Mailbag and Worldbuilding

Okay, so not really from the mailbag, more like from the last Dames Question Day post. No matter. We shall forge onward. There were a couple of specific queries, and then I’ll talk a little bit about worldbuilding.

Dame Lili- There’s one more book in the Strange Angels series after Defiance, right? –Amanda W.

Yes, the book after Defiance is Reckoning, which is the final installment of Dru’s adventures.

This is for Lilith Saintcrow. In Dante Valentine Series, Where is Saint City supposed to be located? –Jessica R.

In my mind, Saint City is a strange melange of Seattle and Portland, 600 years in the future. Some bits are from the Seattle of my youth, others are from the Portland of my adult years. There are a couple other Pacific Northwest locations that worked themselves in, but really, Santiago City is a sort of in-between place.

Now, let’s talk about worldbuilding! Sometimes (never as much as you want to) you can just use the FM wand. But if you want to build a world, well…I’ll give you all the advice I can.

* Figure out your personal sensory hooks. I’m very visual, and a lot of the way I work centers on that. Mostly everyone has one sense they tend to focus on. You cannot just write that one sense without boring your reader to tears–but you can use that sense to build the world very vividly for yourself.

People often ask me, “How can you keep your stories separate?” They usually look a bit puzzled when I tell them the lighting is so different for each story, I have very little trouble. For example, Jill Kismet’s world is very blue-toned, like the color palette of the first Underworld movie. Dante Valentine’s look was very Blade Runner, and very red with orange undertones. Dru Anderson’s world is lit very crisply, like sunlight bouncing off fine granular snow on a very, very cold day. See? I can shut my eyes and build (on the underside of my eyelids, thank you Nabokov) a complete rendering of a scene. I use a lot of film metaphors because I do stop the “action,” pan around, and take different angles. From there it’s just a short hop to step into the scene, and let the characters tell me just where they’re aching and how the sweat is stinging their eyes, what it smells like, what they hear.

If you’ve got a sense you like, spend a twenty-minute session (kitchen timer, remember? Writer’s best friend.) with your eyes closed, think about how your character looks/smells/sounds/you get the idea. You can also think about the feel of a particular place in your story, etc. A slight warning, though: this can turn into a form of work avoidance. Use sparingly.

* It’s an iceberg. You cannot cram everything you love about your world into a book. It’s not possible. A Reader only needs and wants the tip of the iceberg, the cream of the crop. You will be aware of the massive bulk under the water. This is your private playground, the foundation that holds up the rest of your world up in the light. Spend some timed sessions playing around there–think about the history of your world, your characters, why they do the things they do, invent their life stories and play them inside your head. Again, can turn into a form of work avoidance, which is why I recommend the timer.

* Just pick the best. A lot of worldbuilding is putting in sensory hooks, hoping to find one that will tickle the Reader just the right way. Sometimes I’ll put in three or four sensory hooks, then edit out everything but the best one later. Keep the snippets in a killfile, though.You never know when they might come in handy later.

* Sink or swim. I tend to throw a Reader in and let them build the world through inference. This works very well sometimes, but it’s not everyone’s cuppa. Some Readers want things spelled out more, others are furious if they sense you’re holding their hand.Try to strike a balance, and understand you’re not going to hit it just right for every reader. Your editor, however, is trained in the art of helping you reach as many Readers as possible. Which is just another reason to listen to him or her.

* Practice evocative restraint. This is just a fancy way of saying “you can let the Reader scare/seduce herself.” You don’t have to describe every baroque curlicue of Cthulu’s tentacles. You can let the reader hear them rubbing against each other with a sound like tearing wet gristle, while the misshapen bulk looms threateningly above them. Plenty of Readers will take it from there, and remember your monster vividly because they filled in the scariest bits–unique to each person–themselves. One good sensory hook and an invitation for the Reader to scare himself works wonders.

As usual, your mileage may vary, all applicable disclaimers, yadda yadda. I’ll be checking in at random intervals today over at the Deadline Dames; if you have other questions on worldbuilding I’ll see if I can answer a few there.

Now I’ve got a tired dog to pet and a sorceress to get into some dire, most unladylike trouble. See you around.

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