Worldbuilding is a crucial part of the writing process for any author. It is the basis of the story, and in some cases, it’s the entire basis of the plot. You can dive deep into space – far and wide to a different galaxy like Dune, live on Middle Earth amongst elves, trolls, and Hobbits, or as simple as a small town like Derry in It. You know how easy it is to get lost in these stories. Very easy. But creating these worlds is a different story. There are guidelines that you should follow in order to make the most believable and livable world.
Recently, I had the pleasure to speak with author Edward Savio about his journey in writing the science-fiction series Battle For Forever. We sat down and dived deep inside his creative process of writing a story with a similar world to our own, but with a twist…immortals live among us. How did he get to this point? Savio had a few techniques up his sleeve, which we will reveal later in the article. But before we dive right in, a little about Edward Savio:
Right from the gate, Savio has a different perspective when it comes to storytelling. Savio’s career actually started in Hollywood as a screenwriter – having worked with Walt Disney Studios and Sony Pictures Entertainment, among others – which has given him a unique perspective as an author. While involved in Hollywood, he created a parallel career as an author to fulfill his full storytelling vision. Filmmaking and novels are two sides of the same coin. Both are able to create worlds but from different perspectives. Filmmakers have more distance when making their artistic expression live while novelists write for their own initial enjoyment.
Novelists don’t have to rely on anyone else to create their stories. They are their own director, co-writer, editor, visual effects, set designer, and camera crew. In a book, you can completely dive inside the character’s motives, how the world breathes, how they think, talk, and everything in between.
With his hefty background of previous author credits, screenplay writing, filmmaking, and unique outlook on life, one can only imagine what’s stirring inside his creative mind. As I share all about my interview with Edward Savio, here’s what we’ll cover:
1. Worldbuilding techniques and Savio’s recommendations
2. Important worldbuilding tips
3. Leveraging technological tools in worldbuilding
4. Worldbuilding applied – Battle For Forever book series and Savio’s process
5. Keeping a writer’s purpose central to worldbuilding
How to Dive into Worldbuilding
Any creative writer can tell you the struggles of world-building. It’s the foundation of an entire story – to some readers, it’s an afterthought. They may be more focused on the characters or the action that takes place. Little do they know, the worldbuilding aspect is the glue that keeps these characters believable. Here’s the bottom line:
“[…] Every book has to have a set of rules. And even if those rules are nearly identical to our own, even three or four little changes can mean huge differences in how the world reacts as my world reacts to the characters as opposed to what the real world does.”Edward Savio
Laying the Foundation
World-building is the setting, time, and place that affect your characters and plot. Is the story taking place in the future? Maybe during the 1800s? OR, does it take place in an alternative universe where the 1800s meets the future? Do humans in the story have attributes we don’t have in our current universe? No matter the case, your setting will affect your characters. Once you set the rules of your story, very rarely can these rules be broken.
The first step is starting with an idea, and this idea can stem from creating the world itself, the characters, or of course, the plot. No matter the case, the world-building aspect must be done as equally refined as the character and plot. Start with the idea, whatever that may be, transition into character arcs, symbolism, and solidifying the theme of your novel. Just remember, the rules of your world must be complete.
What rules are we talking about?
This mostly stems from believability:
“I had to create rules, very specific rules. Because if you can just make up a rule because your character is in trouble to get out of it. If it’s clever, you might be able to do it once or twice. But if you’re relying on it all the time, the audience is just going to be like, Oh, okay, this person is in danger, they’re going to figure out how to do it.
Because we’re going to use some sort of superhuman device or power or something that we don’t have in the real world. And once you get to that point, where you don’t have rules, a lot of people go, Wow, that’s cool. I get to see all this stuff. But deep down, there’s some level where we know there’s not as much of a threat to our characters.”Edward Savio
One key rule that overarches all others: whatever you don’t make a rule for, it is assumed that it behaves exactly as our present universe would behave.
Create the Setting Inside Those Rules
Don’t create arbitrary rules or convenient rules out of thin air, as that will actually take away from the foundation of the story. You want your readers to own the rules and take them seriously. We want them to forget that this world is fictitious.
The other basis you should understand is establishing the when, where, how, why, and what.
1. When does this story take place? Past, present, or future? Maybe it’s during a revolution? The beginning of mankind? The end of mankind?
2. Where are we? Space? A small town in the middle of the desert? The jungle? Modern-day America?
3. How did we get here? Has this world always been like this, or has the world changed over time?
4. Why are we here? What’s the purpose of telling this story at this particular location? This can help identify the theme or the purpose of the story.
5. What are the circumstances? Is the world still ruled by Greek Gods? Do superheroes fly through the sky? Do dogs talk? Are aliens living in our basement?
6. All of these questions asked above will help mold the story which you choose to create. Your characters and plot will melt into the crevices of your narrative, and it will affect the world.
Note: You do not have to answer all of these questions. These are here to help you in your story-telling journey. If you don’t have the answer to a question, odds are you’ll be able to, at a later time.
Now that your world is well-established within these questions, we now have to introduce the characters. Of course, the characters will have attributes related to the world that was built. They are central to establishing the authenticity of the world and will bring the reader in to experience that world. How they interact inside this special world will dictate where your plot goes.
Allow your characters to breathe inside the story. Unless your character is actually new to the setting, keep the curiosity going. Let them know as much as the reader. Either way, your characters are reflections of the human experience. How would mere mortals exist in this world? What stories would they tell?
To merge these two ideas, Savio used his dialogue techniques from screenwriting but also made sure to immerse himself in descriptions.
