Welcome to the one of the last posts we’ll be doing on world building. I am going to split the three worlds up into different categories. Today, we’re going to be focusing on the more “real life”, or actual places, option of world building. I’m also going to be mixing in some setting suggestions, as promised by my post on Tuesday, into the next couple of posts.
When you’re looking to establish your setting or world in some where well known, I’m going to use New York City today, you have a bunch of things you aren’t really allowed to change. You’re going to have landmarks that need to stay in the same place as people are going to instinctively know what’s supposed to be there.
This isn’t to say you cannot make changes, but you’re going to need to know the culture and trends in the city.
For example, I know that NYC has a very lively and active club and bar scene and that this will change over every month. So, if you want your story to have a lot of bar action in it, then you can completely create a new one in a spot that is known to have a lot of change over with bars.
I find that it is generally best to write what you know about your given real life place. I have been writing a short story series that is based in Calgary, but with scenes from interior British Columbia and Lethbridge, Alberta. Why? Because I know both of those areas really well. I’ve lived in Calgary my entire life (pretty much), I’ve been vacationing in British Columbia (same area) for most of my life and I lived in Lethbridge for five years as I completed my university degree.
I can tell you what it smells like, how the air tastes, the culture of those areas, the history, etc. because I’ve been to those specific places numerous times. I’d even feel comfortable writing about NYC because I’ve been there as well.
It’s easier to write about a place that you know about than to take a new (to you) place, like New Orleans is to me, and then write something about it. Which I incidentally tried to do when I was trying to write a different story, it did not turn out well. I missed a lot of the sensory details (touch, taste, smell, the sounds, and what it looked like) that you need in crafting any scene or setting.
I’m not saying that you cannot write about NYC if you’ve never been there – you can, but it’s going to be a bit tougher to get all the details straight and you’re going to have to do a lot of research. If you want some more reasons as to why Writing What You Know is a good thing, click the link to an earlier post I’ve written for more details.
If you are writing about a place you haven’t been to then keep these tips in mind:
- Use Google Maps Street view. You can do a virtual walk through of the space to give you a sense of what is there and what isn’t. Apparently, and I did not know this prior to writing this post, you can use the Trek feature and it’ll allow you to view multiple places in a lot of detail.
- RESEARCH!!! Everything about this place, especially if you’ve never been there. It’s going to add authentic touches down the line. Let’s say your characters are staying at the Waldorf Hotel in NYC. That building has changed over the years. Point in case: when I was in NYC we stopped in and checked out the hotel – we didn’t see too too much, it was dark inside and on top of this, the hotel was under construction. And if you’re writing about times gone by, read literature from that time period, go to museums, watch documentaries, and if available to you, talk to someone who experienced it first hand.
- Use the five senses in your descriptions. It makes a lot of the details come to life for your readers. One of the most memorable pieces of writing I’ve done, has a scene where my main character is on a packed train. She’s describing all that she’s seeing, a little of what she’s hearing, we’ve got touch, and not enough smell or taste. I got called out on this in my writing group and after fixing the scene a bit to bump up the frequency of some of those things mentioned above and adding to the other two I left out, it became a wonderful and well rounded scene. It was powerful, especially considering there was no verbal dialogue in that piece.
That’s all that I have for you today! I hope you found this helpful. Have a great weekend everyone! Happy Easter for those who are celebrating it this weekend! Next week we’re going to talk about alternative realities and then about imaginary worlds.
Until next week!