That's right. We're talking about world building.
First, let’s set the mood, shall we? What type of world do I want to play in today? If it’s sci-fi, I like hard, driving rock. Paranormal, you say? Ironically, for me it’s R & B, you know Beyonce, Gwen Stefani, etc. Historical? I like classical music or love ballads. This is just to set the mood. Once I’m in full writing mode, the music is turned off. Unfortunately, I don't quite have enough talent to sing and write at the same time. It's a messy endeavor at best.
For example’s sake, I’m going to use my upcoming release THE ART OF FANG SHUI (coming January 8th from Eirelander Publishing) as a back drop.
Everyone got pens and paper ready? Okay, let’s go.
World building can either be the bane of a writer’s existence or the greatest fun a writer can have. Now, I’m by no means an expert. Trust me on this. But I do know this: you can make or break a book with the world you set it in. The following points I'll attempt to make are what I've found to be true in my own writing. I'll stress again, the non-expertness here :-)
For Fang, I wanted an element of realism so I made sure to set the book in familiar surroundings. A national park. The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to be exact. I’ve visited there a few times in my life and because I’m the biggest chicken you’ll ever meet in the woods after dark, it was always in the back of my mind to write a book based on that forest.
Imagination is a great thing. Sure, I know it’s just an ordinary stretch of woods but what if creatures actually lived inside that only a person receptive to the paranormal could see? That’s where the fun began for me. I started populating my world with far-fetched creatures and mythical beings. A sex-crazed forest witch, a fairy who's her own biggest fan, a ghost (which is a real legend in northern Indiana), an enchanted oil painting, a goat man and a werewolf.
Actually, there are four fairies all total, and they’re all different. But I digress. It’s a delicate balance of real and make believe—of course, who am I to say there are not such things that walk among us?
You have to be consistent in world building. If you’ve got a myth or history that is essential to creating your world, you darn well better bring it forward early on and not hit your reader with it in the back half of the book. That’s cheating and poor planning (and any good editor will nail your sorry hide to your desk because of it). If your character possesses magic, that’s fine, but there better be an explanation. There is no such thing as “because”. There must be a valid reason.
Sometimes, I have huge problems with that. LOL I want to take the easy way out but that’s cheating yourself as a writer, too.
The other major thing to remember when world building is description. Sure, don’t bore the reader with pages of description. No one cares what a council chamber is papered in and what type of upholstery is on every seat. I’m a big believer of reeling the reader in with just enough information so that they feel like they’re actually there in that room or forest. Let the reader experience what your character does. What does the place smell like? If they draw their fingers along a piece of furniture, will there be a trail of dust? Can they feel the tweed of a sofa? Does the atmosphere give your character the creeps?
These are the things I want to know when reading a book. Don’t tell me about it. Show me. Give me the chance to be your character for a few moments. Put me there.
Last thing (and like I said, I’m not an expert) are the rules. Does your world have rules? Is there a governing body in place that keeps everything on track? Let me know upfront so it doesn’t come as a shock later. If your magical beings only come into their powers when they turn 30, you’d better play it that way, especially if you have multiple stories in the same line. If your character will die at the full moon, you’d better bring in something substantial to back it up and make sense.
As a reader, you need to suspend a level of disbelief, especially just because it’s paranormal/sci-fi/fantasy, whatever. It’s not “normal” which is why we read. As a writer, it’s your responsibility to make that world as “real” as you can to keep the reader stuck inside so much so that they can ignore everyday life that goes around them, if only for 20 minutes.
Is it a tall order? You bet, but done correctly and with a fair amount of finesse and your voice and style as a writer, it can be done. Have fun with your writing in the meantime. It’ll come.
Worried? You better be. Readers are smart cookies nowadays. They’re gonna question things and call you out if something doesn’t make sense. Do your homework, get your facts right, proceed with caution and you’ll be just fine.
And remember. If you don’t believe it, neither will the reader.