Writing Advice

A look at micro worlds

I wrote about worldbuilding back in November, and today I’d like to get a little more specific. Let’s talk about an aspect of worldbuilding that’s easy to overlook: micro worlds.

It’s entirely possible that there’s a better name for this. Micro worlds just works for me.

What are micro worlds?

Your macro world is the world or universe where your novel is set. It’s the world that encompasses every setting, culture, and character that exists your novel. Micro worlds are the places your characters occupy in each scene. They’re places like the town square. A favorite booth in a local restaurant. Your character’s bedroom, or maybe even just their bed.

Developing micro worlds

A lot of writers devote tons of time to their macro world, coming up with loads of cultures, political systems, geographic details, cities, you name it. And that’s great. But I would argue that the details of your micro worlds are at least as important, if not more so. If you skimp on those details, you’re going to end up with white room syndrome (I’ll talk about that soon).

Here are some ways you can add more detail to your micro worlds.

Prepare a lot of them

This is tricky if you’re a pantser, but it’s something to keep in mind as you write.

Almost every scene in your book should have its own unique setting, which means a novel needs a lot of micro worlds. When you reuse a setting, you need to try and describe it from different angles every time to help keep things fresh.

Go small when you’re trying for a deep emotional connection

Rather than describe a setting from the rooftops down to the weeds poking out from the cracks in the sidewalk, pick a few smaller elements that will help connect your reader to what’s happening.

Even though everybody always says you should go big or go home, sometimes the easiest way to punch a reader in the gut is to hone in on something small. There’s only so much a person can keep track of at a time, so I’d go easy on heavy descriptions of things we’ll never see again, and instead focus on details that have a deeper meaning to the story.

Sharing a few small details, like a doll abandoned in the gutter, or family photos on the wall, will help the reader connect to your setting and to what’s happening in your scene. Sometimes you need to devote space to large scale settings, like suburbs or countries, but I believe less is more as a general rule. A description of a macro setting can turn into a boring info dump if you’re not careful.

Use photos for references

I struggle with visualizing things. I always have. It’s really hard for me to craft settings, especially micro worlds, because I just can’t picture detailed scenes in my mind. I’ll have a vague idea of what I want a space to look like, but then I need an actual image to look at before I can put it into words.

Pinterest is very useful because I can create boards for my micro worlds, and then use all of those images when I need to put a room together, describe a shop, a forest, or even a continent.

You can also use stock photos, magazines, books, or even TV shows or documentaries as reference material if you need it. I like to start with a few keywords, like “medieval castle,” or “farmhouse,” and then go from there. Sometimes it takes several searches before I’m satisfied, but it’s still a fun process for me. If I ever get tired of writing, maybe I’ll take up interior design.

Your settings will vary from one book to the next

Sometimes you need micro worlds more than others, and sometimes those worlds will need more development. It really depends on the book. I still think it’s a good idea to at least consider the possibility of micro worlds, even if you’re just writing a short story. Your settings help ground your reader into your characters’ lives, so you need to put some thought into them. It may not be something you pour a lot of energy into when you’re writing your first draft, but you should work on those details before your final draft.

I’m devoting the second draft of my novel to refining my characters and a few major plot details, but I know I need to tackle my settings soon. Some of the larger ones might even need mapping out.

Do you think about micro worlds when you develop your story? What kinds of things do you try to keep in mind when you’re worldbuilding? If you’d like to share, please leave a comment below. Thanks!

Image credit: Daria Rom, Unsplash.

2 replies on “A look at micro worlds”

I love playing with micro worlds! It’s such a fun way to make your world more real for your readers. Since the setting for all my books so far is an island, I’ve used micro worlds to expand the community there. My micro worlds are the businesses and a few homes that are central to each story. And as for the extras that don’t make it into the final edit, I devote one blog a month to describing each setting in greater detail.

I think micro worlds can add a lot of life to a story, especially characters’ personal spaces. I love the idea of devoting blog posts to material you had to cut; I tend to turn my extra stuff into short stories.

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