Craft Discussion: World Building

CraftandWritingThis month, Jen hosted a discussion on world building and the process that goes along with creating our stories, whether they be short or longer projects.

What, in your opinion, encompasses a “world” in any given story? Is it strictly a base setting, or is there more to it than that?

Julie: I think world building can mean a lot of things, and it depends on the story. It also depends on what serves the story, and some of the world is built in the syntax of the lines. The rhythm of sentences can contribute to how a world is built or perceived by the reader. (Can you tell I’ve been reading about syntax?)

Anne: For me, the “world” is everything from setting to how it affects the characters and/or situations. Without world-building, there can be no dragons in Manhattan. No magic in New Orleans. It’s the base, for sure, but it seeps into every aspect.

Audrey: It definitely depends on the story, but in general, it’s the backdrop for every scene, what your characters live and breathe.

Jen: I agree, it’s everything. It should be full of sensory details, too. I want it to be almost tactile.

Julie: And of course, there are the things that make world building the foundation, the setting and norms and rules.

Anne: World-building is important even if you’re not writing fantasy.

Jen: Rules are a big thing, but especially in the genres we frequent. I think there are more rules in fantasy worlds because so many factors can be manipulated.

Julie: Yep. Every story I learn something new.
continue reading …

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Anne’s Book Club 07

CGC_BlackThe Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black (summary by Amazon.com):

Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a wholly original story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from bestselling and acclaimed author Holly Black.

My Thoughts on The Coldest Girl in Coldtown:

It’s no secret that one of my favorite YA novelists is Holly Black. Her Modern Faerie series changed so many of my perceptions of what YA could be—definitely for the better!—and Valiant, in particular, was incredibly moving for les raisons personnelles, as the French say. The world-building in her Curse Workers trilogy was fresh and innovative. I couldn’t wait to read her take on vampire lore. As a teen, I inhaled vampire books. Basically, I’ve never outgrown them.

The world-building of Coldest was first introduced in a short story of the same name published in the Eternal Kiss anthology in 2009. I loved the story because of the characters, but also because of the world. I wanted to know more about Matilda, so when the novel was announced I was sad to learn that Matilda wasn’t the main character. To be fair to Ms. Black, Matilda’s story was finished. I just wanted more. Coldest delivered, and I enjoyed Tana’s story just as much—maybe more than?—Matilda’s. In the world of Coldest, when you’re bit by a vampire, you turn Cold. You’re not undead until you drink your first drop of human blood, but you crave it over everything else. You would eat your kid and not even blink. Then you become a vampire, and there’s no turning back. However, if you’re strong enough (and locked up long enough) to resist human blood, the virus will run its course and you’ll remain human.

Coldest is Ms. Black’s longest published work to date at 419 pages in the hardcover version. There are chilling flashbacks of Tana’s childhood (her mother went Cold, was locked in the cellar by her father, convinced Tana to let her out, and she bit Tana. I was a little unclear if the bite was deep enough to infect her or not, but the bottom-line is that she survived). The vampire, Gavriel, gets to narrate his own story as well. I loved the Russian flashbacks! One of my favorite chapters, however, is not from Tana’s or Gavriel’s point-of-view. It’s Chapter 14 by Midnight; a blog entry on items you’ll need to bring to Coldtown. I sympathized with Midnight, and I remember so clearly what it was like to be wrapped up and obsessed with something. If Coldtowns did exist, especially when I was a teenager, I would have been involved on the boards. I would have watched the live feeds of the Eternal Ball. I might have rooted for the vampire hunters, but chances are I’d be a bigger fan of Lucien and his lot.

“And remember, if you do come into physical contact with a vampire, you are legally obligated to report yourself to the authorities. Do not attempt to wait to see if you’ve become infected. Do not attempt to self-quarantine. Call 911, explain the nature of the attack, and wait for further instructions.”

This book is built on vampire lore dating back hundreds of years, but it never feels stale. These vampires are burned by the sunlight. They can be staked. They might be beautiful and exotic, but they are predators; and as a reader, I never forgot that fact. There are strong parallels to the short story, and it was delightful to see how Ms. Black expanded the world. How she created a handful of characters that I rooted for or against (vampire and human alike). The newer lore (21st century new) she played was exciting too. In this world, reality television still retains that voyeuristic nature, but some of these characters are lured by it while others are repelled. It’s a fascinating fictional take on current reality shows and the public’s reaction.

Anne Rice wrote Interview with the Vampire as a short story. It was expanded years later into a novel. One of my Cimmerian Tale aspirations is to write something that starts here as a short story into a novel as well. I only hope I’m a quarter as successful as either Ms. Black or Ms. Rice.

What are some of your favorite short stories that have been elongated into novels?