Thursday, December 29, 2016

World Building - everyone wants 'to know where they are'

I've always viewed worldbuilding as a sci-fi kind of thing. Since I've not been writing science fiction or fantasy, I never put much credence in that ' world building ' word. In my view, it didn't fit the fiction I was writing.

Finally, one day it occurred to me that 'research', the word I use most often to describe writing, is much the same thing as world building. Different genre and outlook, but pretty much the same end result.

In pursuit of some validity with new thoughts, I often look at what has passed. In this case, I review my favorite books from my favorite authors for clues as to how much of my like for their work is derived from world building? In other words:

Why do I like the books I like?

Robert Crais and his books (e.g Monkey's Raincoat) come to mind right away. Why do I like this author, his writing style and his books? In part I like them because I like the world that Elvis Cole and Joe Pike inhabit. I like the description he writes of the A-frame house that Elvis lives in up the narrow canyon filled with laurel and eucalyptus. I like the description of the freeways, the restaurants, the grit and grime of LA and its myriad suburbs. Clearly (to me anyway) Robert Crais is a master when it comes to world building. He makes his settings so realistic I am left wondering if they are realistic because they're REAL. That may not even be world building, maybe he's just adept at putting his characters and plot in a setting whose reality is good enough to pass for fiction?

Clive Cussler is one of my earliest finds. For my taste and reading preference, I've come to realize he doesn't quite work as well as Robert Crais. Cussler goes big. Big as in over the edge - into places and settings that are a bit too far from the reality I now know that I've come to prefer. I've (re)read all of CC's books and loved them, but his world building is a monster swing for the fences, that simply goes beyond my subjective preferences. Not really right or wrong, but a question of individual preference.

CJ Box (e.g. Open Season) is another author whose work I vastly admire and consume. Again, In looking at why I like what I like, Mr. Box writes about a setting I like. The game warden, his wife and three daughters live in Saddlestring, Wyoming, a small town on the edge of wild space type of setting. I can picture the setting and have been in that exact part of the state, but never in Saddlestring, which I'm still not sure exists. But it could and that's part of what makes his setting and world building so cool.

There's some corollaries to this world building notion that also work. Myron Bolitar, another of my all time favorite characters, is plopped down in New Jersey. Author Harlan Coben (e.g. Deal Breaker)does a great job with making NJ seem like a reasonable place, but what he does that I like so much is make Myron a former NBA player. Basketball is one of my favorites when it comes to watching and playing, so having a character with basketball as a big part of his backstory is a great piece of corollary world building.

Maybe fiction is at its best, when the world building is so good and so in sync with your personal preferences that it gets hard to separate real life from fictional life?

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