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What the F*#! is World-Building?

It's your job as the writer to create the world we're in. It's the production team's job to put it into action. So how do you build this world? With poetry. There's no one right way to do it, but you have to do it. If you don't, we won't know where we are. And unless your story takes place in a void like Eleven's brain in Stranger Things, it takes place somewhere.

You don't have to show us everything little thing, like what the weather is like, where the lamp is on the table, or whether there are four or five people there. What you do have to show us is anything that will help us understand where we are. If it's not on the page, the production team won't know what they're working with.

What if you were writing the opening scene to Dead Poet's Society? Would you say there were a ton of boys in uniform in a private school, or could you say that nervous young boys are handed candles as elderly man in old-fashioned costumes assemble in processional formation?

If you were writing the pilot script for Mad Men, how would you describe what we see? Would you tell us Don Draper was sitting in a bar? Or would you tell Don Draper is the only man sitting alone in a swanky after-work club where men of the 1950s get to loosen their ties in their male-dominated world of liquor and cigrarettes?

What about the opening scene for Fast Times at Ridgemont High? Would you say the Ridgemont Center Mall was a "shopping mall", or could you say it looked like a "beached whale?"

What about Stranger Things? Would you say we walking down the hallway of a lab? Or would you say we were creeping down the long, window-less corridor toward a steel door with flickering fluorescent lights above?

Here are the opening scenes of the four previously mentioned scripts, before a line is uttered:

Mad Men, 2007 Series

Stranger Things, 2016 Series

The writers aren't just showing us what it looks like, they're showing us how it feels to be there.

Try this exercise: watch the opening scene of a movie you know, and then write the description as though you're the one writing the movie. See how you would describe something when you really know what it looks and feels like.


Caroline offers 1-on-1 and group coaching for writers of all levels, genres, and mediums.

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