Every story needs a fleshed-out world—even ones set in a realistic one. Here are three tips to help round out your contemporary world.
One thing about realistic fiction is that many things are given. We already have knowledge of what a school is or what a small town is like. But every town, every city, every school is different. Think about what sets your location apart from similar fictional settings. Is the town flourishing or failing? Welcoming or wary of newcomers? Why is it like that? Even if you’re writing a real location, what aspect are you focusing on? Take Los Angeles. Is your LA glitz and glamor? Grit and corruption? A little of both? While your setting doesn’t necessarily have to be a character in the story, illustrating how it is unique and emphasizing its attributes will help to bring your location alive.
However, your character is shaped by your world. Show how the setting directly impact them. A character living in a high rise will move through their world differently than one in a remote location. They might have different priorities and face different obstacles. The way they work, spend their time, and get their food could differ. Are they getting their strawberries up on their way home from work? Picking them from their garden? Buying them frozen because they’re out if season and they drive a long way to the store? How do the politics and dynamics of the area shape your character’s beliefs and worldviews? These beliefs and views impact their interactions with other characters and the way they handle conflicts. Thinking through the effect the setting has on your character can help your reader connect with your story.
Even if your story is located in a fictional town, it’s still going to have whatever weather and geography pertains to the area. This will influence everything from what they wear to what they eat. Also, consider the economics of the area. Can they afford their home, car, or hobbies based on their job given their location? Does their job make sense for their area? If not, does it add conflict to the story? After all, how a teacher affords a mansion in a high cost of living area, a marine biologist’s job in a tiny desert town, and what an avid garden does to maintain their hobby in a skyscraper could make for an interesting story.
While the worldbuilding might not be as elaborate or pronounced in realistic fiction as in fantasy or speculative fiction, a solid world will help make your contemporary story shine.
Suzanne Lazear is the author of the young adult steampunk fairytale series THE AETHER CHRONICLES and the new adult elfpunk series THE SECRET LIVES OF ROCKSTARS. An avid baker and crafter, she lives in Southern California with her daughter, husband, a cockatiel, and a small army of stuffed animals. Learn more about her at www.suzannelazear.com
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