I cannot recommend sending your manuscript out to beta-readers enough. If you’re like me, you’ve probably spent the better part of a year (or two) immersed in your story, and so trying to get the big picture is like trying to see the whole barn with your nose pressed up against it.
A while back I received some great feedback from one of my beta-readers. He loved the plot, the pacing, and the characters, but his biggest critique was with the world itself. He wanted to FEEL the claustrophobia of the town in mys tory, and he wanted to know more about it, the devil in the details.
“Make your world a character,” he suggested, and I promptly went home, wrote that in giant letters on a 3X5 card, and pinned it to my story board.
I’m sure there are plenty of books written on this subject, but here is what worked for me. First I drew a map. I’d always had one in my head, but actually drawing it brought out some new and important landscape ideas. And then I laughed myself silly as I realized why I did not pick drawing as my life’s career. A very kind friend had a good chuckle with me over it as well and then offered to draw the map herself.
Next, I did more research on medieval Scandinavia and added in details to certain parts of my story, similar to how an artist adds layers to an oil painting (which, you recall, I will never actually be painting). Additionally I wanted to read a novel by an author renowned for world-building, so per the husband’s suggestion I picked up Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth. He’s a master of research and his story, while set a good deal earlier than mine, paints a vivid picture of medieval life.
By happy coincidence my book group was currently reading At Home by Bill Bryson, which takes the reader through a brief history of each room in the house (and so much more). This is where I learned my tragic anachronistic error: the stove, which features prominently in my story, was not invented until the early-to-mid-1700s. So off I went to change the many stoves to fireplaces or fire-pits, depending on the house.
So there you have it: further world-building complete, and a manuscript that feels like I’ve added a new character.
What are your tried and true methods for creating your characters’ world?