A Sense of World Building

cropped-fantasy_winter.pngVivid worlds come from the five major senses. What are your characters seeing? Beautiful colour or dreary greys? I injected visual feedback into Femme via my main character Kaley’s emotions. Skyscrapers that looked like rainbows heightened her wonder and excitement. She felt buoyant and energised by them. If Kaley had been in a decaying environment with dreary skies, she would’ve become serious, concerned or negative. Feelings and emotions are often impacted by our environment.

femmeV2What about smell? Being a utopian world, Femme was filled with garden smells and very little pollution. I described the perfumes of nearby flowers. I perhaps overdid the delicious aroma of foods. (My book Femme is certainly one for foodies). If it had been a polluted world, I would’ve enhanced it using Kaley’s asthma (instead of curing it at the beginning, like I did). Smell also has the strongest association with memory, so you can use this by transporting your character back to a good or bad memory. Their association will cement them and your reader further into the world.

Taste… yep, back to the foodies and their fabulous dinners. But it’s not just that–when you smell something overpowering (either good or bad), you get an associated taste in the back of your throat. Your characters will physically react to that like salivating or gagging, Use things like that to make the world you’re in more vivid.

What they hear will tell you a lot about the world without you needing to rack up a lot of description. You can imply a diseased or unpopulated world by noting the absence of sounds, both animals and people. You can imply a natural or wild world by listening to the chatter of birds, buzzing of insects, hearing the landscape move (brushed grass, trickling waters, etc). In Axiom (Wanderer, Book One), Daeson is in a park near the docks at sunset. For this I had him listening to the deafening chatter of hundreds of birds (we all know of places where birds gather to be social at sunset), and in the distance he can hear clanging of bells (from tall ships) and the open static of ocean/beach sound. He smelled a difference in the air and tasted the brine in the back of his throat. They were clues as to where he was, but I couldn’t say it because he had no idea where he was at that point in time. Your reader should have something to anchor them, though.

skyAnd touch; this sense should never be forgotten. Characters should interact with their environment, otherwise they’re just tourists, along with your reader. Even if they can’t touch anything, something is always touching them–even if they’re floating a foot off the ground, naked, there will still be elements/weather on their skin.

It’s not enough that you know the world inside and out, you have to translate it. The best way is to use all five senses. Being Wanderers, some of my characters can use a few extra senses as well–but the natural, major five are still the best place to start.

BTW; There are more than five senses. Read this if you’re interested in learning more about that.


2 thoughts on “A Sense of World Building

  1. Thermoception – the one sense I could do without.

    I’ve always enjoyed the fact that there were more than five senses (well, ever since I discovered there were more sometime last year), but it’s just made the wonder at all the things that have been withheld from students being taught long-held staples like “there are only 5 senses” and “you’ll use calculus in everyday life.”



    1. I guess you must have refined thermoception… hey, it’s nice to be refined, right?

      My favourite is equilibrioception, and is the strongest argument towards there being more than five senses (as some of the others can be argued under the blanket sense of ‘touch’). For science-fiction and fantasy writers, I think the lesser-known senses are awesome writing materials for world interaction.

      You know, I plugged in “Define Calculus” into google (even though I know it’s all formulas and stuff, I couldn’t think of what its purpose was) and got this result:

      “Calculus is the mathematical study of change, in the same way that geometry is the study of shape and algebra is the study of operations and their application to solving equations.”

      The mathematical study of change. That sounds pretty awesome, actually… as long as I can write a short story about it, as opposed to… you know… math. :p


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