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.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful. It wasn't that bad, huh? It's all in the nomenclature. Shadows sounds so cool! Thanks for sharing your story-world, I mean world building with us. :)

PS: I think "pontificate" is one of the coolest words ever. I was delighted you used it. Made my morning.

Michelle McLean said...

Ahhh, excellent post!! I love seeing how and why other authors build their worlds. I loved your description of building the Shadow world, making it a place he would want to leave. I do that with mine as well, although not to that extent. If I'm not building a story around an actual event, I sometimes choose a time period based on what I need to happen. In Treasured Lies, I needed them to be able to travel by train. Since trains weren't around pre-Victorian times, the book is set in Victorian England.
I loved your post, it was informative and interesting - don't sell yourself so short! And now I'm craving a Big Mac :D

H. L. Dyer said...

Great post, Elana-- you modest thing!

And just the setting I was hoping to hear more about from you... nicely done. :)

Abi said...


For all your hair-pulling, you have written a FABULOUS post! You really made me feel the depressive nature of the Realm of Lost Souls. Very cool idea by the way.


Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Wow, I actually think that you have made the best point yet about storywo... err, world building. :) And the point is one that I think can be easily forgotten - especially in big special-effect laden movies - and this is that the setting no matter how fantastic needs to support the story - not the other way around.

Great job Elena!

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

Very good point about how setting can affect plot and motivation!

Anonymous said...

Wow, what an awesome premise. Sounds like a book I'd read! :-)

Anonymous said...

Just hearing you talk about how you world build makes me want to read your book! Great post, Elana!

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

Great post! I got a bit smile out of how rewording the question made it easier to write about. Language is such a fun thing.

Since everyone else has already commented so beautifully on what you wrote, I wanted to add -- I feel your pain on not feeling able to write about something because someone else in the chain beat you to it! I guess that forces us to be even more creative, though. I'd say we should have coordinated, but I think everybody would have just been afraid of me if I went on and on about black holes and nukes. ;-)

Jenn said...

I love your comments about making the setting part of the story instead of just where the story happens. Your shadow world sounds awesome. :) I'm positive Shadows will be published!

Anonymous said...

Carolyn, I WANT you to go on about black holes and nukes! That would be highly entertaining to me. :)

Mary, I love the word pontificate. I smiled when I posted it, and I'm glad you liked it.

Thanks for all the nice comments, guys! *sniff*

TerriRainer said...

Good grief! I feel like posting in the chain next is like following the Beatles...can anybody say time for a potty break?!

UGH! Having followed this chain from the start, I went from being confident about what I would post, to "holy crap, no matter what I say, it will in no way, shape or form measure up to my fellow blog chainers!".

Thanks guys...nothing like setting the bar so freakin high, and a special thanks to you Elana, aka John Lennon. Nothing like following up your act.

Good post!!!!

:) Terri

Anonymous said...

"Can't smell bacon sizzling in the pan. Can't enjoy the said Big Mac. Major suckage, right? Right."

Love it. Well done post, Elana.

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