Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Stolen Meme, part 8

12. In what story did you feel you did the best job of worldbuilding? Any side-notes on it you’d like to share?

Almost HumanIn terms of published stories I'd say Almost Human, but in reality that's just the bastard lovechild of the earlier Realms stories I wrote (quite literally, in Chance's case). I loved, loved, loved creating that world. I made maps both of the whole world and of individual streets. I could see key locations clear in my head, like for instance the white tower on the island of Koskwim, which was utterly without seam or join and appeared to have been carved from one piece of marble. Or even grown that way.

That's a really overt example of worldbuilding however, because it's literally creating a whole new world. What I find really interesting is the concept of building a world in a better-known setting. I think the concept of world-building applies whether you're writing SF or historical or contemporary. You need to convince your readers that the world they're investing in is totally real. I think a lot of this is down to detail and consistency. You don't need to tell me, for instance, every layer of clothing your Victorian heroine puts on in the morning because, let's face it, it's take up half the novel. But a note about restricted movement in her tight corset, or how the fashion for very tight sleeves means she can't even blow her own nose (apparently this was an issue in the late 1880s) makes the world more authentic.

What about a contemporary novel? No matter how wide your appeal you're always going to have readers who are unfamiliar with the economic or social background of your characters. Give me a bit of flavour about your middle-class Yorkshire housewife, or your hard-working Edinburgh housekeeper, or your well-educated Sloane with Daddy's credit card. Details aren't the same as name-dropping, so don't just list the sort of clothes they buy. The sort of name a person gives to their dog (and indeed their choice of dog) tells you much more about them, and does it subconsciously, without you even being aware of the judgement you're making. If you tell me your heroine attended Eton College for Young Ladies I'll get a different impression than if she went to Newtown Comprehensive.

Be consistent with your world-building. We are, after all, creating fiction, and there are some rules you can bend or even break. Historical characters need not always speak in accurate period dialogue, because it'd be incomprehensible to most of us, more so the further back in time you go. Equally, having your 18th century character say, "Yeah, okay," isn't going to persuade anyone about your ability to research a period (unless you're writing a Knights Tale type story, which is bloody hard to pull off!).

Ugley Business (Sophie Green Mysteries, No. 2)For contemporaries there are still rules to bend and break. I know that travelling pretty much anywhere in Britain usually takes twice as long as it looks on paper, but if I need to get a character somewhere quickly I can usually think of a way around it that's more-or-less feasible (I've been known to write a helicopter in on occasion). Or sometimes there are bigger rules. In the Sophie Green books, Maria is a former member of the SBS, an organisation that doesn't recruit women. This was a snippet that I only found out way after I'd woven this too far into her character to weave back out again. I decided that this was my world, and in my world, where after all I have an utterly inept and untrained blonde recruited as a spy, Maria could have been in the SBS.

Right. Next question later. Remind me tomorrow to post a bit about my trip to Wimbledon yesterday.


  1. Sorry, I am now distracted by Wimbledon! Did you see any cute tennis-y type boys (NOT Andy Murray - I am not a fan!).

    Looking forward to the details!

  2. Agree completely - the sort of dog and name of said dog can tell you more about a character than oodles of physical description. There's such a world of difference between a man with a bulldog called Bunty and a bloke with a deerhound called Davros.

  3. Consistency is KEY!

    Sorry, we've been watching soccer...or football.