I’ve discussed world building before, but I never thought of them as “sets” until I read the world building lesson in Holly’s revision course recently. She refers to the world of a novel as a “set” for the characters to play on/against…which suddenly brought the whole thing more into focus for me.
I have serious tunnel vision when I’m writing. I get so hyper-focused on the characters and…well…torturing them, that I forget minor details like, say, putting them in surroundings that make sense. Part of this is a deep-seated fear of my prose turning a bright shade of purple. When I first showed my writing to a friend in high school, his main comment (aside from the fact that I shouldn’t count on being a writer) was that it was too descriptive…and thus boring. I’ve read enough now to know that my writing wasn’t actually that bad then – it was very descriptive and certainly unpolished, but it followed the style of literary classics, which I happened to be reading a lot of then.
Even so, I’ve always remembered that, and steered away from verbose description since then. Too far, really – because I love nothing better than being transported to an old manor in the deep south with moss hanging off the trees over the swamp (as in one of the Intrigues I read recently), or into an old barn with a romantic hay loft reachable only by ladder. Though I’ll admit that I always wonder how people can really enjoy a roll in hay, since it has a tendency to poke when one least expects it to…
But I digress
I always knew I’d have to get some sort of handle on the “world” my stories are set in, even if they are just made up suburbs of larger well-known metropolitan cities. I put them there on purpose – just far enough out that I don’t have to know much about the city, but close enough I can take advantage of well-known spots if I want to. Sneaky, eh? HPC is set in a suburb outside of Denver. Up until recently, the “world” of my stories has been more of an irritant than anything else (aside from things like bedrooms and dining rooms, which I find quite “writable” (wonder why that is?).
In any case, when Holly used the word “sets”, it was like a light bulb went on in my brain. Or rather, the lights went up on the stage. Suddenly I “got it” – the props and sets popped out of the background and gained dimension in my head. I saw my characters moving around on sets from more of a director’s perspective, rather than in the finished movie I tend to see in my head while drafting. She also talks about the items that are actually described vs those that are just implied, and the importance of an item relative to the description it gets. That was already sort of “ingrained” in my head from all the reading I’ve done, but this just sort of solidified it from the writer’s side of the page for me, so to speak. Needless to say, I think my sets are going to really going to benefit from what I learned from that lesson.
How do you see the world you set your stories in? Is it a living thing, another character, a movie set? Do you plan out your world while you’re outlining, or do you let it “evolve” as you draft?