Saturday, September 17, 2016

World Building Part 2 - Putting Your Reader Into The World







How do you start to build your dream world? If you’ve lucky and have chosen a world you know or one where you can find volumes of research. Then you rub those mental hands together and think this is a cinch. It ain’t necessarily so.

You’ve chosen today’s world in a town you can find your way around blindfolded. Your reader doesn’t know the world so you much provide them with information to draw them into the time and place you’ve chosen.

I often use a hospital setting in my contemporary stories. I’m a nurse so I’m familiar with the venue. Follow me back in time to the day I finished my first complete novel. The book was sent off. With the rejection letter came a helpful hint. “Your characters are existing in a vacuum/” I rewrote the book piling on the physical set up of the hospital, the unit and the patient rooms. Sent the book off again. Rejected again with this hint. "You definitely have shown me the hospital but your descriptions haven’t put me there. Try using the senses.”

I was fortunate. In those days editors wanted the full manuscript for fiction. Seldom happens today. So it’s up to you and me to create a setting the reader can step into.

One way to define a setting is to go from the large to the small.

Here’s an example from Wolfblade by Jennifer Fallon.

The hall was massive. Sixteen glorious cut crystal candelabras showed warm yellow light over the numerous arrivals. Musicians in a corner tuned their instruments. She caught a view of the handsome smartly dressed young men who had come to the ball.

As you’re establishing the setting, research is needed to help you focus on your world. Maps, descriptions and pictures of settings, houses, and furniture can be found in books or the internet. Since some of my stories are fantasies, I have copies of Archaeology and National Geographic to look for places and ruins I can use. Television programs can provide needed information.

I’ve published 2 books set in an alternate Egypt. They’re a cross between alternate world and pseudo-time travel. A documentary about camels taught me something I needed to know since I had first just wanted to use the ancient Egypt at the time of the Hyksos invaders. Wrong. Though there were horses present at this time there were no camels. I wanted camels so I created an alternate ancient Egypt.

When weaving word tapestries a light touch is good. Vivid words well chosen are a plus. Bogging the story down with volumes of data and description send a reader to find another adventure.


I judge a number of contests for unpublished and published writers. One was for the first chapter of a book. The first paragraph introduced me to a pair of intriguing characters. Then page after page the writer took me on a tour of a costal road detailing everything seen in glowing detail. Though the descriptions were vivid, nothing happened and earned the writer a low score.