Building a world is a lot like being a God, or Goddess. You create a world, albeit in your mind or perhaps on paper, assign it laws and rules, populate it and then in true God-like fashion, create havoc and mayhem for the inhabitants.
Now, you might think world building is only for authors of science-fiction or fantasy realms, but as Aretha Franklin sang, that ain’t necessarily so.
Mystery, thriller and romance authors all have to create their own specific worlds too. I suppose all authors do. But for our discussion today, I’m focusing mainly on mystery authors.
Consider the novel, “In The Dark” by Loreth Ann White. The remote setting where most of the novel takes place not only adds atmosphere but becomes almost a character itself. The reader, pulled along by deft pacing, almost doesn’t notice this at all. The author has built a place, a mini-world, really, where the crimes take place and are more horrifying because the characters involved are cut off from the rest of the world. Who is killing them? Another character? The weather? The land? If this mystery were set anywhere else, the story would be lessened, as would the impact on the reader. So setting was key for this novel.
Murder, art theft, extortion – these crimes can happen anywhere. But often, place does dictate the type of crime that can occur. As an example, an author, no matter how skilled they are, would be hard pressed to write about a car theft ring if the setting of choice is a cruise ship. But if we take my mystery, “Body In The Bush”, set in Sitka Cove, it is the perfect setting for a mystery steeped in code, resentment and secrets. In this case, place does influence crime, the people who live in Sitka Cove and how they interact with each other.
Once an author has built their world, they have to populate it. People, even ones that live only in a writer’s mind, are not perfect and happy all the time. They resent their sister for being taller or better looking and getting all the attention when they were growing up. They’re jealous that their cousin won the lottery, they want the diamond that their drinking buddy found in the river, and when they find out their spouse has been keeping secrets…Hell hath no fury like theirs. Murders have been committed for far less than diamonds. Remember why Smeagol killed his cousin? He wanted the Ring of Power, although he had no idea at the time exactly what it was. He just knew it was shiny and precious, and he wanted it. His cousin didn’t want to give it up, so Smeagol killed him for it, took it and started down the long road to become Gollum. Greed and jealousy, plain and simple. But I’ll talk about motive another day. Suffice it to say that perfect people don’t, and should not, exist in fiction. No matter where the author-God chooses to let them live.
So now that an author has a place of their creation, their world if you like, and they have people populating their world, they can take their story in any direction they choose, dictated only by their genre and their imagination. One of the many reasons fan-fiction is popular among budding authors because their fandoms already have a world defined for them, all they have to do is re-write the circumstances they want their favourite characters to experience. Less God-like powers required, more time for the fun stuff.
Where is your favourite book set? Is it a fictional place or a real one, modified and populated by characters of the author’s design?