Thursday, November 3, 2011

How Deep is Your Department of Mysteries?

Day 3 NaNoWriMo Tips from Harry Potter:

World Building.  We all do it, even those of us not writing fantasy or science fiction.  And as most of us are probably at an early stage in our NaNo novel, many may be facing some world building dilemmas about now.

How much world building do you include in a story, especially in the beginning?  Of course, JK Rowling is quite famous for hers.  Indeed, her highly detailed world building is one of the prime elements that made her series such a phenomenal success.  Her readers loved the exquisite detail of her world and wanted to play within its virtual reality again and again.

For one example, let's look at the office building for the Ministry of Magic and in particular the Department of Mysteries which we first visit in Order of the Phoenix.  Although located in the government region of London, the Ministry of Magic is, like many aspects of the magical world, the inverse reflection of the Muggle.  Inside the MoM, witches and wizards arrive via fireplaces rather than revolving doors, and memos are sent as bewitched flying papers.  Floor levels descend deeper underground as they rise in number, with floor nine of the Department of Mysteries and ten containing the courtrooms at the lowest levels.  And inside the DoM, Unspeakables carry on their important but secret work exploring the deepest mysteries of magic in the Brain Room, the Time and Love Chambers, the Hall of Prophecy, and the Death Chamber.

But will that level of detail work for YOUR story?

This all depends on the nature of your story and genre.  But bottom line, your setting should enrich your story, and now, at the beginning, as you are lumping clay onto your potter's wheel, is the best time to define and deepen the world in which it is set.

Take some time to consider some key questions:
  • Where will my main character need to go in the course of this story?
  • Who will he need to interact with?
  • How and where do these people work for a living?
  • How do they get their news?  Their daily necessities?  Their medical care?  Their schooling?
  • What characteristics sets my world apart?  Makes it unique?  And how it is seen through my MC's eyes?
  • What laws (Muggle or Magical) govern this world?
  • How and where are my secondaries interacting with each other when my MC is not around?
  • If you're planning a series, where might your MC need to go in future books?
  • What does the nature, the geography look like?
  • What are some key bits of detail that you can weave into your setting description to breath it into full life, to hint at the deeper themes of your novel, and to delight your reader?
How well you define your world may very well determine to what depth your reader will want to live in it.  Because when it comes to world building, the Dark Lord's in the details!

I'd love to hear some examples of scene setting and details that you're already working into your story!  Also, what key questions do you consider when building your world that I have not included above?