World Building: Build It Like an Onion

According to Gabriela Pereira, your world should be built layer by layer, like an onion.

Earlier this week I was listening to an interview that Gabriela Pereira did with author Dana Alison Levy. Pereira mentioned that world building needed to center on the character. As she talked, she discussed that if you worked out from your character, you will layer your world building like an onion, adding scenes and details. By the time you reach the end of your story, your reader will have a good idea how the world works but they will have acquired this knowledge little by little.

I’ve been getting ready to jump into a rewrite on my middle grade science fiction novel, Airstream. One of the things that I’ve been concerned with is the world building. This is science fiction. Space and space travel play a big part in the first half of the book. Only later do you find out what is happening on Earth.

I had worried whether or not this would work but as I listened to Pereira, I realized that I had instinctively started in the right place. I started where my character is. The reader knows what my character knows. Yes, it will be a bit frustrating for the reader but it is also frustrating for the character so it only seems fair.

As my character figures out what is happening, it will be relayed to the reader. Obviously, I am going to have too much information in some places and not enough in others but that is the beauty of the first draft. There is no expectation that it will be right from the start. During my various rewrites I will have a chance to fix various setting issues.

And that’s a good thing. Because I’ve been doing more reading. I’m almost done with a great memoire by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. Based on what he had to say, I’ve got some serious reworking to do. I’m going to have to change the look of my space station and how my characters respond to various crisis.

But I’m getting a better feel for my setting and that is going to contribute to the tone I want to set in my novel. I’ll have to see what setting details I’ve included, remove what is unnecessary, and then make sure that I’ve built it layer by layer, just like an onion.