How do you think of our world? How is it organized, in your mind? Geographically? Planet, continents, countries, regions, states, counties, cities, neighborhoods, streets? Politically, by a range of authority from dictatorships to democracy? By religion? By class?
Do you see the world as dichotomies? City versus country, ocean versus land, young versus old, starving versus fed, believers versus the lost, fashion versus style, Yankees versus Mets?
For you, is history a textbook about everyone else? Are you sitting on the riverbank, watching history pass? Or, are you in the waters, actively swept downstream or paddling upstream against the current? Is history, to you, mostly your personal story? Does that have an arc?
How do you measure time? By birthdays? Or, by changes inside you that you don’t write on your refrigerator calendar? Do you measure time by toys, from rag dolls to Barbie to American Girls to skateboards? By shoes, from Keds to Christian Louboutin? By jewelry, from mood rings to charm bracelets, to pearls, to piercings?
Worldbuilding is not just for science fiction and fantasy authors. For those writers it is, of course, imperative to make clear how their alternate worlds or futures work. Society, authority, laws, religion, and more must be worked out, consistent, named, detailed, and made credible and understandable to readers. Even magic, when done well, is not just wand waving but an operating process with costs and consequences.
Authors of historical fiction have similar imperatives but in truth all authors create worlds, which may feel on the page vivid, generic or absent, like a grayed-out screen behind the forefront action. In many manuscripts I read, the story world is presumed, or lightly detailed, or overly schematic, or—almost always—described in mainly visual terms.
The real world of your life is not just what anyone would see through their eyes. It’s your concept of it. It’s the blend of the history of others and your own. It’s an impression, a puzzle, a long shot and a close up, an anxiety over status, a role-playing game, a family rock in rushing rapids, laws to ignore and principles to hold dear, a journey through a garden and a stroll across a continent, the clothes in your closet, the car in your garage, the hopes you have, the realities you face, the people you disappoint and the strangers to whom you are kind. [Read more…]