Whatever You Do, Be Consistent

World building can be a difficult challenge for any writer. Whether you’re writing a gritty 1920s drama, a multi-million dollar science fiction feature, or a quaint little novel, the challenge remains the same.

by Jamie Campbell

A former boss once told me that “Whatever you do, be consistent.” He wasn’t talking about writing, but those words have stuck with me twelve years after I first heard them. Even though it wasn’t intended at the time, he gave me one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received.

When you write something – whatever it is – it’s vital you plunge the reader (and viewer) into a world like no other. Even projects set in current day suburbia need to be interesting and to do that, 1319068_the_differentyou have to build your unique world.

I wrote a book a few months ago about a woman who couldn’t be lied to. When people spoke to her, she could hear the truth no matter what they said. When I planned the novel, I started with my set of rules for her world. Rule number one was that she couldn’t read minds and had no other abilities. Rule number two was that she had to keep her ability a secret. Rule three was that she was unique in the world. And the list continued. By setting the rules at the beginning, it ensured I could maintain consistency in her world and keep the reader within that world the entire time.

You have to build your unique world.

Maintaining your world also ensures you don’t break any of the rules to cheat the story. In my previous example, if I had my lead read minds to solve the murder, everyone would be all over that like a rash. Once you’ve got your rules, don’t break them without an exceedingly good reason.

Science fiction and fantasy is extremely important for world building. Considering you are creating a world from scratch, you can’t afford not to plan out your rules. Imagine if J.R.R. Tolkien got halfway through Lord of the Rings and decided that hobbits could fly? That would require a serious rewrite.

AWWA-Final-CoverMy latest foray into fantasy was a novel about angels. When I built their world, my set of parameters was very strict. Angels didn’t eat, so how did they date if they couldn’t grab a meal together? What were their homes like to accommodate their wings? Did they need to sleep if their job was protecting humans 24/7? Some restrictions in your world can cause issues later on, but at least you know what they are to begin with.

Once you’ve got your rules, don’t break them without an exceedingly good reason.

But the number one rule with world building has to be maintaining consistency. You can make up whatever rules you like, but you have to stick with them. If your monsters are purple on page one, they have to be purple on page one hundred – unless your movie is about a machine that changes monster’s skin colour.

To maintain consistency, I take notes as I go. If something in unique to my world, I write it down so I can use it again later on and check to ensure I haven’t contradicted myself somewhere along the way. Nothing pulls a reader or viewer out of the story faster than something that isn’t right.

So always remember the number one rule with world building: whatever you do, be consistent.

-Jamie Campbell


Jamie Campbell is an author, screenwriter, and television addict.
Jamie is proud to be an Editor for The Story Department.

Her latest paranomal mystery The Aron Angels Series is out now.

Photo Credits: Stock XChng

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