How to Create Excellent Worldbuilding in Your Novel
First and foremost, thanks to all who submitted to our July Worldbuilding Contest! We enjoyed reading each and every piece. Due to popular demand, we are sharing the winning entry from Scribbler Katarina Betterton with our notes. We hope you enjoy this worldbuilding wisdom!
We hope you enjoy! Here is Katarina’s fantastic worldbuilding piece with our interlinear commentary:
“Red liquid pools into my twelfth vial as I crouch on the roof of a run-down shop in the Bloat, the largest and poorest district in the city of Zenith. (Notice how Katarina establishes the setting in the first sentence. Right off the bat, we—the readers—understand what the main character is doing and where the piece takes place.) I rub crust from the corner of my eyes—the result of yet another sleepless night at the hands of my annual nightmares—and focus on the twinge of pain in my arm to stay awake.
After fifteen years of drawing my own blood, I should be used to the sharp pinch and dull ache my extraction panel inflicts. (In this line, Katarina establishes context. She fills us in on an important piece of characterization: that this is something the main character has been doing for years but still isn’t used to.) As my vein drains into the vial, I reflect on a thought that’s been rattling in my mind for weeks. Even though my blood is worth its weight in gold in Zenith—even though it’s the only way for me to survive—I’m sick of living in fear. (This line establishes tension and hints at future conflicts. Why is it that the main character’s blood is so valuable?). I’m tired of dodging capture at the hands of the hospitals and the police.
I’m done waiting to die. (Boom! The tension builds.)
As the vial fills, the blood card I stole this morning burns a hole in my pocket. I didn’t intend to steal it when I saw the limp, well-dressed body in the alley, but it was too easy to pass up. (Characterization alert!)
No one had stolen her clothes yet and her still-open extraction panel indicated the Bloat’s least-welcoming citizens were done draining her blood. I couldn’t stop myself from peeking in her wallet and when I saw O-Negative, the theft didn’t register in my mind until I was two blocks away with her blood card in my hand.
Alice Wezelby died alone in an alleyway so I don’t have to; so I can deposit my O-Negative blood in her account, buy a bus ticket, and escape before the cops or hospitals capture me. (This line hints at a past event, providing even more context for the main character’s current situation. As an added bonus, it introduces another character to us.)
A spell of wooziness threatens to topple my position and send me off the roof, but I catch myself on a nearby ladder rung and focus on the street below to regain stability. Damn anemia; ever-weakening the only thing I have to live. (Reveals one of the main character’s weaknesses caused by their society and hints at the character’s potential motivations, such as vengeance.)
Scents and sounds of the city below me ground my reality; my red hair twists in front of my face as I peek over the roof’s edge and watch the Bloat wake up three hours after the rest of the city. Food vendors bark at poor passersby, hoping if they scream loud enough a purchase may be made; the aroma of stale coffee and burnt bacon rises above rooftops and my stomach growls. The tense desperation of poverty and misery permeates every atom we inhale, digging us all into a deeper depression at the insignificance of our lives. (Can we just take a moment and admire this fantastic imagery?)
Discarded newspapers, relieved of their ink by time and weather, swirl in the wind with October flurries. Dilapidated Deposit kiosks, looking more like antique phone booths than cutting-edge blood collection centers, stare back at me across the street; the flickering “$$$” signs dare me to inch closer and relinquish the life force pumping in my veins.
Don’t do it, the logical part of my mind reprimands, condemning my thought before it’s fully formed. Go to Tent City and give the blood card to Zugs. Don’t deposit your blood. Don’t be stupid. (These lines give the reader access to what the main character is thinking for the first time and is a highly important moment because of this. In addition, these lines introduce another setting and character for the main character).
My stomach twists at the thought of handing over my one chance at freedom. I know what Zugs will do; I’ve seen it happen a thousand times before. Every blood card we steal is melted down, the chip crushed by hammers, and the metal repurposed for who knows what. But if I keep it…
The cops probably haven’t found Alice’s body yet; I saw a dozen other fresh corpses this morning, so the morgue will be backlogged processing dead bodies. (This line weaves the subtle line about Alice back into the main character’s present moment.) At 11:37 a.m., the Blue Route bus will squeal to a halt two blocks from the empty warehouse Tent City uses as shelter. The clock in a shattered window two stories below me reads 10:26 a.m. (Excellent setting development).
I could do it. I could make it.
One hour for me to deposit the blood, board the bus, and get the hell out of this city before I end up like Alice… or worse. (This line establishes tension and a sense of urgency. In general, tension is a necessary component of worldbuilding.) I don’t even have to deposit a lot; less than half of one fresh vial will be more than enough to buy a bus ticket. I can leave the rest to Marv; he and Zugs can split the leftovers between themselves.
I’d be out of Zenith, on my way to one of those new cities not using blood as currency anymore, before the law or the hospitals even notice unregistered blood enter their system.
My heart leaps into my throat when I realize the plan I’ve created might actually work. After 25 years, I can leave Zenith. I can escape this nightmare of a life. I can find the freedom to survive. (These lines establish the main character’s motivations.)
I just have to figure out how to say goodbye.” (A fantastic cliffhanger!)
Not only does this piece exhibit Katarina’s intelligent and thoughtful worldbuilding process, it reveals an expert understanding of characterization and plot development. This is an excellent piece all around!
Wishing you so much luck on your worldbuilding journeys.
Victoria & Lindsay
Victoria Scott started Scribbler in 2017 after traditionally publishing an impressive number of books with companies like HarperCollins Harlequin Scholastic and Macmillan. Victoria is an Uber-hailing city girl who is passionate about writing and helping other writers find their voice.