“Top of the World”

World-building fascinates me, because it applies to so many aspects of writing. It’s a fairly specific term applied to the creation of a fictional world for genre fiction or roleplaying (fantasy worlds, etc.), but it also has a wider application than that. Any time you write fiction (and some sorts of non-fiction) you participate in world-building. Your job is to build a representation of the world (whether this one, a variant of this one, or another entirely) that captures the reader’s imagination and seems “real” to her.

There are so many exercises you can perform to help you imagine and create this kind of vivid, real world that aids the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief. Some of my favorites, however, involve photographs and other forms of art. I associate photographs with world-building because they make us look at physical details. They often focus on very mundane things but allow you to see the beautiful details of those mundane things–which is exactly what you need to do when building a world with words.

Today, take a look at this lovely “top of the world” photograph with its snowy heights, precise trees, and shining clouds. Imagine that this is a location in your fictional story-world, either near or far, and imagine what it might have to do with your tale. Is it a place your main character visited once as a child? Is it a place she dreams of visiting as an adult? Is it a beautiful-yet-treacherous passage your heroes must traverse to reach their destination? Describe this place using every sense, imagining the chill of the wind, the glare of sunlight, each sound and sense in its place. What do you hear? What do you feel? How does the air taste and smell?

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