As this is Halloween Week, we thought it the best time to talk about Paranormal Romances. Join us all week.
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The term world-building is used frequently in discussions of paranormal, science fiction, and even historical romance. But world-building isn’t just about creating an unusual or unique story universe. It’s about re-creating a world the reader may or may not have ever experienced. Even if you’re writing about contemporary small town Idaho, there are readers who’ve never lived outside a big city and have no idea what “small town Idaho” is like. Or for that matter what big town Toronto, or small town Italy, or… Well you get the point. Even in contemporary romance, there’s a level of world-building necessary to fully bring a reader into the story because readers are not necessarily going to be familiar with your setting or the types of people living there.
Here are 12 important world-building details to consider no matter what genre you’re writing.
1. Location, Location, Location. What does the scenery outside your heroine’s window look like? Does she see skyscrapers, pasture lands, desert, wasteland, a sheep herder, wine vineyard, the ocean, a lake? Are there other people or is she more likely to see a horse or a deer? This is the basic description of the setting. No matter the genre, readers need to be set firmly in your world through the details of that setting.
2. What Does It Smell Like? This seems a little odd, but smells carry a very distinct sense of place. And different settings, even within one fictional world, are going to have their own unique smells. Delhi, India will smell completely different to the Mohave desert in the US. Your characters will take note of their “familiar” smells but also those unique scents they encounter when changing settings.
3. Technology/Time Period. Does your hero have to send a message by carrier bird, telegraph, cell phone text, psychic messenger? Giving readers a solid grounding in the technology available to your characters will also set them firmly in the time period of your story. But technology doesn’t only distinguish time periods. It differentiates between locations within that setting and can even speak to possible class differences. People in New York are likely to just pull out a cell phone to make a necessary call, even those without a lot of money, but in the Australian outback, a satellite phone might be the only way for your heroine to communicate with the outside world.
4. Modes of Transportation. Again, like basic technology, the way people get around not only helps set readers into a time period, it reveals a lot about where they live. Those living in New York City are a lot more likely to use the subway over a car. But a hero living on a cattle ranch might be as likely to ride a horse as to drive his truck over to a neighbor’s house.
5. Word Use/Accents. While you don’t want to go overboard using jargon that will make it hard for readers to decipher the dialogue, the way people talk is different from place to place and time period to time period. The curse words of a person in Dublin, Ireland are going to be different to the curse words of someone living in Dublin, Georgia USA. The cadence of conversation in 19th century France will be different from that in contemporary Paris. And certain words go in and out of use.
6. Food Options. This is really important in world-building because what people eat—even within the same country—is very regional. Each location in both time and place will have its own distinct “flavor” and things that are more common to the average person’s table. On Thanksgiving, does your heroine eat stuffing or dressing? For breakfast, does your hero have biscuits and gravy or cold cuts and espresso? Little details like this make a huge difference in bringing the universe of your story to life.
7. Clothing/Styles. When I first moved to Europe in the mid-90s, Europeans could always tell an American by their shoes and general dress. Flying from one coast to another in the US, the differences in local style can be distinct. French women did not dress in exactly the same fashion as English women in the 19th century. The Internet, in contemporary times, means some of our “styles” bleed across from state to state and country to country, but each location you set a story in will still have its own distinct style of dress.
8. General “Attitude” of Locals. Is being born out of wedlock something your characters would notice and be aware of? Will there be a stigma on it? Does “everyone” attend church? Or go to Temple? Are your people welcoming of strangers or suspicious? Are they aware of class and money, or is status conveyed in other ways? Is there a distinction in status? What represents “lowly” and what “highbrow”? This attitude will permeate your entire story, every aspect of it, and is vital to creating a completely realized world.
9. Spare Time Activities. What does your heroine do in her spare time? Does she have any spare time? Would your hero sit down and flick through sports channels on a TV or would he attend the fights at the coliseum? What people do when they’re not working is also fundamental to the overall essence of any world an author creates. Not only does this element add to the development of your fictional universe, it will convey a significant amount about your characters.
10. Political Climate/Background. This might not be a necessary element of your story, but if you don’t understand the political happenings in the background of your world, you’re missing a vital component of the world-building. For example, if you don’t know that during your late Georgian era story set in England there was a war going on with France, you’re ignoring something of major significance to your characters. Politics affect and reflect the attitudes and thinking of people. Being aware of that climate is necessary for bringing a fully realized society to the page.
11. Level of Education for Common People. Does the average person in your story have a high school education? Would your heroine have had a governess or gone to a boarding school? Is your hero considered elite because he can read? Again, this is a small detail that is important to any time period.
12. How are Children and Old People Treated? For that matter, what constitutes “child” and “old” in your world? The expectations for a thirteen year old will be vastly different across cultures and locations, even in contemporary times. Some cultures will revere their old and treat them well, others discard them. And “old” might be 40 or it might be 100. This kind of detail, while it may or may not make it onto the page directly, will give you, the writer, a full sense of the universe you’re creating for readers.
World-building, bringing to life the “world” of your fiction, is a necessary part of any good novel. Giving readers a fully realized world will set them firmly in the story and make sure they stay there until the very last page.♥
Isabo Kelly is the award-winning author of numerous fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal romances. The third book in her Fire and Tears fantasy romance series, WARRIOR’S DAWN, is now out in paperback. She’s also in the process of re-releasing some of her out-of-print stories. For more on Isabo and her books, visit her at www.isabokelly.com, follow her on Twitter @IsaboKelly, or friend her on Facebook www.facebook.com/IsaboKelly.