combination appropriate to the story) as a dynamic. Ask yourself what makes him the perfect hero for the story. Why does he have to be a doctor instead of a mechanic? Why does he have to be a vampire? What does it matter if he’s bad-tempered or easy going? Will it make a difference to the story if he’s anything else? The definite answer to the latter should be yes. You’ve made him that way for a very good reason. Or you should have.

When I say think of the hero and heroine as a dynamic, I mean they need to press one another's buttons in some way whether it be sexually, intellectually, spiritually and/or emotionally. If you don’t know your heroine inside out by the time your hero is constructed, you risk having a dynamic that falls flat. Above all, your hero needs to oppose or interfere with the goal of the heroine. And don't forget to give him a good reason for this.

3) Make sure the place and/or situation you have put your heroine in is a catalyst for conflict.

Don’t be nice to your heroine, as lovely a person you might be, you’re not there to make her life easy. Easy makes for a very dull story. You’re there to challenge her. You’re there to make things difficult. You’re there to make her journey one worth experiencing. And if you’ve made your hero particularly delectable, she needs to convince the reader she has earned him (and vice-versa).

Whether you’ve dumped her in the middle of the jungle, had the neighbour from hell move in next door, given her a new recruit who is determined to bring her to her knees or had her kidnapped in some other-wordly territory, make it relevant to the conflict of the story.

As for place, effective world building is beyond setting and describing places. It’s your characters’ perceptions, reactions and interactions to and within that world that gives your reader a real sense of where they are. Know your characters well and you’ll keep those reactions plausible – however far-fetched their situation.

4) Make that conflict real – whatever your subject matter.

Make sure your story is character driven from beginning to end. Good plot comes out of strongly-motivated characters. They have to react to events and make decisions and these need to be true to their personalities and motivations. Let them grow, develop, find out things about themselves and change in some way.

As I can’t suppress my advocacy for the paranormal/fantasy genre, there are reasons why great stories like Dracula, Interview with a Vampire and Lord Of The Rings have such huge followings. Putting the paranormal elements and creativity aside for a moment, you have hugely motivated characters with clear goals and human conditions we can all relate to. That’s your first step to creating a convincing world, whatever realm you choose.

Next month I’ll share tips on how to develop your backdrop to make your world believable. 

Thanks for stopping by. 


  1. That was a great summation of what makes a page-turning read, Lindsay. Without either of those elements, an otherwise good story will collapse. It's sent me back re-examining my characters and and their particular world.
    I think I passed!

    1. Thanks, Tima. Those re-examinations are either a sigh of relief or one of despair, aren't they? I'm glad to hear you've passed! I'm still looking forwards to reading Bloodgifted.

  2. Great post, clear and succinct and a timely reminder of should be centre stage.

    1. Hi Incy. And thank you. I always lose my way when I plot dawdle so having the heroine and hero centre stage keeps me on track. I don't think it hurts any of us to have that reminder now and again.

  3. Great post Lindsay. Love the strength of your worldbuilding, you have a talent in making something difficult, appear seamless and easy. Will be making use of your advice thanks xx

  4. Hiya Tracey. Aw, thank you. Yep, blushing a little. I'm so glad there's some useful stuff in the post - use it as you will! xx

  5. Great post, Linds. I couldn't agree more, motivation is key to strong characters. And worldbuilding translates into any genre. You have to envelop your reader in the character's world if you want to sweep them up in the story. Am looking forward to your next installment. Still have my fingers crossed that we hear some good news from you real soon.

    1. Thank you, Jennifer. And isn't a story so much easier to control when you know your characters' motivations? Huge thanks for the crossed fingers too.

  6. A most excellent post Linds - as Tracey has already noted, in your books you make worldbuilding seem easy xxx

  7. Wouldn't it be cool if we could build them and then step into them, like virtual reality? Of course with my luck, I'd step into mine looking for my hero and get ran over by my villain.

    All wonderful tips, Lindsay. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Lol! Or the villain could turn out to be the hero... remember, it's your world so you can do what you like. ;-) I'm glad there were some useful tips there, Amity. Thanks for the feedback and for stopping by to comment.

  8. This is a great guide for constructing a dynamic story, Linds! It's hard to be mean to your characters, but it's so true that easy is dull. I'm looking forward to reading part II. :-)

  9. Thanks, Natalie. I'm glad there was some good stuff in there. It's such a vast topic, it's hard to be succinct. And yes - it is hard being mean to your characters. But that's a whole other topic, isn't it? You've got to put so much of yourself into your writing but be distant enough not to design everything on your perspective. Thanks for commenting. :-)