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Crafting your World

The world you create for your characters is the visual frame that your readers associate with your story. It grounds your readers within the world the story is set. When we hear the words “Moby Dick” or “Master and Commander” we automatically see images of old sailing ships, the sea and feel a sense of impending danger. Think of “The Hunger Games” and an image of a science fiction dystopian world comes to mind.

Your early settings are important as you establish characters and the stakes in their normal world. Later additional settings raise the stakes and is a basis for contrast when your main characters world changes dramatically.

I spent five years living in Paris. I found myself immersed in the history of the city. We stood on the spot where Marie Antoinette met her fate with the guillotine. Numerous buildings are still scarred with bullet holes from the war. I visited old Roman ruins and Napoleons Tomb amongst other many fascinating experiences over the five years I was there.

One of the many interesting situations I found myself in which I describe below might help someone writing a Historical Fiction novel or even a Time Travel Science Fiction story. Describe in detail using the scenes what your character feels, sees, hears tastes and smells in their world.

We often had a few beers at a pub called the guillotine which was situated on the left bank of the Seine just over the river from Notre Dame Cathedral. An antique guillotine stood menacingly in the narrow entrance. The pubs had to close in Paris at 2 am but the party would continue on in many establishments. Most places had a basement where all the locals would retire to when the lights had been turned off and the door locked at street level. We were told of the fascinating history of the pub and its original use and shown around the two levels below the street.

During the 16th century and up until the late 17th century the property was what was called an “Oubliette.” The definition is a dungeon with only an opening on the top. It was, as the word suggests somewhere that a person would be forgotten. It was reputed to be a place where Royalty or their consorts were sent. It was discreet and the victim simply disappeared from Court life overnight.

Imagine if you will, your heroine is a beautiful young girl. She and the Prince fall madly in love but an antagonist is hell bent on destroying their relationship for political, romantic or any number of other reasons.

Our heroine, let’s call her Claudine, retires to her comfortable room. She falls asleep in a soft bed, drawing up the lavender-scented covers as the handmaiden extinguishes the candles. Still tasting the roast meat with seasoned vegetables they had for the evening meal, Claudine falls asleep listening to the gentle breeze blowing through the apple orchard.

In the early hours of the morning, three men burst into the room. How would she feel? What would the rough unwashed men smell like in contrast to her pleasant surroundings? A sack is violently shoved over her head. Bundled into a rickety cart covered with a foul-smelling tarpaulin they drive through the deserted city reaching a destination unknown to her.

What would she be experiencing at that moment? She is then dragged through a heavy wooden door into a dank and foul smelling room.

That room is the exact room where we were having a beer centuries later. According to what the owners told us that night and from further research I have done, the poor girl would have been beaten and stripped of her clothes. Describe in detail her emotions, her disorientation, the shock, pain and humility she would be feeling. How do her new surrounding contrast with her comfortable bedroom and home?

She would then have been taken down a very narrow and steep set of stairs carved into the stone. This was the room one level below ground where she would have endured hours of beating, torture and I shudder to think of what more would have been done to Claudine. Her battered body would be lying on a cold stone floor strewn with dirty straw, excrement, blood and vermin. What would she be thinking of at that moment? What would she see, hear, feel, smell and taste in that state?

I stood there trying to imagine what the poor souls endured in that room so long ago. The owner pointed to a circular metal cover on the floor. He lifted the cover and all we saw was a black bottomless pit. Claudine would have been shackled in irons and then dropped through the hole in the stone floor. We descended a metal ladder and with the aid of small lights situated at intervals along the underground cavern we looked to our left and right.

Claudine regains consciousness after hours of torture and a ten-foot drop onto the stone floor below. Would you not lose your mind waking in terrible pain in a totally dark and freezing cavern. You manage to move a few feet either left or right as you feel your way along the jagged walls of the tunnel carved out of the solid rock.

To our left we noticed another hole in the floor. Water from the river Seine was visible through the hole. If Claudine moves left in the pitch black she falls into the cold waters of the river. She has shackles and heavy chains on her wrists and feet. Claudine would sink below the surface and drown. There would be no witness, no inquiry, nothing. Claudine simply dissapeared.

Had Claudine moved to her right in the dark, she would have followed a small and narrow tunnel where three or four hollows had been cut out of the rock, just large enough for a person to lie down in. Describe the horror she feels realizing that she has been thrown into an “Oubliette”. Would she be alone or are there others in the subterranean hell? Using her senses, try and put yourself in her place. You are Claudine, what are you going through emotionally and physically at that moment remembering only a few hours ago you were living a comfortable and seemingly secure life.

Claudine has no idea if it is day or night above ground. Totally dependent on the meagre rations dropped down the hole by the jailers. She clings fervently to the hope that her Prince will rescue her. The stakes have never been higher. Does she recover physically and hatch an escape plan? Does she escape and take her revenge?

In the cramped and confined area of the dungeon, we can create an entire world. It is Claudine’s entire universe for the moment.

Below is a short Template which might be helpful when you are creating your world.

Fantasy Setting Worldbuilding Template

Physical Setting:

  • Flora
  • Fauna
  • Geography
  • Weather
  • Cosmology
  • Sciences: Laws of Physics

Cultural Setting:

  • Swearing
  • Economy
  • Religion
  • Laws
  • Politics + Government
  • Landmarks/Wonders
  • Class system
  • Customs
  • Philosophy
  • Food lore
  • Languages
  • Music
  • Fashion
  • Folklore
  • Gender Roles
  • Weapons
  • Technology
    • War
    • Travel
  • History
  • Human Rights
  • Prejudices
  • Education
  • Architecture
  • Jobs
  • Laws of war

I wish you a pleasant day and will write again soon.

Best wishes.



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