Until I started writing fiction professionally, I had never heard the term “world-building.” But as soon as learned the term, it made perfect sense to me—world-building encompasses more than just “setting,” the term I had always used to cover everything that goes into the creation of a fictional world. For me, that has always meant the ways in which characters interact with their setting. I have never been terribly interested in long, detailed passages describing the surroundings in a book. As a reader, I tend to skim those passages—I’m much more interested in the people and the action of a story.
But as a writer, I’m having to learn how to give some of those details that I often skipped as a reader—a process that hasn’t always been easy! In order to make the settings relevant in my own work, I have made them an integral part of the stories. Initially, that meant placing characters in unfamiliar (to them, anyway) surroundings. In Waking Up Dead, Callie Taylor discovers that she is spending her afterlife in small-town Alabama. In Fairy, Texas, Laney Harris moves from her native Atlanta to a tiny town in Texas. Placing my narrators in settings that are new to them allows those characters to relay elements of the setting to the reader—it gives the narrators a reason to comment on the setting. And it’s often the tiny details that add up to a complete fictional world. In Fairy, Texas, Laney learns why ranchers hang dead coyotes on fences and comments that she can hear the coyotes howling at night. It’s a small comment, but it tells the reader something important about the rural western setting in which Laney finds herself.
In my more recent novels, I've been working on placing characters in their usual setting, and this has involved learning how to filter that setting through the characters' perceptions, even when the setting is nothing new to them. In Sanguinary, Cami Davis is a Dallas native, but she's also a police detective. Her job means she pays careful attention to the details of any situation, constantly scanning and watching for anything out of place or unusual. In my forthcoming novel Opposing the Cowboy, LeeAnn has to face the possibility that she might lose the ranch she loves, so she sees the land through the prism of love and potential loss.
These are just some of the ways that I've learned to work through my initial concerns about world-building as an author.
For those of you who are authors, what techniques do you use for world-building? As readers, what do you notice about setting?
In the excerpt below from Fairy, Texas, Laney faces her first day at Fairy High School—a new setting for her and for the reader!
Fairy High could have fit into one wing of my old school. The three-story, red brick building looked like it had been around for at least a century—it actually had carvings over two of the doorways that read “Men’s Entrance” and “Women’s Entrance.” I was glad to see that none of the kids paid any attention to those instructions.
“Counselor’s office,” I muttered to myself. At least I wasn’t starting in the middle of a term—though given the fact that there were fewer than 500 students in the entire high school, I didn’t think I was going to be able to go unnoticed, even in the general bustle of the first day back from summer vacation.
I walked through the door marked “Men’s Entrance,” just be contrary, and faced a long hallway lined with heavy wooden doors. The spaces in between the doors were filled with lockers and marble staircases with ornate hand-rails flanked each end of the long hallway. Students poured in behind me, calling out greetings to each other and jostling me off to the side while I tried to get my bearings. None of the doors obviously led to a main office; I was going to have to walk the entire length of the hallway. And people were already starting to stare and whisper.
God. I hated being the new kid.
I took a deep breath and stepped forward. I made it halfway down the hall without seeing anything informative—all the doors had numbers over them and many of them had name plaques, but neither of those things did me any good since I didn’t know the name or office number for the counselor. I was almost getting desperate enough to ask Kayla, but of course she was nowhere to be seen.
I turned back from scanning the halls for her and caught sight of the first adult I’d seen—and almost screamed. As it was, I gasped loudly enough for a guy walking past me to do a double take. The man standing in the open doorway was tall, over six feet, and way skinny—so emaciated that it looked like you ought to be able to see his ribs through his shirt, if his shirt didn’t hang so loosely on him. He had white hair that stuck out in tufts, thin lips, a sharp nose, and pale blue eyes that narrowed as he watched the kids walk past—and all the kids gave him a wide berth without even seeming to notice that they did so. He stood in an empty circle while students streamed around him in the crowded hallway.
But none of that was what made me almost scream.
For a moment, just as I’d turned toward him, I could have sworn that I’d seen the shadow of two huge, black, leathery wings stretched out behind him.
Laney Harris thinks there might be monsters in Fairy, Texas.
When her mother remarried and moved them to a town where a date meant hanging out at the Sonic, Laney figured that "boring" would have a whole new meaning. A new stepsister who despised her and a high school where she was the only topic of gossip were bad enough. But when she met the school counselor (and his terminal bad breath), she grew suspicious. Especially since he had wings that only she could see. And then there were Josh and Mason, two gorgeous glimmering-eyed classmates whose interest in her might not be for the reasons she hoped. Not to mention that dead guy she nearly tripped over in gym class.
Boring takes on an entirely new dimension in Fairy, Texas.
If she's going to survive in this small town, she'll have to learn to wing it.
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/Fairy-Texas-Margo-Bond-Collins-ebook/dp/B00I7BTMJ4/
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/fairy-texas-margo-bond-collins/1118584512
Books a Million: http://www.booksamillion.com/p/Fairy-Texas/Margo-Bond-Collins/9781495419805
Book Depository: http://www.bookdepository.com/Fairy-Texas-Margo-Bond-Collins/9781495419805
About the Author
Margo Bond Collins is the author of urban fantasy, contemporary romance, and paranormal mysteries. She has published a number of novels, including Sanguinary, Taming the Country Star, Legally Undead, Waking Up Dead, and Fairy, Texas. She lives in Texas with her husband, their daughter, and several spoiled pets. Although writing fiction is her first love, she also teaches college-level English courses online. She enjoys reading romance and paranormal fiction of any genre and spends most of her free time daydreaming about heroes, monsters, cowboys, and villains, and the strong women who love them—and sometimes fight them.
Connect with Margo
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/margocollins
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MargoBondCollin @MargoBondCollin
Goodreads Author Page: http://www.goodreads.com/vampirarchy
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/MargoBondCollins