We normally think of world building as in pages upon pages in notion detailing history, politics, and economics of a sci-fi world or having your own Wikipedia in World Anvil of this high-fantasy kingdom that rivals Tolkien’s.
However when we get into the meat of the story, world building isn’t quite as straightforward. Sure, in novels, you can have a beautiful map before the first chapter or use the prologue to narrate a creation-myth and the power dynamics of the land but, in short stories, “you just need to drop the readers straight into the established world, without needing to explain everything about it,” (Samantha Todd).
Which sounds scary, not going to lie, because how can we make sure the reader doesn’t get lost between all this lore? Well, the simple answer is that you curate your world around the protagonist and the story you’re telling.
You can do this like the creators of the Penumbra Podcast, (as explained in Writing Fiction Across the Void). In which you start building your character first and through their wants and needs you discover exactly which type of world they are inhabiting to turn out like this.
Whether a novel or a short story, the reader will never have the whole picture, and that is okay. If there is something readers (and specially fan fiction writers) like is playing with the blank spaces. As your writing process evolves and you edit and edit and edit, those blank spaces you have left may come back to ask questions and your answer might be ten times better than if you were writing the 1st draft, maybe you have a plot hole that can be easily fixed by filling those spaces.
In short stories world building truly shines in the details, it is not only the setting but the character and dialogue that gives your world a sense of realness. Using specific slang or the internal monologue focusing on something that is unique to its world will help. Even character’s names can give us an insight into which kind of place we are entering.
In Bones of green and gold by K.A. Cook the word to describe romantic-allosexual people is summer-hearted whilist aromantic-asexual is winter-hearted. The story starts in media-res as a princess escapes her duty of marriage to look for a witch that may give her refuge, it is through her interactions with the witch that she discovers that there are also spring-hearted people (allosexual-aromantic) and autumn-hearted (asexual-romantic).
Through using adjectives that are season-based we can sense that this story is 1) not in our world, and 2) that it is probably a fantasy one. Additionally we have the character of a witch and prose that takes inspiration from the classics and definitely doesn’t use pop-culture references. To gather the dynamics of the world we just need to look at the situation: a princess running away because she isn’t summer-hearted and doesn’t know the words spring-hearted or autumn-hearted, which shows that this is an amatonormative world.
Like in all stories exposition is frowned upon, however whereas in novels you can afford it, in short stories you have to use dialogue, action and character dynamics in order to show your world to the reader.
For some reason there is this myth that you can’t tell “real stories” through the short form, that short stories are “snippets” and not texts in which a character arc can occur, in which a world can be developed. And while your readers may spend less time in your world than in a novel, it doesn’t mean that it is less constructed and not equally loved.
If you want to learn more about world building in general read “The Worldbuilding Series” by Paula Argudo.
Ari Ochoa Petzo
is a Mexican-Venezuelan bi genderfluid writer. They like dancing to old music and history. In their free time you can find xem trying to coerce their friends to participate in another of their crazy projects.
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