Monday, September 22, 2008
Back on the Blog Chain
This topic has me beat. I can't think properly. I can't come up with anything intelligent to say. H.L. Dyer started this chain, so if you'd like to start at the beginning and get caught up, go there first. Abi posted just before me, and Terri is up next.
How do you as an author choose or create your story-world and give that setting authenticity?
Yup, that's the question. I think some of those words are English. Seriously, when I read that I was like, "Oh, freak. I'm so not cut out for this. This requires thinking." Luckily, I've been doing a lot of that lately. So here goes.
The real reason I struggled with this so much is because I write speculative fiction, mostly urban fantasy, but I have pounded out a dystopian science fiction novel as well.
For me, I don't call it a story-world. It's called world building, so let's just get the term straight, 'kay? Once I figured out that Heather was really asking about world building, I was like, "Ohhhh, got it. Story-world = world building. I do that. I know how to do that." And then I was gold.
Or so it would seem. I might have been able to pontificate about building a believable magic system, but Archetype did that so brilliantly I'd only embarrass myself if I tried to say anything more. Back to the drawing board.
I don't research. Well, I'll retract that. I research when I have to. I'm certainly not Michelle who lives and breathes just to research. Check out her post for a fantastic example of researching to world build. So strike two for me.
I've been to writing conferences where fabulous fantasy authors give great advice on world building. Someone once said that you need to take a setting and introduce a problem that the setting contributes to or that makes the setting part of the plot instead of just a place the story happens.
So I thought a lot about that.
In my book, Shadows, one of my main characters isn't alive. He's not dead, either. And he doesn’t live on earth. He exists between life and death, in a whole new realm called the realm of Lost Souls. I had to build his entire world, giving it characteristics that he despises to make his desire to return to earth believable. So it's dark there all the time. Even when the sun is up, it's gray. He can touch things, but they're weightless and he can't feel them. No texture, no temperature, no pressure. He can't smell anything. No taste, not that he needs to eat, but still, could you give up the Big Mac? I think not. He can see and hear, that's it. Now, I don't know about you, but I think that would suck. I basically took the five senses and robbed him of three of them. Sure, he has magic, but he can't hold hands and feel it. Can't smell bacon sizzling in the pan. Can't enjoy the said Big Mac. Major suckage, right? Right.
I did this so I could build a world where no one would want to live, to create sympathy for the character, so the reader would know and understand why he just couldn't exist in that dreary realm for one more minute. And so that when he meets the one person who can save him, who shines in bright colors, who he can touch and feel, he'll know what he's missing. So will you. You'll want him to be able to leave the realm of Lost Souls and return to earth, even though he'll have to die—eventually.
See, he'd give up immortality to be able to feel, smell, taste. Wouldn't you? Maybe, maybe not. But the world has to be real enough to evoke that kind of emotion. Thus, the world building has to be done stick by stick, level by level, to make sure you know exactly what it's like to live there. Then you'll understand why he has to leave, why earth is so much better, what drives him to do specific things in the novel.
That all stems from the world building—the setting. It's part of the story, not just where the story happens.