World as a Platform for Theme

When we initially sit down to create a story, we might think about the character first, or possibly the setting.

But by the time we get invested into the characters and setting, we sometimes realize that what we have thought of doesn’t fully mesh together well with the plan we have for the actual plot and message of our story. Check out my own project to see the plot and setting I’m trying to use to establish my theme.

When thinking about setting, it is important to realize that it is essential to the overall plot not just because it makes events plausible and understandable, but because setting and world provide many stories with the platform to play out the plots and themes that the author truly wants to write. Check out this video that really got my brain going about worldbuilding!

Fictional worlds all in one map
This is a fun map, wish I lived in this world!

Hunger Games

This is one of the best examples I found when thinking about theme and world.

Suzanne Collins didn’t just set out to write a story about a young girl fighting to the death in an arena. She told the story of a rebellion and the girl who was the spark that started it.

Katniss speaking up with Effie at the first Reaping of the Hunger Games series
Collins created a world that allowed her message possible

In order to do this, though, Collins had to first create a world that would allow that sort of story to play out and have the impact that she intended. Imagine if she’d set this story in the past, maybe Victorian London. Or maybe in the present, in the neighborhoods of Chicago or New York.

Katniss’s situation and rebellious tendencies would look completely different and the way that her story played out wouldn’t be the same.

Instead, Katniss’s is in District 12, a regulated, down-trodden area of the country. Collins built this world for Katniss. She built the need for her to use a bow to provide for her family. She built a gate for Gale and Katniss to get through in order to hunt. She made the Capitol and the people in. And then she made the Games. A place where children killed each other for sport and nobody was able to speak out against it, it was just a fact of life.

All of these things played a part in the choices that Collins made to create her world because they lent themselves to the overarching themes of rebellion, hope, and tragedy that come through in the books.

A scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The forest is the only place this kind of craziness could have happened in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Divergent cast in the Allegiant movie
Think about the world of Divergent and how that lent itself to telling Tris’s story

What about yours?

  • What themes are playing out in your story?
  • How does your world add to that theme?
  • How would the theme be different if the world was different? (Here’s an article about the Seven Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding)
  • What, if any, changes do you need to make in order to allow your world to be the platform on which you tell your message?

Published by Leslie

I'm an author, teacher, wife, and mother of three who just finished an MFA program and is working on a YA fantasy novel.

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