This quote not only applies to reality but to your story as well. The environment, the world in which your characters exist must convey a wealth of information, and not simply to provide a backdrop but to ground your characters and your plot.
Many authors choose to set their story in modern times and therefore don’t have much trouble defining the world in which their characters live, breathe and move. Historical and romance novels tend to face a slightly more difficult challenge in that the author must set the reader in a time that once, but no longer, exists. This usually requires a bit of research about the era in which the author is placing his/her characters, from such things as speech, mannerisms, and general history and geology to historical figures and political settings. Fantasy and science fiction writers face an even bigger dilemma: creating a believable world that doesn’t exist in such a manner that allows the reader to suspend belief. I find the latter might be the most difficult world to create as there is nothing ‘concrete’ for the reader to hold onto – except his/her imagination.
No matter what world you write about, here are a couple of tips to think about as you develop your story.
Make sure you know the past, present and future of your world before you start writing. For every character, for every location you create, ask who, what, where, when, why and how. Know your world inside out and backwards and forwards. If magic is involved, know your limits. If a particular species exists in only one part of your world, why there and not somewhere else? If historical, check and double-check the dates and locations. Interview yourself when contemplating strategies and movement of your characters within your world. If you can’t answer the WWWWW and H for each move, for each character, for each location, then you may want to re-strategize and rethink your world.
Plan your future and create a timeline. So many times authors get so wrapped up in their story and there are so many events taking place at once, that they ignore the obvious. Let’s take the ever popular Harry Potter series as an example.
From page 166 of the hardcover edition of the Order of the Phoenix: “. . . A few moments passed; Harry heard the door close but remained bent double, listening;. . .
“He straightened up and looked behind him. Hermioine and Hedwig had gone. Harry hurried across the room, closed the door, then returned slowly to his bed. . .”
In the course of a couple of sentences, the door was closed twice, the second time without it being reopened.
Even one of the greatest classics of all time – Gone with the Wind – is believed to have a major inconsistency. Many have pointed out that, if one was to take into account all the battles that took place in the Civil War while Melanie was pregnant, she would have been with child for 21 months.
While most authors do their best to make sure these sorts of discrepancies don’t happen, occasionally they do. It might help to write a timeline of events while writing your novel so you can keep track of when events happen within other events just to keep it all straight in your head. I know it has helped with my own writing.
Don’t let your reader take anything for granted and only explain details when necessary. For example, one of your characters checks his e-mails. Most of us know what is involved with checking our e-mails so we don’t need a paragraph on the details. However, if a person enters another world through a portal in their living room, well now that events deserves a little more explanation as it is not a normal occurence. Remember, your reader doesn’t know anything about your world. As you write it, pretend you’re the travel agent and the reader is the tourist. Bring them into it with awe and wonder and feed them a desire to never want to leave.