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Most people have attended a house closing at one time or another - formal atmosphere, conference table, big chairs, lots of paperwork, lots of signatures, etc. Well, on our way to the steam train in Tavares last week (mom, dad, three children & two grandmothers), we took a short detour to a title company, where we pulled up, and a young man ran out with paperwork which was completed on the hood of the SUV. Elapsed time: 5-7 minutes. (Guess that's what happens when you buy so many houses it becomes routine.)
WORLD BUILDING, Part 1
ATTENTION, all authors: World-Building is for everyone!
This week I finished the first draft of The Sorcerer's Bride, Book 2 in the Futuristic Paranormal series, Blue Moon Rising. So it seemed a good time to blog about the intricacies of World Building. But before we get down to what I had to do for Blue Moon, let's talk about the kind of world-building all authors must do, even if they aren't writing a series or setting a book in an unknown world in some future time.
SETTING. Anyone who has ever entered a fiction contest has probably been scored on this category. And, believe me, it's not an also-ran. What would Downton Abbey be without its exotic setting? And every successful author of that oh-so-popular genre, Regency Historical, knows how much study is involved to get that setting right. Or let's say your setting is Medieval. Do you know your Book of Hours, that marriage must be on the church steps, not inside? Have you read about the persecution of women preached by men like St. Bernard? Do you understand the differences between the Medieval twelfth century and the Renaissance of the fourteenth century? The changes in culture, fashion, and politics, the enormous influence of religion? If you want to do it right, the challenges are many.
Whether your setting is the American Old West, the Scottish Highlands, the Old South, the streets of New York, Victorian London, or a small New England town, you need to incorporate a proper feel for the location into your novel. Your story won't come alive without all those little details about the people who live, love, and work in the place you chose for your setting.
Another example: What would your classic "Cozy Mystery " be without details on all those small-town shops where the intrepid heroines manage a business and stick their noses into murder at the same time? Plus all those recipes, craft ideas, etc., that are featured in so many of them. For these books, setting is an integral part of the genre.
A personal example: Even the simplest novel requires a well-described setting. In one of my first published books, a 50,000-word Precious Gem for Kensington, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is as much a character as my beleaguered lovers. (Now available as an e-book under the title Love At Your Own Risk)
Basically, every book needs "color." Just as our characters need to wear clothes, our books need to be dressed up with those details that proclaim: this author really knows the place he/she is writing about. For contemporary settings, if all else fails, try Google Earth and a street map. (I found these an enormous help when I couldn't get to Lyon, France, to take a good look at Interpol's headquarters.) And I have no idea how I'd have managed to contrive all my English settings without the maps and guidebooks I picked up on my many visits.
But simple geography - knowing your way around - is not enough. You must create households (or lack thereof) that fit your characters lives. Put those dwelling places in the proper setting, which could be anything from an empty endless plain to a mountain village, a farming town, or a sophisticated city. Then you need to build layers on those initial bare facts, keeping at it until you can understand your characters' placement in their world. After that comes the really hard part - you have to describe that world so your readers can see what you see. In summary, expand your world from geography and bricks and mortar into jobs, life-styles, the everyday struggles, the humor, the dangers, whatever makes your world tick.
Sometimes the research necessary to build our worlds can be very demanding, so much so that many authors stick to one historical period. I still recall the staggering amount of research I did when I decided to do a twelfth century Medieval for Young Adults. After writing Regency for many years, I found myself challenged by a whole new universe. Different customs, different clothing, different religion, different wars, sports, games, and dances. Fortunately, I seem to have gotten it right, as it continues to be my best-selling book in England - a tough audience! (The Captive Heiress, suitable for age 12 to adult.)
Okay, I have to admit I think authors who create settings from the contemporary world around them have the easiest task. (At least, if they are observant.) Next come those who build their worlds from carefully recorded history. Third are those who build fantasy worlds from what already exists (such as those who write Contemporary Paranormal or Urban Fantasy). And then there are authors who must create worlds from scratch - worlds out of time and context, alien worlds with cultures far removed from what we know. I like to think my Blue Moon series comes somewhere between the last two - a future culture far, far away, but one that hasn't become detached from its roots.
In a nutshell: the most successful authors create a detailed world around their characters in every book they write. (If they're fortunate enough to be writing a series, then they simply expand that same world with each new book.)
Best advice: If you've been neglecting that all important thing called "Setting," adjust your thinking. Show your shining story against a backdrop it deserves.
Next week, a look at why I had to give up my time-honored practice of "winging it" (well, at least to some extent) when I set out to write a three-book series set in a time and place where everything had to be created from the imagination.
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What Grace is reading this week:
I just happened to hit Laura Resnik's Christmas and New Year's paranormal mysteries at the exact right time of the year. Although I recommend her entire series, Polterheist and The Misfortune Cookie are not to be missed. (You may never eat a fortune cookie again.)
And then I took an actual paperback off my shelf, one of my all-time favorites, First Lady by Susan Elizabeth Philips. A real treat, even the third time around (though I missed the ease of reading on my Kindle).
Thanks for stopping by.
Next week: The enormous amount of work involved in creating a setting on a planet (or four or five) far, far away.
To view Grace's books as Blair Bancroft, click here.
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