Thursday, April 11, 2013

Guest Post: World-Building Starts at Home, by Author Liz Coley

Please welcome Liz Coley, author of Pretty Girl-13

About Liz Coley

As a preteen, Liz Coley was hooked on science fiction thanks to alien Tripods, space-time warping tesseracts, and a Martian maid named Thuvia. Her science fiction short stories appear in Cosmos Magazine and several print anthologies. While self-publishing the time travel/alternate history/Mayan end of the world novel OUT OF XIBALBA, Liz received “The Call” that all aspiring novelists dream of.

PRETTY GIRL-13, her debut novel with HarperCollins, will be published in the US and in nine translations on five continents in print, ebook, and audiobook formats.

Liz lives in Cincinnati, OH with her husband, her teenaged daughter, and an elderly orange tabby by the fire. The older two boys have moved on to college and graduate school. When she isn't writing, Liz enjoys singing, photography, tennis, and cooking.

World-Building Starts at Home

World building is a major focus when writing in the science fiction and fantasy genres and all their sub-genres, like space opera, cyberpunk. dystopia, high fantasy, fairy tale, paranormal, and so on. The author is challenged to develop the context in which the protagonist’s struggles take place--the history, norms, and expectations of the imagined society along with the rules and properties of their technology or magic. Beyond that, the author often needs to invent the geography, meteorology, and evolutionary history of the planet or fantastic land.

Pretty Girl-13 is a contemporary story, so when one book blogger asked me to develop a guest post on world-building, I paused to consider. I’d used Google maps to visualize the Angeles Crest with it’s roads and hiking paths, to pinpoint Angie’s school and neighborhood, to find amusement parks and restaurants in the vicinity. I didn’t need to build anything—the real world was already there. Then I realized that even without stepping into future or fantasy, there is still a small world to be built around the protagonist that contextualizes the adventure. Setting is the simplest interpretation of context, but I’d argue there’s an even more important world-building task in young adult contemporary—what I’d call family-building.

Like societies, families have histories, norms, and expectations. The even have their own weather patterns—gloomy, stormy, high pressure, or fair and sunny. Around the protagonist is a complicated web of relationships, potentially with grandparents, parents, and siblings, and each of them with each other. The more attention paid to the differences between how family members relate, the more realistic the story will read. People are complicated, but they shouldn’t be unpredictable. Their actions should be consistent with their character, and their character is revealed in relationship.

Even if it never comes up on the page, the writer’s time is well spent imagining the family’s deep past. It’s worth working out biographical touch points that pre-date the story. I’ve done this a couple times as a creativity exercise and learned amazing things about my characters. In fact, they suddenly had hobbies, running jokes, mannerisms, injuries, and memories that made them more lifelike. In trying to work out the relationship between a pair of twins, I found out that they had to sleep in separate rooms as infants because one was quiet and one a screamer—that set the pattern for a childhood of differences and conflict.

In story-telling, the landscape of the family is as important as the landscape of the place. The history of the family is as important as the history of the world. The culture of the family is as important as the culture of the society. As you build a home around your protagonist, you build the inner shell of his or her world.

Connect with Author Liz Coley

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