Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Worldbuilding as a Character

 World-building is an important part of the writing process of any author. But it tends to stand out in Paranormal, Urban Fantasy and Fantasy. In fact it becomes a character. Please welcome audio narrator Xe Sands as we celebrate her 50th book she's voiced. This is part of a blog hop and there going to be prizes!
Xe Sands
How precise and exacting to you like world building to be? 
Mary: For me it depends on the story. Sometimes I want it sketched out and I fill in the blanks, but sometimes, the world is so interesting—I want it detailed. But this can be difficult, because the writer has to make it feel like we are a part of the world without lecturing.
Xe: I imagine that must be a difficult balance to achieve, especially in cases of complex, newly created worlds. I know that as a reader, I want some detail, but I want it to unfold gradually and organically. I find that some authors spend a lot of time in exposition at the beginning of a novel. However, I’d rather be a bit confused for a short time, than be “told” all about the setting in one go.
This is going to sound just awful…but I think the trap some writers fall into is assuming that the readers care as much about all the back story and detail as they do. And I think sometimes, despite what we tell ourselves, we really don’t, depending what moves us in a reading experience. If we are “relationship-driven” readers and the author spends an inordinate amount of time by our estimation on the setting itself, we might start to glaze over. Of course, the opposite can also hold true – an author might spend too little time on the setting in their love of character banter, and the readers will have only a vague sense of where everything is taking place.
Mary: It is a delicate balance. Giving a enough back story that keeps you moving forward and not too much which will make someone put down the book. (I have been guilty of both!)J
As a writer how do you sketch out your world?
Mary: I usually have glimmer of an idea—but if I am world building I sit down at some point and write out a history. I need to know what the rules are. I used to just wing it—but then I’d forget the rule I put down or fudge on a detail. Readers know this. I know this. So I had to get organized.
Xe: Ha! Oh we are pesky that way, aren’t we? I think readers demand so much of authors – far more than many of us are capable of doing with words. Doesn’t mean we don’t expect it of you, though. Do you have a spreadsheet or post-its, or some sort of super-secret system that you use to keep track of the “rules” of your various worlds? Have you ever created a rule that you really wish you hadn’t? 

M.V. Freeman
Mary:  For me there isn’t any super secret way. I’m embarrassed to tell you how I create a world. What I have are notebooks filled with random notes—and truly a 13 page history I’ve written (for the current series) and printed out. I continue to add details to it as I write. Spreadsheets make me nervous. I may have to get over that because I have another world I am developing (I have yet to write the history). I try to make the world a part of me—so when I write it, it feels real.   

But as for developing a rule I wish I hadn’t—that’s all the time especially when I write myself into a corner—this is AWESOME, because this causes conflict and that is what keeps the writer and the reader on the edge of their seats. (Solving it is another matter)

As an audio narrator how do you bring out the world as its own character? 
Xe: By really seeing it and experiencing it as I’m narrating – like looking through the words to the scene behind it. Currently working on the Witchcraft Mystery Series by Juliet Blackwell, which is set in San Francisco. The descriptions are offered organically, as the character moves through the city, so it’s easy to ‘get lost’ in them as I narrate – which I hope translates into a visual/visceral experience for the listener. Also helps that San Francisco is one of my favorite places on Earth, one that I lived in for a quite  a while J
Mary: I love San Francisco!
What detracts from the world for you as a writer? As a Narrator? 
Mary: What detracts me from the world is if it doesn’t behave as the writer initially sets up. That is jarring. Also, things need to make sense, no matter how bizarre. A rule has to be created.
Xe: Oh I hadn’t thought of it that way, Mary – action or some such breaking the set rules of the place. And I completely agree: I’m willing to go along for whatever ride you provide, but it does have to make sense in some way. Yes, that would be very jarring, because as readers, we’ve suspended our disbelief to take a journey with you and would be quite cross with you if you just fiddled with those parameters willy-nilly, LOL!
What also detracts, for me, is what I mentioned before – when an author spends too much time detailing the setting, when it doesn’t add to the overall story or relationships within the story. Be in love with the setting, live it, breathe it, SEE it…but only share a fraction of that with me. 

