Whether creating a brilliant sci-fi/fantasy realm or a community in a real city/town, when you are writing a novel you are building your own unique world for your characters. Sure, there may be streets, restaurants, major landmarks, and more that actually exist in our current world, but the way your characters view, use and interact with these places is all part of your world-building.
Today I’d like to share with you things I keep in mind as I write, and share with you some of the key components I relied on when building the world for my newest series, Texas Navy SEALs. For all of the Alice in Wonderland fans, imagine we’re about to go down the rabbit hole. For all of the Harry Potter fans, imagine we’re about to experience Apparition.
From the moment you open a new book (or click it open for ebooks!), you enter a world created in the mind of the author. The author, through description, dialogue, and imagery, is inviting you to step into this world and make yourself at home. What makes that happen, though? If the author does their work proud, you’ll never even realize you’ve stepped out of your current state-of-mind–bills to pay, kids to tend to, oodles of responsibilities–and into the fictional state.
Using the senses is the best way to establish what the fictional world is like: sights, sounds, smells, touch, and taste. I’ll use a paragraph from my book A SEAL ALWAYS WINS, coming out February 25th, 2020, to share this experience.
The late afternoon hum of bugs surrounded them in the hot Texas sun, and she flashed him one of her brightest smiles. “Good. Last one to get there is a rotten egg.” She laughed at his shout of surprise, leaning over her horse’s neck and urging it forward. The wind whipped across her sweat-dampened face, carrying the scent of dust and mesquite. She moved farther forward over the horse’s withers, the coarse mane brushing against her skin.
Ideally you’ve been transported to this scene and can feel the heat of the sun on your skin, hear the bugs, smell the dust and mesquite along with other sensations. But world-building is far more than just one scene. The author must build the principles that make this world function. My Texas Navy SEALs world functions on the principles that the SEALs must maintain an undercover operation, there is evil in the form of terrorists they must identify and stop, they must form connections in the small South Texas community they live near, and they must embody the SEAL Creed and Ethos through their actions and choices.
In addition, the town, which happens to be the real town of Hebbronville, Texas, needs to follow the patterns and activities small Texas towns are known for to give a base-line of reality. Even in the most outer reaches of sci-fi you will find elements tied to our reality to help us form a connection with the author’s fictional world. If everything in the fictional world is completely foreign to us, we have a hard time finding a way to identify with the characters.
Speaking of characters–they are the real vessels to bring us into the fictional world. What they see, feel, smell, taste and hear can make the experience extremely vivid. I could write a couple paragraphs describing the layout of the ranch where my SEALs operate undercover, but Stryker, the leader of the SEAL team and hero of the first book, A SEAL NEVER QUITS coming out July 30th, thinking about how he needs to repair the corrals with their broken rails because of years of neglect and the SEAL team talking about their new home with animated humor really brings their world to life. In A SEAL ALWAYS WINS you get to experience the custom training grounds they’ve built on the massive ranch through their day-to-day drills to keep their skills sharp.
World building is complex and takes a lot of thought and effort, even if you are writing a contemporary novel set in your hometown you know like the back of your hand. An author must create a world so vivid the reader never wants to leave. Or, better yet, the reader wants to visit the world again to learn what happens to other characters in the world they’ve built. My Texas Navy SEALs started out with six SEALs, but it looks like it may conclude with eight or more. Each SEAL adds an extra element to the world I’ve built, making it that much more intriguing for a reader to return to uncover more (at least, that’s what the reviews have been saying so far!).
If you are an author, have fun building your world. It’s exciting and scary at the same time, because you have to invent some of the laws and parameters it abides by. If you are a reader, may you experience the ultimate joy of a great novel and become immersed in a world you love.