Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ask Me Again Later

Oh no. That was my first response when I read the topic question for our newest writing blog chain over at H.L. Dyer's Weblog. Oh no, was followed by some head scratching, and then as no brilliant ideas came to me - there was only dread. As if things couldn't get worse Michelle McLean, the next person on the chain, wrote an enthusiastic and well thought out response to the question.

And now it is my turn. Oh no.

What is this question that has been causing me such pains? Well, here it is:

How do you as an author choose or create your story-world and give that setting authenticity?

Now don't get me wrong I am not saying that this isn't a great question for writers to discuss, or that I am uninterested in the answers. No, no, no. My problem is that I, as a writer, should be able to answer that question... and I cannot.

This is not to say that my stories all take place on a generic black box stage, devoid of anything that might give some clue as to time or place. Quite the contrary. In fact my characters are often one place or another, or in transit to someplace else, until they get where they are going.

And that wonderfully vague sentence right there is the crux of my problem. Although I know the rule of good writing is specificity, often when it comes to setting I try to wriggle by with generalities.

You might be amazed at how well this has often worked out for me... except, of course, when it doesn't. Unfortunately for me
my current WIP is proving to be one of those times when I am finding it difficult to let the story-world create itself as I go. While my first novel was a contemporary romance requiring little in the way of research, my latest WIP is more of an urban fantasy with lots of weird things happening. It's been really fun to write... that is until I have to come up with an explanation for the weird happenings.

Like my previous post on plotting, I am finding that I have to take a time-out and answer the questions that are being raised. And again like plotting this is not what I would call the "fun" part of writing. I would compare it to the way I feel about doing housework - it is not something I enjoy, but it must be done because I do not want to live in the midst of a nasty stinky mess. Similarly, I don't want my characters to live in a messy unkempt world either.

None of this, however, answers the question of how I create my story-world - because I really haven't done it yet - at least, not the way that I intend to. What I can do is get back to the business of choosing, creating, and hopefully creating some sense of authenticity and when I'm done I will do my utmost to remember exactly how I did it so that A. I can do it again and B. I can tell you all about it.

You can also bet that I'll be reading the rest of the entries in this blog chain with great interest, and no doubt learning a thing or two from my fellow chain-gangers. Follow me to the next post over at Archetype Writing.


  1. I know just how you feel, Kate, and I was a little horrified to learn I was next already!

    This is a good post. I like that you were honest and shared a bit about your process. It's interesting to see everyone's thoughts, and it's actually nice to see other people get stuck, too -- I'm not alone! :-)

    It helped a little to read Heather's and Michelle's wonderful answers, and I can feel the little cogs in my brain starting to turn, so I will give it a day or so and pray that I come up with something intelligent-sounding.

    I can relate to being vague about a setting. For example, with cities, I often choose a name that would work in darn near any major city and figure the reader will fill in his or her city. (Or rather, I'd hope!)

  2. It is so interesting to me how writers seem to be all the same and completely different all at once :) For me, I was very excited about this post, because creating the world I write in is half the fun for me. Yet, this obviously isn't the case for you. And still yet again, we will both create wonderful characters and worlds for them to inhabit. It really is fascinating how different writers' minds work. Loved the post! :D

  3. I can totally relate to your difficulties.

    I HATED nailing down a time period. Fought it like a dog trying to keep a bone.

    Settings haven't been a problem (yet), but when I read your post, it so reminded me of myself trying to pin down a CENTURY!

    :) Terri

  4. I'm sorry, Kate... I didn't mean to stress you out! :o

    And I don't think it's bad to be a bit vague on the setting either, if the setting is not going to add to the story.

    The details of mine all sprang from necessity. If your setting really doesn't affect the story, I think it's fine to focus on what does drive your story. :)

    You're right about the urban fantasy, though. You're going to need to decide story-world things there, but you know what? The story will tell you what you need, and then you'll have a place to get started. ;)

  5. Great post Kate. I have to say I was terrified, too. I'm glad not every writer has their world so nailed down, because mine is in constant chaos. :)

    I also write urban fantasy, and the world-building (story-building) does have to be defined so you know what the characters can do. I didn't do that until late in the process and it changed some things. If only I would have thought about them in the beginning--but like you said, that's not the fun part of writing.

    And I've drawn a blank on my own post, but at least I'm not for a while...maybe I can glean some knowledge along the way. Good job!

  6. Ack! This topic made me nervous too Kate. Although I think it is a wonderful question for discussion.

    My novels are written in two different genres, and my story-world building was equally as different. So, I am avidly bullet pointing a Word doc. with tips, hints, and ideas for when I have to write my own link for the blog chain.

    I loved your honesty and like Archy said...I'm glad I'm not alone!

  7. I find it interesting to see what other writers see as obstacles. I loved this prompt. Setting and creating the world is my second favorite aspect of writing immediately following character.

    Nice post. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  8. I had the same reaction :) And even though I've had WAY much time to think about a post and write something nothing's really there...But most times in the blog chain I've found the topics I got really nervous about were the ones that made me think, examine and made my story better in the end.

  9. I'm right there with you on the vagueness thing. I'd rather concentrate on the characters and the plot than to develop a setting, even though it's super important. In fact, I pushed off nailing down a location in my book until my final revision (not really final, but the last one I did).