Mary: I’m going to remember that! J

What are some memorable worlds you’ve narrated?
Xe: I think the most memorable have been actual places, most notably modern San Francisco in the Witchcraft Mystery Series, and alternate reality Seattle, in the Deadglass Trilogy (Hearts of Darkness is the first in the series). Because I live in one and left my heart in the other, I have a somewhat closer and different connection to these series because of their use of familiar and beloved places. And in both series, the setting is of such significance to the plot and direction of each novel that it almost becomes a background character. 
What made you decide on the world in Incandescent? 
Mary: I like worlds that have an edge of familiarity but are greatly different. I like a touch of darkness with a bit of light—that makes you shiver. I set my world in the 21st century, in the southeast. I wanted a touch of grit, with a bit of reality, mixed with lots of fantasy. But, I tried not to be over the top in describing it. World building, and setting is always a work in progress. I tried to make the elementals and magic integral and real without pulling the reader out of the story.
XE: I think that’s the key: making the elementals and magic integral and real so that we, as readers, can accept it as part and parcel of the world you’ve created. I find when it’s too foreign or outlandish, no amount of description can really draw me in – if I can’t picture it, I can’t really immerse myself in it. 
Real settings vs. Fictional is it harder to narrate a world that is totally made up? How about a setting in the modern world, with paranormal and fantastical elements? Compare that to a contemporary.
Xe: I do find fictional worlds more difficult to narrate because as the audio surrogate for the author, I need to understand it fully in order to most effectively bring it to life. When I read for pleasure, I just let it all wash over me…if I don’t understand something, I just let it percolate and if I never understand something about a world and therefore can’t fully lose myself in it, I just let it go. But as a narrator, I don’t’ have that luxury…and as a writer, you must know that it’s pretty darn difficult to effectively describe a whole new world that is different from the average human city /small town/rural area/desert/etc. There are new rules – heck even gravity, air, water can behave differently! And like I said earlier, if I can’t picture it, I can’t fully immerse myself, which could affect narration. This is when I would ideally have a conversation with the author, because sometimes hearing them describe a beloved fictional world makes all the difference in terms of bringing it to life in audio. 

As for real places with a UF or PNR overlay, I don’t find it particularly challenging from a narration perspective, as long as the author knows the place well and obeys the basic rules of the location. For example, if Juliet Blackwell started mucking about with placement of neighborhoods or surrounding cities, her use of San Francisco would be far less effective. Same with Kira Brady’s use of Seattle in the Deadglass Trilogy. But they’ve both managed to create their own place within a place, so to speak, without losing any of the flavor of the real location. And in terms of characters, adding in the supernatural elements to a real place, such as the addition of the shapeshifting Drekar and Cavati, as well as a gate between the worlds to an alternate-reality Seattle in Hearts of Darkness, is like adding some tasty spices to our relatively mundane and mellow city. 

I’m laughing to myself because I just realized that after years of watching UF television shows before ever reading the genre, I sometimes forget that the world really isn’t like “Buffy” after all (thankfully – but still!) – LOL! So perhaps that’s why it’s not particularly challenging for me to picture Seattle, say, with a native shape-shifting population. 

Mary: See, you intrigue me about the stories you’ve narrated just by talking about this…and I like that if you can, you talk to the author, that is fabulous.

As a writer why do you prefer Fantasy/Urban Fantasy over contemporary, historical? 
Mary: I prefer Urban Fantasy and Fantasy over any other genre. I live in this world—but when I read and write I want to be somewhere else. Although, I do love reading historical for the same reasons—it’s not the current world.
Xe: Oh that makes perfect sense to me, and I feel the same when watching films. Although I love the gut-wrenching performances of a good drama, what I want is escapism from my visual entertainment (i.e. Supernatural – dear lord, I love me some Sam and Dean!). But I have to confess that when it comes to reading and narration, I’m more of a drama, lit fic girl. I can’t help it – I want it messy and poignant and painful…no happy ending required J (wait, can I really end that statement with a  smiley face? )

Mary: Oooh, that’s interesting. You like the emotion evoked—how cool. I like authors who can make me cry but in the end I need a happy ending. (And yes, Xe, you can end that statement above with a smiley face!) J

Xe: Have you ever considered writing a historical UF?

Mary: Initially I will say no, but I’ve just been asked to consider writing a Steampunk, so I’m contemplating this.  The only thing about historical is that there are already exacting rules set in place—and you have to be careful even with word usage.  So we’ll see what happens. See, now you put an idea into my head…

How do you get information on world building if you write? 
Mary: Craft courses and I try to imagine it as I write. The more I work in the world—the more it unfolds. World and setting should be a place you the reader are as fascinated with as the writer is. (At least, that’s my opinion).
Xe: And I second that opinion! As a reader, I would just caution authors to remember that even if we are behaving like five year-olds and screaming, “But I want to know EVERYTHING!”…we really don’t. We just need to sense that you do and need to feel a part of the world, without having every rock, tree, creature, sky, etc. delineated for us. Ha! Then again, I say this as a very visual person who doesn’t enjoy (sometimes even can’t) putting my experience of art/writing/performance/poetry into words…so perhaps I am completely alone in not needing all the nitty-gritty, and readers are scratching their heads at my folly.  

