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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Keeping it Fresh by Alexis Morgan

All books, regardless of genre, require a certain amount of world building to give them depth and richness. The setting in your story should be more than just a backdrop for the action that takes place. Treat your world as another member of the cast of characters. Granted, it doesn’t walk or talk, but it does have a definitely personality.  If that wasn’t true, then it wouldn’t matter if you set your story in Memphis, Mars, or on the moon. 

Even in a straight contemporary or historical, with no other  worldly elements,  it is the author’s responsibility to create a sense of atmosphere that is true to the chosen time period or city. The Regency era is not the same as the Victorian; Seattle is not New York; and a space port definitely isn’t the same as a fantasy world filled with knights and castles.

People from different economic groups talk and act differently. Members of the military think differently than civilians. A new colony in space will face different challenges than one that is well established. A family in a small farming town will react differently to a crisis than someone who lives in a “vertical village,” as someone once described the large apartment building where she lived.

To complicate things even more, world building in a series presents its own set of problems. For any given book in the series, you have three kinds of readers: those who have never read any of the previous books, those who have read all of them, and those who reread all of them before the new one comes out. The tricky part is providing enough detail about the world to satisfy all three types of readers.

I tend to be on the “seat of the pants” end of the spectrum when it comes to writing. Often, it isn’t until someone asks me how I handle something like keeping my world building fresh that I actually step back and analyze how I do handle a particular element in my writing. A few years ago, I was part of a panel discussing the more general topic of how to create/write a series, when someone asked me how I world build in successive books in a series without boring my established readers to death.

After some thought, I realized there are several ways to address the issue of world building, whether for a stand alone book or one that is part of an ongoing series:

1. Look at the world you are creating through the point of view of someone who lives in the heart of it and has the most to lose.

For example, in my Paladin series, what made the heroes different was their ability to come back from death, but only so many times. I opened the book in the point of view of the oldest Paladin struggling back to life, learning to breathe again and hoping he’ll make it all the way back again. Watching over him is the heroine who loves him. She is also the doctor who will have to end his life if he doesn’t make it. Note that they are both insiders in the world in which they live. This drew the reader right to the center of the action from the opening paragraphs.

2. Another option is to have someone who is familiar with the world explaining it to an outsider, one who knows little or nothing about how their secret world functions.

We often see this in paranormal romances. The hero is part of a group that lives under the radar of the human population. He can be a vampire, a shifter, a demon, or an angel. The heroine somehow stumbles across his truth; he saves her from an attack or maybe she saves him. Either way, he is reluctantly forced to reveal the truth of his world to her. I especially like to use this method when something about that world needs to change, but everyone who is already part of it can’t see there are options other than how they’ve always ways done things. Sometimes it takes a newcomer to put important changes into motion. 

3. Another method that works well is to have someone who has a completely different take on the world explain things. 

His view isn’t wrong, simply different.  For example if you’ve created an alien world that the humans are starting to colonize, let the readers see the impact that is having on the planet through the eyes of a member of the native species. Are humans with their technology welcome or does their arrival herald the destruction of the established culture? Do the natives fight back or accept the loss of their heritage?  

4. And finally, you can also explain the world to your readers through the eyes of the villain or antagonist.

 He/she is certainly going to see things differently than the hero and heroine. He could be a part of their same world. Perhaps he’s a vampire who doesn’t want to accept the new strictures about killing humans. He could be a werewolf who is secretly plotting to overthrow the current alpha, because the pack needs to adapt to a changing situation. Or back to that new human colony: maybe the humans have worked out an agreement to peacefully coexist with the native population, but that means leaving a large part of the planet undeveloped and unexplored. The antagonist sees that as unfair restriction on his ability to mine the rich deposits of a mineral that is badly needed on his home planet. He’s not exactly a villain, but he definitely has a different outlook on how his world should function.

I hope this gives you a new set of tools to use when you’re creating the setting for your book and/or series. My advice: pick the person with the most at stake and let him reveal his world to your readers.    
Alexis Morgan Bio:
lexis has always loved reading and now spends her days imagining worlds filled with strong alpha heroes and gutsy heroines. She is the author of over thirty books, novellas, and short stories. Her books include contemporary romances, American West Historicals, Paranormal Romances, and most recently, fantasy romance. Alexis has been nominated for numerous industry awards, including the RITA© from the Romance Writers of America, the top award in the romance genre.
Social Media Links:
Twitter: @Alexis_Morgan


nightsmusic said...

This one is a definite keeper for me. I made a copy and saved it.

I do like the suggestion of treating your world as another character.

And I have to tell you, I'm so glad your worlds stay consistent across your stories. The biggest thing I hate and one of the first reasons I'll quit reading a series is because suddenly, the world changes to suit the story, not because the world is changing. Does that make sense?

Alexis Morgan said...

I agree--I need consistency if I'm to buy into a world. That doesn't mean the world can't evolve, but there has to be consequences for any changes. If someone breaks the rules for magic, for example, there should be a price paid in energy or strength or pain. If there's no cost, then everyone would be breaking the rules.

Nancy said...

Great tips. I actually wrote a few contemporaries using a certain location as the focal point because I had lived there. Now I write Scottish historicals using research. Thanks for the tips!