Whether you write scifi, paranormals or gritty contemps, writing means world-building. That world can look very like our own. It can even be identical to our own, with countless hours invested in researching locations to make sure the gas station your hero stops at for two lines in Chapter Twelve truly is on that corner (and takes fifteen minutes to reach via Greene Street)…but it’s still world-building. It’s the world you create — the place your characters connect, interact and move within. Your world sets the tone of the piece and a strong one can become as distinctive as any character inside it.
Anyone I’ve ever critiqued for can tell you that one of my stock phrases is “paint me a picture.” That’s what we writers do. We tell stories, of course, but we tell those stories by painting pictures in reader’s minds, one mental landscape after another, portraits that stir emotion, make us gasp, shiver and ache. Collectively, those pictures are the movie that plays inside our heads and it’s our job, as writers, to bring that movie to life for our readers, as sharply as we can.
Sometimes, that movie is supposed to be blurred around the edges, though, even jerk in & out of focus. I, Omega was like that: disjointed and disorienting. Gabriel was completely outside his ken in that shifter world. He didn’t know what was happening to him or why, what the rules were. He didn’t understand the hormones driving him, as he transitioned from human sub to the mate of a shifter alpha. Chaos. Everything about Gabriel was chaos, within and without. So the world he experienced (the world the reader is drawn into) reflects the tumult boiling inside him. There’s very little back story and context because Gabriel has no context. He’s lost, utterly lost in that world, and through him, so are we.
Other times, the pictures we draw are ever-shifting because the world the characters occupy is in transition, some of them on par with a cataclysmic shift in the social order. What was law on page one of Collared might result in arrest by The End. As a rare anomaly, Connor feels very vulnerable and alone — which is why his exposure to the world outside his office building narrows as the story unfolds. The book starts with Connor returning from a lunch outside work and we never venture from the building again. When David collars him, Connor is limited to two floors, work and home, and can go nowhere without a chaperone. At one point, he can’t even go to his office; it’s too dangerous.
Connor’s environment in Collared reflects his growing sense of isolation. He reacts to the alarming societal changes by pulling deeper inside himself, until even the internet and the headlines of a newspaper are too much for him. He closes the laptop. He refuses to process what that headline means. His world has narrowed to pinpoint.
The world you create isn’t just a setting for the story, peeps. It really isn’t.
When Zachary and Brian go on the run in In the Red, they flee to a farmhouse in Burkittsville, Maryland, home of the Blair Witch. Yes, I’m incredibly lazy, but I didn’t pick that area because my husband is from there and I was familiar with it already, yanno. I chose Burkittsville because Brian would see it as creepy, unsettling. Haunted. As haunted as he is. The modern legend of the Blair Witch is 100% fiction. My husband was born and raised there. Trust me, there’s corn and cows. That’s it. No witch. But people believe it. They’re invested in it, just like Brian has invested in his paranoia.
Setting is just a collection of props and coordinates on a map. World? A story’s world is everything. It doesn’t just tell us where. It reveals something about our characters – something vital. Your world should enhance the plot and help move that plot along. Use your world to reflect mood and tone. Focus that world like a laser on the conflicts brewing inside your heroes.
Setting is just a blank canvas, but world building is your palette.
Paint me a picture.
Kari Gregg lives in the mountains of Wild and Wonderful West Virginia with her Wonderful husband and three very Wild children. Once Kari discovered the fabulous play land of erotic romances at RWA’s National Conference in 2009, the die was cast. Finally! A market for the smoking hot stories she loves!
When Kari’s not writing, she enjoys reading, coffee, zombie flicks, coffee, naked mud-wrestling (not really), and…coffee!