World-building is one of the skills I’ve always admired in writers who can handle it well. Ranging from creating entirely new worlds to bringing an existing environment to life and anything in-between – if it becomes a real, fleshed out setting that’s a character all its own, you’ll really, really have to mess up with the rest of your book if you want to lose me as a reader. It’s made me hang in there with books like Children of Men, which started slow, but has so many details about the world and people’s reaction to it that I stayed entertained despite it; it’s why I was completely appalled to hear that people have read Watchmen without reading the supplemented materials. (See? You even made the
Watchmen Crimebusters all emo.)
No matter how much I love it as a reader, it’s one of those things I can only sigh wistfully at, knowing I likely won’t be able to achieve it as a writer.
Which just makes me want to give it a whirl, and make world-building a priority in my next book.
I pondered current and upcoming projects of mine. The post-apocalyptic sci-fi, I thought, would definitely need a lot of world-building, but that’s a book I won’t be ready to write until at least a year or two from now. Next, it occurred to me I could make LA a much more relevant part of the cosy mystery I’ll be tackling this year, but was somewhat unsure; I have, after all, never actually been to LA.
Unless the plot demands otherwise, my contemporary fantasies are automatically set in the USA to increase the appeal to the US market. Why shoot yourself in the foot if you don’t have to, right? The only problem with that is that I’ve been to the US a grand total of twice, and despite my complete immersion into American pop culture, still do silly things like have my characters pick up mineral water from a gas station or mention them passing job centres. (I’m still wrapping my head around their non-existence in the US.)
Of course, I could always research like hell, visit again – which I intend to – or ask friends of mine for details, as I’m doing with the Wielders scenes set in Chicago. Still, brief visits or second-hand info are sketchy to rely on, and I’m not sure it’d give my book the same immersive feel as Bon Temps in True Blood (forgive me, I haven’t read the books) or Miami in the Dexter series (which I have read, but remains very intertwined with the TV series for me).
So what kind of setting could I use? Something unique to the fantasy genre, that I still know enough about to write authentically?
Oh, right. I’ve lived in this quaint little town called Amsterdam since the second I was born.
And last year, I wrote this funny little book called Always Read the Fae Print which just so happens to be set in Amsterdam.
Honestly, how do I even remember to breathe and feed myself?
All of this is doubles as an elaborate intro to the photos I took on a boat trip last Sunday. I never quite realised just how very Dutch The Netherlands can be at times. Sometimes, I really do love my country.
… even if this last picture quite aptly illustrates why we’re all going to drown within the next 100 years.