World-Building – Revealing Settings Through Relatable Characters

Every time you have an opportunity to show something most people aren’t familiar with, do so to add color to the story provided you can do it in a way the reader understands and can relate to.

Ground the unfamiliar with the familiar

 
You have to ground the unfamiliar with the familiar so that readers can relate to it. Example: A reviewer wrote of The Augmented Man‘s protagonist, Nick Trailer, “His struggles were easy to relate with and, honestly, I found myself hoping to see his happy ending by the end of the novel.” The “reader wanting the hero to succeed” is key to world-building as it demonstrates the reader is emotionally involved with the character individually and the story in general.

A familiar example of grounding the unfamiliar with the familiar comes from the original Alien movie. The opening scenes are of the crew waking from suspended animation. Quite unfamiliar to most people. But the next scene is the crew in the mess complaining about being woken up, how crappy the coffee is, are they going to get extra pay for this extra work, et cetera.

The unfamiliar grounded in the familiar. The crew may have just woken from suspended animation on a deep space ship but they’re just like your friends in the corner bar grumbling about work, they’re your co-workers in the company cafeteria complaining about crappy food, they’re your workmates wondering if the company’s going to pay them for any overtime coming from making an unscheduled stop on their delivery route.

In short, most people accepted the unfamiliar in Alien because whatever happened, it was happening to people they could relate to and understand; the unfamiliar was grounded in the familiar.

The heart of any story is believable characters either succeeding or failing to achieve their goals. There is a general rule about people; what people do rarely changes. How they do things changes. Example: people gossip. One hundred years ago people gossiped by gathering in the general store, the local pub, in the park. Now they gossip on their mobiles, Facebook, Twitter, et cetera. People have gossiped since we climbed down from the trees and stood on our hind legs. How they’ve gossiped has changed over time.


Greetings! I’m your friendly, neighborhood Threshold Guardian. This is a protected post and requires either General Membership (free) or a Subscription (various levels). Members and Subscribers can LogIn. Non members can join. All posts are free to all members save certain posts in the My Work category. Enjoy!

World-Building – Getting Readers Interested in Your World

[Much of this series is excerpted from a post on Phoebe Darqueling’s blog]

World-building is an interesting and amusing phrase to me. I don’t think it existed as such when I started writing professionally (1970s). Perhaps people understood it without naming it as such. Consider authoring concepts such as atmosphere, character, description, dialogue, narration, pace, plot, POV, scenes, setting, structure, style, tone, viewpoint, … are we whirling them all into the single term, world-building? Okay, so long as we recognize the whole is the sum of its parts and a weakness in any one of them is a weakness in all of them.

World-building is the art of getting readers more interested in your story than they are in their own story.

 
World-building is in all writing, fiction and non-fiction, because (to me) “world-building” is the art of getting your readers to accept the story’s mythos as more real than their daily mythos (meaning the story’s reality is more engaging and actualizing than their daily reality). I’ve read biographies and histories and been caught up in them, lost track of time, forgotten to eat, read until my eyes closed and then dreamt about what I read. Likewise I’ve read fiction that I’ve put down and forgotten to pick up again because I couldn’t care less about what was happening in the story.

I’m told I do lots of world-building in my work and ask, “Can you show me where?” Most can’t because I work to share a story’s reality through the development of the story itself, not in expository lumps (an “expository lump” occurs when the author tells the reader something rather than providing the reader with sufficient information to experience it. World-building case in point, the first paragraph of one of my works-in-progress, Gable Smiled, is:

Valen patted Gable’s muscular neck as they trotted into Lensterville. They’d been ten days out, mostly soldiering Sipio’s vast Northern Plain, and this time of year that meant heat with a capital “H”. Valen could feel his own sweat trickling through the hairs on his chest and back, and every time his Ranger-issue travel cords relaxed around him, his scent rose like steam washing his face.

Consider how much the reader learns in Gable Smiled‘s opening paragraph:


Greetings! I’m your friendly, neighborhood Threshold Guardian. This is a protected post and requires either General Membership (free) or a Subscription (various levels). Members and Subscribers can LogIn. Non members can join. All posts are free to all members save certain posts in the My Work category. Enjoy!

Why this Were here, now?

[This post oriignally appeared on Timothy Bateson’s blog, mid Oct 2019]

Let’s say someone wants to write about werewolves but nothing they’re coming up with fits “werewolf.” Probably they’re putting the hearse before the horse. Their interest is on the were, not the were’s purpose in the story.

