Saturday, January 13, 2018

#Setting or World Building by Diane Burton

Setting is so important in a story that it’s often called the “other” character. We also call it world building. We create the world our characters inhabit. When we create that world, we must think logically and base that world on our own. Depending on what genre we write in, the world can be a small town, a metropolis, another planet.



When I write cozy mysteries, I base my fictional resort town on real ones. That’s easy. But what about a setting after an apocalypse? We can only imagine the devastation after, say, a nuclear war. Yet, we have some examples in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While those cities were hit by atomic bombs, not nuclear, we can use what we’ve seen in pictures and videos. Devastation from natural disasters (fires, mudslides, tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes) can also give us vivid images.

But what if we set our stories on another planet? Now, we need to develop a lot more. Climate, geography, history, government. That sounds more like high school classes than writing. LOL However, what we learned in those classes may come in handy.

For my science fiction romances, I created planets with a central government. I could make each planet different from anything we’ve ever seen—even via Hubble or its soon-to-be-launched successor the James Webb telescope. 

credit: NASA
But if humans are to live on the planet I create, I have to obey certain laws. The humans need a conducive atmosphere. Breathable air, water, and a temperature that isn’t too hot or too cold. What’s called a Goldilocks planet. Earth is just such a Goldilocks planet.
 
credit: NASA
Our research can fill file drawers (or digital files), but while we as writers need to know all this information, and more, our readers don’t. I think of research as an iceberg. What we share with our readers is the tip of the iceberg, while what we know is that vastness below the water’s surface.
 
credit: Wikipedia
Our readers want an enjoyable story with likeable characters. And a strong plot. How my starship gets from one planet to another isn’t as important as the fact that it gets to that other planet. Sort of like my car. I don’t know how it works. But when I get in it and turn the key, I know it’s going to take me to the store or Up North (as we Michiganders call traveling up I-75 toward the Mackinac Bridge).

Enjoy the research. Find out as much as you want about your world. Then carefully, like sprinkles on Christmas cookies, scatter just enough info to make your story interesting.




23 comments:

Alina K. Field said...

I'm always in awe of the world building challenges of science fiction writers! So many things to think about. Great post, Diane!

Maureen said...

Great post! I liked how you described it like sprinkles on a Christmas cookie. :)

Marissa Garner said...

Very interesting post. I have great admiration for authors who create entirely different worlds. Amazing creativity. My brain can't seem to see beyond our planet.

Francesca Quarto said...

As always, wise words for other writers and you certainly teach by example! Thanks Diane for the guidance. I love research and find it truly enhances my own enjoyment of writing my stories.

Francesca Q.

Kara O'Neal said...

I'm always amazed with the worlds you build. You put so much thought into it, and I'm appreciative of your advice. I love your books!

Leah St. James said...

So true, Diane, about sprinkling in the facts/technical details. When I read books with a lot of mechanical/technical details, I zone out. At the same time, the writer has to have all these details in the back of her mind so she can address any anomalies that might pop up, and pop the reader right out of the story.

Diane Burton said...

Thanks, Alina. You build fascinating worlds with your historical. I can't imagine the amount of research you need.

Diane Burton said...

Thanks, Maureen. LOL The sprinkles thought just popped in my head. My sister, who never had children, made Christmas cookies with my grandchildren and was dismayed at the amount of sprinkles they added to the cookies. Hey, they like sprinkles.

Diane Burton said...

Thanks, Marissa. Building worlds is fun, for me. I'm not restricted by the here-and-now. Still, you build your own world in your books, too.

Diane Burton said...

Francesca, you are so sweet. Our characters can't exist in a white room. (Think Matrix.) I never used to like research. Not it's fun.

Diane Burton said...

Kara, I love you! Thanks for supporting me.

Diane Burton said...

Leah, you got it! Most guys like all that detail. My audience, like you, doesn't want to know all the bolts & nuts. Thanks so much.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Setting IS so important but I doubt my ability to "build a world" ... I have enough on my hands functioning (and writing) in this one LOL!
Great post
Good luck and God's blessings
PamT

Nancy Gideon said...

Exactly! The other character in the book. Consistent settings that follow ther own rules without pulling the reader out of the story makes the world go round! One of the reasons I love your SciFi, the world is believable and doesn't make you work to imagine yourself in it.

Lea Kirk said...

It's so much fun creating new (alien) worlds, isn't it? I had this crazy idea for the planet my second story is set on...the Southern hemisphere has winter 3/4 of the year. But, was it possible?

One of my friends is an astrophysicist, so I asked him. Not only did he say it was possible, but he also explained how! Fortunately, he's also a teacher and was able to explain it all in a way I understood.

Judy Ann Davis said...

Nice post. Yes, I agree that setting is essential to any story. And isn't it cool to read a book, travel half-way around the world or into a new dimension, and never leave the comfort of your favorite chair? Best of luck with your writing.

Alicia Dean said...

You're awesome at world building, Diane. Interesting post!

Diane Burton said...

Thanks, Pam. The town you create for your story is your "world." Do you have a map in your head (or on paper) of the town's layout? (I need to do that for my PI mysteries.)

Diane Burton said...

Thanks, Nancy. That's a great compliment coming from you. You're right about the rules. You make the rules for your world then be consistent. I've always loved how you incorporate your shifter's world into the plot as well as in the characters' psyche.

Diane Burton said...

Lea, you are so lucky to have such a resource. Considering the winter we're having here in Michigan, I'd move from a place that had winter 3/4 of the year.

Diane Burton said...

Judy, that's the reason I've read so much all my life. I can travel everywhere via books. I may never get to Paris (physically), but after reading a book set in that city, I feel as if I'd visited. Wonderful adventure.

Diane Burton said...

Alicia, thanks so much!!!

Sorchia DuBois said...

All nicely stated! The same is true for fantasy--I've never before been stalked by vampires in an ancient Olmec shrine, but neither has my character. I can make it seem at least plausible by sticking to the laws of physics and by letting my characters react according to their personalities. Good post!