Mary: Actually, I’m with you—because think about it—we learn every day something we are surprised about.  So the hint of more to learn is also as enticing as revealing. J

What books are you narrating now that have distinct worlds? Tell us about them.
 Xe: gushed a bit earlier about the Witchcraft Mystery Series, by Juliet Blackwell, and Kira Brady’s Deadglass Trilogy. Both the introductory novella, Hearts of Fire, and the first novel in the series, Hearts of DarknessR have just released in audio via Blackstone Audio. As I mentioned, Kira Brady has done a marvelous job of creating an alternate version of Seattle, both a historical, steampunk version for the novella, and a modern, Seattle-in-decline/under siege, for the series. Although she has taken some liberties with the landscape, they are within reason and Seattle comes through wonderfully, with favorite landmarks well represented…including our local chocolate factory, Theo’s, which serves as the inspiration for the villain’s lair! Which is why I’ll be including a selection of Theo’s chocolate with in the audiobook giveaway package J 

Mary: I am giving away a digital copy of my book "Incandescent" either Nook or Kindle to anyone who can receive it. And I will give away a candle and chocolate to some lucky commenter who lives in the continental U.S.

The giveaways will be awarded at the end of the week. For those who win here, I will post the winner on the blog on Saturday November 10th, 2012. Note: Please put your email (example: david at gmail dot com like so) in the response so you can be contacted. All mailed prizes books/cookies/chocolate must be from the continental U.S. The digital prize is for anyone who can receive it (I know some places overseas this can be tricky).

All giveaways run through Friday, 11/9.  

Monday, 11/5: 50th Book Blowout Blog Hop Kick-off @ Books, Personally (http://www.bookspersonally.com/). Will be discussing Magnificence, by Lydia Millet. Giveaway: Audio of Magnificence + homemade cookies 

Tuesday, 11/6: romancemagicians.blogspot.com Southern Romance Magicians Blog,
Chatting with author M.V. Freeman: "World-Building As Character"
Giveaway: Audio of "Hearts of Darkeness", by Kira Brady and chocolate from Theo's Chocolate Factory!

Wednesday, 11/7: The Nightwalkers Family Tree: Jacquelyn Frank's Growing World @ Audiogals (www.audiogals.net). Will be discussing how Frank has branched off from original Nightwalkers series, and offering giveaway of new release, Forbidden audio + Complete Set of Nightwalkers in audio + cookies.  

Thursday, 11/8: Under the Influence: When Books Inspire @ Literate Housewife (www.literatehousewife.com). Will be discussing The Art Forger  by B.A. Shapiro, and how a good book can both inspire and reward. Giveaway: Print and audio of The Art Forger + cookies.ereHere







Pamela Mason said...

This was enlightening Mary and Xe. Thank you!
Mary, I'm glad to know I'm not the only one with random notebooks full of notes and histories scattered about. I can find anything I need in this mess, but it is all mental spillage.
Xe, I love the angst and the messy too! :) But mostly I love your insights on readers and reading - that we authors have to create the sense that we know every tiny detail of the world we're creating, but just give the reader that security that it's all in hand.
Lovely interview! Thank you!
And I want chocolate:
tappitytaptap at gmail dot com :)

bookspersonally said...

Great conversation- s interesting! Was thinking about this quite a bit recently, reading the last in the Wicked series, which overall I've liked but occasionally find some of the details hard to fix on, and mostly found myself wishing I was done so I could move on to Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass - his worldbuilding always seems so effortless by comparison. You've given me some good ideas to consider why one works better for me than the other!

M.V.Freeman said...

Pamela, you are awesome! :D
And Whew...I am glad I am not the only one with scattered notebooks! :)

M.V.Freeman said...

Thanks for stopping by Books!
I agree, worldbuilding should seem effortless--which is important. (even though it may be tortuous to create!)

I enjoyed Philop Pullman's series--a very interesting story!

Carla Swafford said...

Back in the seventies I read a few SF series. The ones that I enjoyed the best were those that treated the world as matter of fact. That is, expecting the reader to know what hadn't been 'told.'

Great post, Mary and Xe.

