Bringing a world to life. That’s our job as writers–not only must we convey the actual story and develop 3-D characters, we must also bring to life our story’s world: whether that’s a contemporary or historical setting, set around the corner or on the other side of the world, or in a different realm entirely. You have to know about the clothes, technology, food, entertainment…these are all things that help breathe life into a book.
Culture plays a huge part in developing our characters. I know I have to be incredibly diligent in being accurate to the Japanese culture instead of putting my own Western spin on it. It’s a different frame of mind that I have to be in to write that way. It’s so easy to slip back in to my 21st century Western worldview and it’s something I always have to be vigilent against.
But this applies to any setting out side of our own, whether it’s a different time, place or a combination of both. We have to take off the 21st century goggles and accept certain aspects of a culture even if that means it calls for racial segregation or discrimination, or subjugation of women. We can’t put our worldview in a time or place where it doesn’t really belong. This is one the biggest issues I will find when I read a historical novel–someone who is “politically correct” in a time or place when that just wasn’t part of life.
This isn’t as much of a problem if you are writing a fantasy, but you have to know the ideals and mindset of the world. Readers are very quick at picking up contradictions. You also have to make sure the reader knows how the world is organized. I don’t often read fantasy, except for chapter segments I’m critiquing for my critique group. One of the biggest problems that I find (and that other members find too) is not knowing enough about the actual workings of the world. Sometimes as writers we often forget that the reader doesn’t have the all-access pass 🙂 This is why I can never write straight fantasy–I’m not creative enough to develop an entire world from scratch!
For me, much of my research, is done through books and online. Finding books can be frustrating when the library doesn’t have it (or it takes a month for the book to ship from another library…).
But then there’s the Internet 🙂 While I have to be careful to double check anything I read online, I’ve still found it helpful especially in the area of travel. I’m a very visual person, so I’ve been able to travel to Japan through pictures and videos and able to see areas that I have in my book virtually. Of course it doesn’t beat actually traveling there, knowing the language and spending time amongst the people, but for now, it’s the best I have. Perhaps someday I’ll even learn enough Japanese to be able to read all the documents I’ve been missing out on 😛
Of course, it’s easy to want to put in your book all the hours of painstaking research. But you want to be careful not to overwhelm readers. It can be a tricky balancing game. Too much and the readers will get bored; too little and the world will feel like nothing more than a cheap cardboard cut out on a third rate stage.
How do you go about creating your story’s world?