Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Writing Contemporary Requires Just As Much World Building

I have heard contemporary authors comment before about historical, paranormal, fantasy and science fiction authors that they could never write in those genres due to the amount of world building. Now contemporary, that's different. Now, while there might be a little bit of truth about that considering I don't have to describe the breeding habits of a Wartle to Weeble, or to immerse the reader into the strange distant planet of Bwe'Ko, world building is still a very huge part of contemporary writing, as is with any other genre out there.

When we think of world building, we are simply talking about painting a clear and three-dimensional picture of the world the characters in your story are interacting in. Although there might be cars, cell phones and computers, all of the other things going on in that town and world are very unique and become a strong secondary character in the story.

If you think of a story set in a small town along the coast of California, it is crucial not to just say it is a small town with a few stores. Those stores add character. The people who own the stores add character. Think of it this way. If I mention towns such as Mayberry, or Walnut Grove, you know what that town looks like. You know which side of the street Wally's is at or where Floyd had his barber shop. You know if you came out of Olsen's Mercantile, which way you had to go to the lumber store, or to Nellie's restaurant. Those images are embedded into our heads because of the world building.

Far too often, when I am reading a submission, I find myself feeling the story is "just lacking something", and, in almost all of those cases, it is the world building the author didn't do to bring me into the story. Sure, the author told me the size of the town, but there was never a sense of really showing me a picture of that town.

With the trend right now of a lot of authors writing in "Small Town, USA" that small town feel is beyond crucial. Remember that many of your readers have never seen a town this small. I remember when I first came up to Washington State after living for 11+ years in LA (Reseda in fact), and I tried to describe the town I was now living in. Gig Harbor back in 1977 was a far different town than it is now. This truly was a small town. There really was only one light right at the corner of Pioneer and Harborview, in front of the Cellar Restaurant. Every morning, the old guys in town would head down for coffee at the Harbor Landing and roll dice to see who would be buying that morning. And certainly in the evening, the Tides Tavern was a hoping place to be. This was a fishing community where everyone did indeed know everyone. We knew when the boats would take off for Alaska....

To get that sort of image across to friends who had never seen the place took a lot of work. Now try to add in an image of Mt. Rainier at the end of the harbor, the personality of the people, and it really took some work. But, it is that work that would enhance a story and really make the reader feel like they were with the characters.

Here is a great homework assignment for you.... Go out and visit one of these small towns. Walk the streets, take notes and immerse yourself. Don't focus on the big stuff, but the small intricate details. Now, on another weekend, go to a different town of the same size. The odds are there will be many of the same things, but here is the kicker - the differences will be HUGE.

Once you have done that, you contemporary writers, go and look at your writing. Is that detail interwoven into your stories?

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