Katherine Bone said...

What a fabulous interview!! I really enjoyed getting to know more about Xe because I admire her work so much. She's a fantastic voice to an author's characters, male and female alike. Her expertise floors me every time!!

Xe, I'm a huge Supernatural, Sam and Dean fan!!! We have all the DVDs and watch it in reruns and have pegged the series as a MUST see when it airs during the week. Sam, Jared Padalecki is also the inspiration for my hero Percival Avery in my Nelson's Tea series. Woot! Love him!!!

Mary, you amaze me. That is all. <3

Brienne said...

What a great interview! Like many of you have mentioned, worldbuilding is one of the most important yet most difficult thing for an author to do well. Anyone who can achieve that effortless feel gets my respect. My favorite author right now is Ilona Andrews and I believe Andrews does world building very well.

brienne at prodigy dot net

Xe said...

So many great comments this morning - wow, you folks get up EARLY! LOL

Pamela - giving readers "security." That's a great way to put it, as is Carla's comment that she liked it treated matter-of-fact.

My take as a reader (which is NOT shared by everyone): just tell your story. Let me question and wonder, and fill in the gaps as they naturally occur or an occasion arises.

Bookspersonally - so glad you came over this morning! We've swung from lit fic allllll the way over here to UF/PNR - ha! Love it. And thanks for the reminder on Pullman. His Dark Materials is one of my desert island keepers and his world was a great example of ours with extra bits and fantastical bits thrown in. Although Amber Spyglass got a bit muddy in my head...

Carla - did you ever read The City, Not Long After?

Katherine - thanks for the kind words, my dear! And Sam and Dean - SAM AND DEAN!! Oh I *have* to have my boys. And yes, I do actually call them that here at home, much to the irritation and amusement of my family. It's a protective thing yk...

Brienne - thanks for stopping by! I have heard marvelous things about both the worlds Andrews creates!

Xe said...

Doh! One thing I should have done was include a clip from the audio of HEARTS OF DARKNESS - silly me! This is what I like to call the evolution of an alpha hero, using Hart from the Deadglass Trilogy as our case study...

Trying to insert this with code...if it doesn't work, my apologies and I'll post it the old-fashioned way...

Evolution of an Alpha Hero: "Hart" - Hearts of Darkness

Anonymous said...

I love reading books with well thought out worlds. To me that can make or break a book. Mary I can't wait to read your book. I've heard great things about it.

Xe said...

Terri - oh I think you will love it!

Shanna Roberson said...

What a fabulous interview! My two favorite people together; what a treat. :)

Xe, I am one of your biggest fans. While it is the writer that creates these worlds, your incredible talent brings them to life. You are amazing at what you do. <3

Mary, where to start? I adore the world you have created with Incandescent. Your characters aren't perfect and it makes them more real for me. It makes them believable.
I love books like that; where you get so caught up in their world that you refuse to return to your own. And your universe is utterly addictive.

Shanna Roberson
taghairmpyxi at aol dot com

Xe said...

Thanks so much, Shanna! And I couldn't agree more: it's exactly those types of characters that most entice me too :)

So glad you stopped by!

Kat said...

Love the interview! I totally agree about world building... It's a fine balance to have enough to ground the story and see the world... But not too much that it distracts from the reason I fall in love with a book! lol for me it's the relationships that have to hold me. I adore Kira Brady's Hearts of Darkness for that reason. It's a perfect blend of world and heart. I also love Xe's clip about the alpha hero *daydreaming*
My email is queenoftarts at thebooktart dotcom


Xe said...

Kat - welcome! And Hart sure is easy to like, well, if you like those bad boys (which I do).

Sherida said...

Interesting interview! I have read Kira Brady's Hearts of Darkness and find Xe's voice perfect for the book. I agree with the comments about using a familiar setting but with different elements. Thank you! sheridastewart at gmail dot com

M.V.Freeman said...

Hi Carla,
I agree--I like the world when it's treated matter-of-factly!
And thank you for your kind words! :)

M.V.Freeman said...

Kathy Bone, you make me laugh! I have yet to get sucked into Supernatural! It's on my list.
Much like my TBR!
And you're awesome too!

M.V.Freeman said...

Hi Brienne,
I *adore* Ilona Andrews--I cannot get enough of her world.

Have you tried reading Stacia Kane? Now that's an interesting world....:D

Thanks for stopping by.

M.V.Freeman said...

I heart that clip--I must get that audio book!

Besides there are werewolves! Woohoo!

