By Lee Carver
Fellow authors, I’d like to share with you a thought which has helped me visualize and therefore write my fiction. Fantasy and sci-fi writers are accustomed to creating worlds, defining them well enough that the reader “sees” the setting, right? Doing that without an “information dump” is part of the challenge. It has only recently occurred to me that I have to create a world for my fiction as well, especially for novels set in a foreign country.
Talented authors take the reader into a setting well enough to convince them that the time and place are real, or at least could be. My epiphany came with the awareness that this applies to contemporary women’s fiction in the USA as much as to fantasy and foreign setting.
Several recent posts speak of making setting a character in the novel. That’s a good metaphor to keep in mind during the creative process, and it fits well for composing stories set in the Brazilian jungle. I had a lot of fun writing a jungle escape scene after the missionary plane was hijacked in Love Takes Flight:
Sprinting on the animal trail ascending the bank, Luke spotted Camille at the top waiting for him. “Go-go-go. Don’t wait for me.”
“Doesn’t matter. Get out of here.” He glanced over his shoulder as he grabbed a tree root and pulled up to her level. The heavy brush obscured the disabled airplane, which floated along the riverbank and out of sight.
Water-soaked shoes and pants slowed their progress. Pumping breath, he put a hand on Camille’s back to rush her. The toe of her shoe caught a vine. She stumbled, reaching for a palm tree to brace herself.
“Watch out! Açaí palm.”
In a split second she jerked her hand away from thousands of three-inch needles standing out everywhere on its trunk. She fell forward, but Luke grabbed her around the waist with both arms. She gained her balance then continued the mad dash into dense, wet jungle.
Significant details color the scene–things that don’t exist in the US. Things the reader wouldn’t imagine if she’d never been there. I relish a reader’s comments that she learned something by reading the novel.
Fast forward to the recent novel, Counterfeit. Everything about the opening setting is exactly true to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, but to a reader who has never been there, I’m creating a world.
She had stood in front of the Vermeer for a good twenty minutes… At times she slipped a small camera out of her jeans to snap a specific area of the canvas, which the Rijks Museum allowed without flash, her attention focused on each element of The Milkmaid.
The woman sighed and checked her watch.
Her steps sounded toward the double glass door. He looked up as she waltzed through the great hall as if she owned the place and was scanning it for decorating ideas about the ball she would give that weekend. Her expression, glimpsed from the side, radiated a calm pleasure. Not what he would expect from a fraud artist.
What I learned from writing about WWII Germany in A Secret Life must also be exercised in describing small town Texas for Retreat to Shelter Creek. The mind game of calling it “world building” makes the process more vivid and interesting to the author as well as the reader.
Lee Carver is once again failing at retirement, a hybrid author in every sense: fiction and nonfiction, traditionally and independently published. Her most recent release is Counterfeit. She also does freelance editing, formatting, and print book and e-book uploads. Married forty-eight years to a very supportive man, they have two children and five grandchildren. Visit Lee on her website, blog, or Facebook.