Building worlds

A writer’s lifestyle and place in the world can be isolating. Jessica Andersen, author of romantic suspense and paranormal romances, notes that many authors prefer to “be in our pajamas in front of our computer not having to be social and not having to be extroverted.” However, the fictitious worlds of authors are boundless, and can be based on research, personal experience, and pure imagination.


What is worldbuilding?

I would say worldbuilding is one of the buzzwords and has been for the past four or five years, because paranormal is so huge. And I would argue that every time you put your hands to the keyboard, you pick up a pen just to write a story, you’re building a world. So if I pick up a Regency, from page one, the author is putting me in her world, and she’s telling me what’s around these characters and how the characters’ perceptions are filtering that world. A contemporary—a Susan Wiggs book that’s set off of the coast of Washington state feels different than a Debbie Macomber or a Robyn Carr. They’re all small town, community- focused books, but they feel different because they’re built in different worlds. So,for me, every time you write a book you’re building a world and you’re telling me how that character lives and what their universe is.

What I do is I try to identify a few big items in that world that are going to be crucial. So in the Nightkeeper series, the world that they live in is based on Mayan mythology. It’s based on the thought that the barrier between the earth and the underworld is going to fall in 2012, when the Mayan calendar runs out. And so their world is predicated kind of on this different mythology, and so I then need to find ways to sneak this mythology into the story in such a way that it doesn’t overwhelm everything else. I mean, because I am so excited about some of the details I find sometimes that I’ll get my edits back and my editor will just have in the margins, “Zzzzzz,” which means you are lecturing me and I’ve just fallen asleep. So one of my challenges is to make sure that I’m giving the reader details that the character cares about rather than details that I care about, and so I’d say that that’s key to worldbuilding in any genre.

I do a lot of online research, a ton of reading, and just internalizing. Particularly with the Maya stuff, it was just reading about the archeologists who cracked the Maya code and who got in there and kind of rediscovered this culture that had persisted for a long, long time but not in the same form that it was in the 1500s, when Cortes landed. That was a hobby. My pleasure reading was Chocolate in Mesoamerica. That was my fun reading for almost two years of just really internalizing this world so that it was consistent, and that was important. But at the same time, it was dangerous because then I had so many details that I wanted to get in there. I would tend to make things too complex. So one of my challenges has been to learn to just streamline and make sure that I’m keeping the story on the page and not getting lost in the world as much as I necessarily want to.

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