M.V.Freeman said...

Hi Terri!
Awww! Thank you! I hope you like it. I tried to incorporate how I love world building into the story. :)

Xe said...

@Sherida - thanks so much for your comments...very good to hear!

@MV Freeman - you have yet to watch SUPERNATURAL?? Woman, you need some Sam and Dean. Seriously. Rectify.

M.V.Freeman said...

You are truly wonderful, and I am humbled that my story did that for you. (I blame Mikhail...lol)

And I admit---I have a weakness for characters with faults. :)

Thank you! <3

M.V.Freeman said...

Hi Kat!
See, now I am totally convinced to get that book. A bad boy with heart--can't beat that.

And I agree with Xe--well said!

M.V.Freeman said...

Hi Sherida,
glad you can stop by! I have found that audio--can take a book I love and make it truly magnificent!

I keep wondering how I missed on Kira Brady's books....lol

Carla Swafford said...

The City, Not Long After? Sorry, no.

One that I read was the Gor series by John Norman. Not for anyone who doesn't like un-PC books.

Marya said...

Great interview ladies! Xe, love your work! And Mary,very interested in getting my hands on a copy of Incandescent now! :)

marya at heiman dot net

Tawnya Peltonen said...

I loved reading this! Finding out how authors create their worlds is always super interesting to me. I'm very new to audiobooks, but learning more about the process of translating worlds so listeners really get emotionally involved was great too! And I loved the conversational feel of the "interview".
Thanks for the awesome giveaway! Fingers crossed I win some chocolate! lol

lovey_20_81 at hotmail dot com

Meda White said...

So interesting! People who world build amaze me, they are so creative. Since I write comtemporary, I feel like I have it easy as long as I know my locale. Love the interview. Best wishes to both Mary and Xe.

M.V.Freeman said...

Hi Carla--Why did I miss the Gor series, it seems ground breaking. :)

M.V.Freeman said...

Awesome!I hope you like outrageous Russian Heros... :)
Glad you stopped by and good luck!

M.V.Freeman said...

Hi Tawnya,
Oh I am so glad you are liking audio--I think it is brilliant.

And I am glad you liked the interview, I enjoy talking with Xe, she is always so fun and gracious! ;

And I wish you luck! :D

M.V.Freeman said...

Hi Meda!
I think even in contemporary you build a world--you have to put us where you want us, the reader to be. So in a way you world build as well.
So glad you stopped by!

Louisa Cornell said...

Fabulous interview, ladies! I'm always amazed at the incredible detail some writers put into their invented or alternate worlds. Of course, writing books set in Regency England is rather like taking a world Jane Austen built and seeing what you can add to it!

M.V.Freeman said...

Hi Louisa!
I admit--I love the Jane Austen world. And I admire that you can write in that era. To me that is a very daunting task. But, oh, on grey days a pot of tea and a historical...bliss!

Xe said...

@Marya - Thank you :) And I think you'll love Incandescent!

@Tawnya - welcome to the world of audiobooks! I think my favorite time to listen is either in the car, or while doing the dishes (which I loathe doing).

@Meda - Oh I don't know that you have it easy, writing Contemporary...because you are setting stories in actual places, the astute reader's tolerance for mistakes is much lower than if it's a world you made up. And man, we can be unforgiving...

@Louise - Same goes with historical. In some ways, I don't wonder if using actual settings is trickier for writers because of the need for hyper-accuracy, so to speak.

Brenda said...

As a fan of many different "worlds" in UF, PNR and Fantasy I enjoyed this insight into the building of a world that inevitably becomes it's own character in a book. Great discussion!

I enjoyed your Hearts of Darkness clip Xe - actually I enjoy all the clips you have up at SoundCloud - talk about variety.

Xe said...

@Brenda - thanks so much for stopping by! And thanks also for the kind words. It really is pretty nifty when authors successfully make a setting almost a living, breathing thing.

M.V.Freeman said...

Hi Brenda, isn't Xe grand! I love her sound clips!

Brenda said...

Yes she is grand - love her Soundcloud account - what a variety - audiobook clips to poetry. I'm thinking you enjoyed her On Thin Ice clips as much as I did. :)

Lorelei's Lit Lair said...

Great interview and it's wonderful to learn about your experiences and insights! Will share it on my FB wall ;D thanks for the opportunity to win!
loreleislitlair at gmail dot com

Xe said...

@Brenda - aw, thank you! And thanks for stopping by :)

@Lorelei - welcome! So glad you came by. Thanks for all your support :)