Tag Archives: world-building

What can you invent?

Among the things M.T. Anderson talked about in his keynote address at last week’s SCBWI conference in LA was using our creativity to extend the worlds of our books. In addition to the example of futuristic slang in his FEED (which he did not mention), he pointed to language invented by Sean Beaudoin in a forthcoming book (which I think must be YOU KILLED WESLEY PAYNE coming in Feb 2011, but don’t quote me).

But the invention can reach far past the usual stuff. Language and maps are pretty routine among fantasy folks, though less routine among the writers of realistic stories. Similarly, new transportation devices and weapons are staples for sci-fi and alternate histories. But other possibilities are infinite. How about an invented religion? A club or association? A type of clothing? A holiday?  Such stuff can not only help inform the world of the book, be an additional creative outlet for writers, and open new opportunities for reader  interaction. Check out Anderson’s invented Tourist Guide to Delaware for a few unusual examples.

What invented stuff have you read lately that really lit your fire?

— Joni, who has invented senses and communication devices, but really likes the idea of alternate maps for real places

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Foreign lands, familiar insights

I’m at the SCBWI International conference in LA and easily the biggest draw for me this year was the chance to hear M.T. Anderson speak again. (I am not easily star-struck, but he is a star in the writing firmament for me. The man is a brilliant writer, and no shambles as a speaker — or a singer. Check out the Team Blog entry for an explanation of that bit — unless you live in Delaware. Oh, actually you need this post for the explanation. But look at both.)

Anyway, the point is this: He spoke in large part about the idea of writing about exotic lands and creatures as a way to come home with new eyes… to see the familiar anew, either because the familiar is really lurking in that foreign land, by analogy to our own, or because the experience of being in the foreign land of the story helps us see our own world with a fresh perspective. One example (paraphrased)… perhaps we in the U.S. embrace fantasy lands so warmly because we see so much of one town blending into the next, all chain stores and strip malls and so forth, and we therefore long for cities of brass, cities of fluted towers, places of difference and distinction. Similarly, Ray Bradbury’s MARTIAN CHRONICLES works not so much because it is a tale of people in a foreign place, but because we are all strangers in a strange land.

What of your familiar life do you see in your favorite fantasies? (Or vice versa?)

Or that’s too abstract for a Friday, try this: go to his website and learn things you really never knew about Delaware. And toy with the idea of what that means about, and to, world-building.

— Joni, who got to hand out bookmarks for THE Tobin Anderson today.

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My reality or yours?

LJS’s post about DEAD GIRL DANCING got me thinking about ghosts.

My grandmother’s house is haunted. Really. Most everyone in the family, including a science teacher, agrees, as did a few objective friends who visited with me when I was a teen.

Having grown up with ghostly presences, they are part of my view of reality, and thus I continually forget that not everyone believes in or has experienced them. This has caused a challenge for me in writing about them; critique partners are always asking two things: 1) How does she know it’s not her imagination? And 2) Why isn’t she more scared?

I try to revise accordingly, often taking the story farther from my own actual experience to do so, but truly, my answer to both questions, really, is, “Clearly you haven’t ever spent much time with a real ghost.”

This is an extreme example, but I think it’s not uncommon for varying versions of reality to sometimes cause problems in writing and selling books. A more mundane one:
I know a published YA author with a manuscript about a girl living in a trailer park. She hasn’t been able to sell it. In a GOSSIP GIRL market, she has heard repeatedly from editors that, “Nobody wants to read about poor people.” The award-winning, trailer-park-set THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY notwithstanding, I guess.

But lots of real kids and teens live in trailer parks, and at least some of them read books (even if they have to get them from the library instead of buying their own). And the overwhelming response to books featuring MCs with ethnic backgrounds — “Finally! A book with a character like me!” — seems to imply that those editors might be wrong. Maybe the marketing consideration is the real objection, and they just don’t want to say that.

In what ways has your reality, or the realities of your work, bumped up against conflicting views? (I wonder if writers who would like to incorporate more of a religious view in characters, and find pushback, is another example.)

Perhaps more important, how do we escape the assumptions and blinders of our personal views of reality to do a better job of creating worlds that a large number of people recognize and feel at home in?

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