Building Worlds with Confidence (Even if You’re Faking It)

Man on the moon planting American flagYou’re sitting at a cheap fold-up table at one of those New York City writing conventions across from a hipster literary agent who’s twenty years younger than you. He wields too much power for someone who uses mustache grease in 2016, but you’ll be damned if you’re not about to pitch the hell out of your newly completed furry vampire novel (think Bunnicula meets Fifty Shades). There’s only one problem–your nerves–and you’ve already tripped yourself up on something you haven’t even said yet. You know it’s coming out of your mouth, something about a “niche market,” but you suddenly doubt how to pronounce the word “niche.” Does it rhyme with itch? How about beach? Or is it pronounced like Nietzsche? No, that last one is definitely wrong. Unless it’s the new hipster pronunciation.

You decide you’re not going to let one word ruin your pitch. You summon up all of the confidence you can muster and go for it:

“I know furry vampire erotica is a niche market, but I’ve already got a large Tumblr following,” you say. You end up pronouncing “niche” to rhyme with “beach,” because it’s nicer to say than “itch.”

“I’ll take a look,” Michael Cera-lite says, nodding at you. He takes your manuscript and doesn’t even bat an eyelash at your pronunciation choice. You’ll never know his stance on the rhymes with itch v. beach debate, but you certainly learn his stance on furry vampire erotica when he emails you two weeks later (not topical enough…please!).

And before your next pitch slam, you even remember to look up how to pronounce the word “niche,” and find out that the pronunciation you chose was the less common of the two. But hipster agent was none the wiser because you spoke with confidence.

And that’s the whole point. A word spoken with confidence, even if spoken somewhat incorrectly, will usually be successfully received by the audience. It’s human nature to follow things done confidently, even if incorrectly (just ask a Trump supporter), and the same holds true for creating a world in your writing.

I see too much sci-fi and fantasy writing that seems to doubt itself and ends up reading like a giant explanation of what the author wants the world to be. It may not even be a bad world—it’s just that, as a reader, I don’t need or want all of that explaining. Dive into the world with confidence and let the readers figure out the rules as they go. For example:

Knight-Captain Alaurel had mounted her battle bug within minutes of hearing the long, low chimes of the watchtower bells. Chomper stood taller than a dwarf when walking on all six, and Alaurel knew exactly how imposing she looked to the village children with her lance in hand and her sword at her back. She kicked Chomper’s sides with her boots, the light chain of her armor rustling against his hard carapace, and they began to charge out of town. Let the orcs come, she thought. She and Chomper would be ready.

In this cheesy little bit, we learn a bunch of stuff about a world where a female knight rides a giant bug into combat against invading orcs. The weirdest part, of course, is that she rides a bug instead of a horse (in my mind it is a giant beetle, though it could be a different bug, and this could be described later). But I treated the bug exactly as if it were a horse. I didn’t spend any extra time explaining. I didn’t say, “Alaurel lives in a world where finding a giant bug was as common as finding a cow munching grass,” because I had confidence in the world I was building, even if it wasn’t fleshed out yet.

Always be confident in the world you are building, even if you have to fake it a little bit. Your characters and your readers will thank you.

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