I know I'm in my own little world, but it's OK.
They know me here...


Friday, June 25, 2010

CRAFT: An Author's POV on World Building

This is part 2 in my series on world-building. Part 1 defined what world-building was and you can find it in a previous post (located in the archive).

This week I wanted to know if writers approached world-building with a set process, so I asked some of my writer friends, published and unpublished, for their point of view on how did they handled it. See if any of their replies give you any ideas … 

“For me, world-building is very much an organic process. I feel as if I step into the world and write what I see.
One tip I can give is in terms of writing a series - consistency is key. It is the absolute bedrock of a realistic world. I've learned the value of keeping detailed notes on characters, events, the physical world itself. This helps so much in terms of maintaining continuity.”

Nalini Singh
(Paranormal - Berkley Sensation)

“Because I've done extensive research about the Regency over many years, I have a good general knowledge of the period so I usually know if a story will work within the constraints of my historical period. But each story has specific elements that require more specific knowledge.
For example, in CLAIMING THE COURTESAN and TEMPT THE DEVIL, I had to know about the demimonde. In UNTOUCHED, I researched mental illness in the early 19th century. The Regency is such a popular setting for historical romance, I'm lucky when it comes to world-building. I can often use just a few salient details to establish the world. Many readers probably know as much or more about this period than I do!
One thing I like to do to establish a feeling of time and place is throw in the occasional unusual bit of vocabulary or expression. I want my readers to recognize that they're reading about somewhere different from where they live now. Luckily the Regency abounds in really colourful, vigorous language so that part of my writing is often a joy.”

Anna Campbell
(Regency historicals - Avon/HarperCollins)

“I spent 7 years researching my 1000 BC book. I searched libraries for rare books, the ‘net, interviewed Jewish folk and historians.”
 Melissa James
(Harlequin romance)

“When creating the fictional peninsula and the township of Onemata in my February 08 release, TYCOON'S VALENTINE VENDETTA, and when I created the fictional luxury game resort in my August 08 release, CLAIMING HIS RUNAWAY BRIDE, both with Silhouette Desire, I drew very strongly on my own experiences and knowledge of the country in which I, and my characters, live. For what I was unfamiliar with it was an easy matter of researching such areas and places both online and via other people who'd experienced places like that (travel books are marvellous for this kind of information, I've found.)
As far as process goes, once I've decided upon where I'm going to set my stories I will glean as much information about it by (a) searching the internet, (b) taking relevant books out from the library, (c) visiting those places if at all possible and taking a whole lot of photos and notes, and (d) speaking to people who have been to those places or experienced the kinds of things my characters are doing.”

Yvonne Lindsay
(Silhouette Desire)

“My world building starts with the premise that my heroine is a powerful woman in her own sphere. Whether she happens to be a witch or a druid her existence is influenced by her matrilineal heritage and the goddess culture.
Since I'm fascinated by this, research is no hardship and I spend far too many hours reading up on ancient customs and beliefs, and then incorporate whatever happens to best fit my plot.
Within this framework I can twist the world to accommodate spirits of ancestors, elemental power from the earth herself and the occasional demon.
It's a lot of fun being the goddess-of-my-own-universe!!”

Christina Phillips
(dark erotic romance with paranormal elements - The Wild Rose Press & Berkley.)

“I usually use places I know for my books, although occasionally I will change some aspect of them.  I very rarely name streets only towns.”

Ann Patrick
(contemporary romance - Whiskey Creek Press)

“You … have to 'know' everything about the world you create: location, scenery, seasons, culture, traditions, history, clothing, food... all that and more.
For example, I've drawn a map of the Settlement where my hero lives, detailing all the major dwellings and surrounding areas of importance. This helps me keep everything straight in my mind and also helps whatever I imagine to be accurately depicted on the page…
I like to keep things simple. I tweaked my characters' names a bit to make them a bit more exotic but not too hard to relate to. Like B-l-a-i-y-n-e for Blaine, L-y-a-m for Liam, C-a-i-y-l for Kale. I referred to the jobs people did as 'Trades' and capitalised them all, e.g. Potter, Healer, Hunter, Tracker. Same with significant places: the Gathering Place, Healing Hall or Elders' Hall.”
Maree Anderson
(paranormal romance– Red Sage Publishing)

“My stories are steeped in reality, but my heroines have special abilities that set them apart, such as clairvoyance or witchcraft. So rather than building a futuristic, fantasy or parallel universe, my challenge is to show the internal world of my characters--what is it like to see and talk to ghosts; interpreting visions; learning who can you trust in the spirit realm--that kind of thing. I'm not psychic, but I do know people who have the gift and I draw on their experiences.
For research, I read a ton of esoteric books and memoirs by psychics, and I love to freak myself out by watching scary movies. This part of the process is where ideas for characters and plots percolate. By the time I'm ready to work on the book, I feel I'm writing from an authentic point of view.”

Vanessa Barneveld
(YA paranormal – represented by Writers’ House Literary Agency NY)

You can see from these comments that there is no set formula to world building. The process is as varied as there are genres. Frustrated yet? Join the club!

Next post we'll move on to how we begin world building when we have no idea where to start.

Quotes used in the posts:
* “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto” article by Maree Anderson from her website (www.mareeanderson.com)
** Nalini Singh website – web-link called Behind the Scenes re: “skin privileges” (www.nalinisingh.com/psy.html)
*** Worlds of Wonder – How to write science fiction & fantasy – David Gerrold (Titan Books 2001)


  1. Kylie, isn't it interesting to read about everyone's different approach to this! Thanks so much for putting up the blog. It's fascinating!

  2. Hi Anna! Yes, everyone's approach is as varied as a box of chocolates. :-) Good thing is there's always something to suit everyone!

  3. Hi, Kylie! Did someone say 'chocolate'?

    Great to see how other authors approach world-building. I'm looking forward to your next post about where to start when you don't have a road map.

  4. Kylie, so interesting to read about the way different authors create their worlds. Nalini's imagined world is so complex yet so believable it has me yearning for wings and wondering what color mine would be if I so happened to turn into an angel! (Not in a rush for that to happen because we know what that means in the "real" world!)

  5. Hey, Vanessa & Kandy, thanks for calling by.

    Knew the chocolate reference would get someone! *lol*

    Nalini's organic world-building is amazing, isn't it? I do know that she keeps an almanac-like journal on her worlds, particularly the Psy/Changeling one, as the series is so large now. She mentioned she had to, to keep details about who, what, where, when straight as she referred to them in subsequent books.

    Nothing like giving a character blue eyes only to discover in another book they'd changed to brown, eh? Rabid fans...umm, I mean avid fans would pick up something like that in a flash! ;-)