Let the “were” serve the story’s purpose. Don’t make it the story’s purpose.

 
Werecreatures are nothing new. Cave drawings frequently depict humanimals. Study any culture’s mythology and one wonders who wasn’t a werecreature. The concept of versipellics as evil is relatively new compared to human recorded history (about 800 years v 35,000 years).

A significant aspect of versipellic history is that skin-changing was a spiritual exercise, not a magical exercise. This spiritual aspect remains today in the concept of shapeshifting as evil. The Malleus Maleficarum provided details about all such “magickal” practices but the reason to hunt down practitioners was political; practitioners threatened the power and authority of Mother Church. What do you do when you’re a religious authority and you want to get rid of the opposition? You label it evil, demonic, satanic. You’ll find much the same propagandic reasoning in today’s political speeches. The US was The Great Satan to Ruhollah (Ayatollah) Khomeini. Reagan called Soviet Russia “The Evil Empire,” and Trump’s rhetoric…well, let’s not go there.

Culture makes a difference. Judeo-Christian teaching is that versipellics are evil; God and the Angels never change shape. Satan and the Fallen Angels do (they don’t want you to know who they are). Read religious dogma from other cultures and versipellism is good or evil depending on why it’s being done. It’s the individual’s reason for shapeshifting, not the fact that they can shapeshift, that determines the morality of the transmutation.

Modern scifi/fantasy may have versipellism caused by any number of reasons. Hank McCoy (Marvel’s Beast, genetic) owes much of existence to versipellism, as does Bruce Banner (The Hulk, radiation). Superheroes as a group owe a nod to versipellism; they have two identities, two personalities, one wears the skin of everyday clothing, the other the skin of their superhero costume, and like any good werewolf, the needs of each identity are at odds with the other. Only recently have superheroes walked among non-supers openly (The Incredibles, The Incredibles 2, Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark procliaming from the podium “I am IronMan,” Amazon’s “The Boys”).
Continue reading “Why this Were here, now?”

Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Mar 2020’s Great Opening Lines)

I wrote in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 3 – Some Great Opening Lines) that I’d share more great opening lines as I found them.

“Arterial blood has sprayed onto the walls; the tannoy is breaking into a staccato and the student nurse, Linda, recalls a childhood wish for invisibility” – Terry Melia’s Tales from the Greenhills

“…has sprayed…”, “…is breaking…”, and “…recalls…” – I’ve written elsewhere that I need to know Melia sweated every word choice. If the word choice above was automatic and obvious, I’m giving up writing. The first sentence of Tales from the Greenhills is present tense, direct address, and action. You are there in the center of it and the action is intense. You see the arterial blood dripping down the walls. The tannoy (British for “loudspeaker”) is making terse, abrupt statements – probably operational rather than informative based on the “arterial blood” line – and we’re given a point-of-view character who is 1) a student – she’s young, 2) a nurse – she should know what she’s doing but from (1) we know she’s in over her head, 3) recalling a childhood – she’s looking for peace, comfort, refuge, safety, 4) invisibility – she wants to get away, hide, be free of what’s happening.

And in twenty-five words.

And it keeps getting better.

Tales from the Greenhills is a must read for authors and writer-wannabes. It is a textbook of style, voice, language, dialogue, setting, …

Sorry, if I’m gushing. It’s that good.

Do you have any great opening lines you’d like to share?
I’d love to know them. There’s a catch, though. You have to explain in context why a line is great. Saying a line is great because it comes from some great literature doesn’t cut it. Quoting from archaic and/or little known works doesn’t cut it.

Feel free to quote from archaic and/or little known works, just make sure you give reasons why something is great. I stated the Great Opening Lines criteria back in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 2 -What Makes a Great Opening Line?).

So by all means, make the claim. Just make sure you provide the proof according to the guidelines given. If not, your comment won’t get published.

Steve Searls “A Little Chit-Chat”

If you haven’t read A Little Chit-Chat then stop reading this, click the link, and take the time to have a slow, luxurious read.

It deserves such attention and you deserve such fine writing in your life.

I don’t know if Searls worked on this or it just came out, fully formed, a rush of words and then done. I’m going with “it just came out…rush of words…” because there’s some awkward moments and I doubt most readers would catch them or care. It reads, to me, like an experiment.
Continue reading “Steve Searls “A Little Chit-Chat””