“You can tell an actor how to portray a facial expression, but that’s not the same when writing a character in a novel.”Edward Savio
In this case, you have control over their lip quivers, if their mind is someplace else in the action, or if the words they say aloud don’t hold the truth — you can’t always capture those moments in movies, rather they rely on the audience to infer what is visualized on screen.
The plot should come out naturally thereafter. It should not be a force fit as the plot and the setting (worldbuilding) must essentially be married to one another. If the plot cannot coexist with the world you’ve created – such as it being unbelievable or the world doesn’t feel special for your plot or characters, then this is the time to go back to your original set of questions.
Why are we here?
What effects does this world have on the plot?
Does this story have to be set in this world?
Why tell this story in this world?
Again, these questions are to help you. What are you trying to convey in this story? At the same time, do not worry if you don’t have all the answers all at once. It takes writing the story in order to see if the world feels right for your plot.
Important Worldbuilding Tips
Now that we have the basics out of the way, let’s get into some quick tips and reminders you should know before embarking on writing your story.
Don’t put everything you know in your first story
Savio suggests the first time you start writing, don’t put everything in the first story. Quite odd from a glance, but the reality is your story can lose its meaning, or you can be overwhelmed with the amount of material as your new goal is to meet plot points rather than make a great story. Start small and then begin to expand.
Use clichés to your advantage
“What if “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was on an alien planet? What if Snow White wasn’t this perfect pure woman? A modern woman, and the seven dwarfs were […] not as productive as they should be. What if she had to save them?”Edward Savio
There’s a high chance the story you want to write has been done before in a similar way, so instead of fighting against the common book tropes, take them and twist it to your own advantage. Change the setting for “The Three Little Pigs.” Make the Princess save the Prince. Of course, these are mere fairytale examples, but you can amplify clichés to your own advantage.
Research for authenticity
So often in movies and books, when a character is in a fight, he appears to be unscathed. At times, this can pull the reader out of the world you have created. There’s nothing that is truly at stake. Keep the reader on their toes! Will they survive at the end of their story?
Don’t use worldbuilding as a crutch
“Too much [worldbuilding] allows us to forget the humanity part.”Edward Savio
Putting too much pressure on the world-building aspect (“Look at this shiny ship and all its details.”) can displace the meaning behind the narrative and dilute the story. At the end of the day, these stories are contrived from the human experience. Even if your characters are from across the galaxy or partake in Middle Earth, they come from humans who want to share their outlook on the world. Of course, they can throw that razzle dazzle fun, but what pushes the story forward? The characters.
Technology Tools in Worldbuilding
Although Savio’s novels are set in a world we are familiar with, he uses Aeon Timeline in order to map out the pasts of his characters. This could be used as a way to create new story ideas and also map out places your character has been in the past. Tools like these help keep track of continuity errors, keep the characters rounded, and keep track of where your characters are, depending on the timeline.
This is an aid to make your character arcs more palpable, as you can visually see how far they have come from the start. The same goes for your story’s time frame. How far have your characters gone? This is to help you visualize your world in a physical sense as well. As you continue your story, so does your hand in keeping things cohesive, as you may get caught up in the plot.
Seeing a story in a built-out timeline helps writers see a 3D lens of what their world could look like. Here you can change your world’s look and feel by how it’s visually presented. The Aeon Timeline also allows you to spot things you want to change and what needs to be worked on before you actually build the world, or in this case the narrative.
Other ways technology can help is through voice recognition or writing your work on a tablet which can easily transfer into text. According to Savio, your brain uses a different part when handwriting versus typing, so use both as much as possible.
Do you want to know more about the ways in which technology can assist you in your writing? Click here!
World-building in Battle For Forever
Every writer’s biggest concern is how to start writing. It’s not so simple…
There are two problems that writers have and I have both of them. We have so much in our head quickly and once we get out quickly, there’s so much shit — there’s so much stuff in the way that’s there. We can’t pick out what’s good from what’s not, because our minds work like a yarn ball.Edward Savio
An idea can be contrived out of a bundle of other equally interesting ideas, but how can you get it out on paper legibly? Steadily, you must unravel the yarn ball, dismantle the pieces, and try to make sense of what type of story you want to tell. Rationalize what you want to write and how you want your world to be perceived.
Savio’s rule of thumb is: the world you are creating has to have a set of rules. The story cannot be believable without them as it may come off as disingenuous or used as a way to move the plot. In reality, it should be your characters moving the story. This has to occur even in books that have a very similar world to our own. Battle For Forever, in particular, has a setting much like our world. The difference is immortals are living among normal people. That one difference can change everything around the world – a catatonic reaction so to speak.
We won’t say more as we don’t want to spoil it for you – but these rules alone have unfolded into a 3-book series, and you can get the first one for free here!
There is always a purpose or a reason for one to write a story. It’s a tiring process, to begin with, by trying to make sure you’re telling it right. The purpose could be associated with a message that one wants to portray to the world. Here’s Savio’s purpose in writing Battle For Forever:
“This was a love letter to my teenagers, and I wanted to write something that they would enjoy because I knew what type of things they were reading. They really get into fiction and fanfiction […] they know a lot about the worlds [from] the games they play. […] What would they be interested in? What would I be interested in?
I wanted to talk about people their age […] and how they might– if they just had a bit more time to focus on things– and how they could get really good. They don’t need to be the geniuses of the world. My kids are pretty smart, but you don’t need to be the geniuses of the world in order to be good at something. You really just need to focus on it.”Edward Savio
Savio was able to create a world in which kids never aged – where they could accomplish anything as long as they practiced at it. That, my friend, is the beauty of world-building. It can inspire so many readers!
Worldbuilding is an important aspect of storytelling. Hopefully, these tips and different perspectives will help you in your future writing adventures.
For more tips on creative writing, click here!
For more reads about Edward Savio, click here!