Tag Archives: Warren Hammond

WORLD-BUILDING WARREN’S WAY

By Warren Hammond

Why do you read fiction?

You might say compelling characters. Or high-stakes drama. Maybe you love the plot twists you didn’t see coming.

Those are all valid responses, but when taken alone, isn’t each of them inadequate? Don’t you read fiction for all those reasons, plus probably dozens of others that I didn’t list?

So I’ll ask again, why do you read fiction? It’s a simple question that seems to defy a simple, one-sentence response. Yet, I’m about to attempt it.

You read fiction because you want to be transported to a different time, place, and emotional state.

Reading is travel.

Visit any location in the world or any point in history from the comfort of your own sofa. Pass the time on that dull bus ride exploring fantastical worlds that push the limits of imagination. Journey into the mind of a serial killer or the queen of a medieval realm. Tour all of the emotions available to us humans. Love and despair. Joy and terror. Satisfaction and guilt.

Fiction can take you anywhere you want to go. Every last remote corner of human (and non-human) experience is accessible through fiction.

That is why you read.

And why you write.

Accept that premise, and you see why world-building is a required skill if you’re going to write good stories. I don’t care what genre you write, world-building is required. You can’t transport your reader unless you have a fully realized location to take them to.

That said, the amount of world-building you do will very much depend on your genre and the kind of story you want to tell. For example, you’d expect to do lots of world-building for an epic fantasy set in an imaginary but vaguely medieval universe. None of your readers have ever lived in such a world, so you’ll have to spend a hefty percentage of your word count orienting them so they don’t feel lost. Lucky for you, in this case, many of your readers have read other books set in vaguely medieval universes, so you’ll have a broad range of well-known tropes to borrow from. But use too many of those tropes and you’ll be accused of being derivative. The trick is to find a pleasing mix of original elements and tried-and-true tropes accepted in your genre.

Write a novel with a contemporary setting, and you’ll dedicate fewer words to building your world. Your readers will already be familiar with cars and computers and cell phones. Set your novel in a city like New York and your job will be even easier since your readers will certainly be familiar with the city even if they’ve ever been there in person.

But that doesn’t mean you’ll be off the hook entirely. Say you want to write a mystery centering around the murder of a yacht racing captain. Now you’ll have a sizable job ahead of you. Most of your readers won’t be familiar with many of the nautical terms, nor will they have much of a clue of how professional yacht racing works. What are the racing rules? Where do yacht teams get their funding? What is the social structure within that world?

Okay, so now that we’ve established the fact that all stories require world-building to various degrees, I’d like to share my guidelines. Guidelines? But you wanted a step-by-step how-to manual. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist. Writing is a very organic process, and also very personal. What works for one person will likely fail another. The best anybody can do is offer a framework of generalizations, and I hope you’ll take these guidelines as such.

1.       Build a fully-formed world rich with detail. Your world should include all of the following:

Culture – Traditions, clothing, food, language, architecture, manners

History – War, famine, exploration, scientific advancement

Environment – Flora, fauna, weather, geography

Economy – Trade, currency, class structure, resources

Religion – Beliefs, ethics, values, rituals

Unreal* – Futuristic or alien technology, magic, supernatural elements

Politics – Government, military, foreign relations, legal system

This first guideline even comes with a built-in pep talk. Notice the first letters of each line spell CHEER UP!

*Not all genres include elements of the unreal

2.       Use only the relevant details

Now that you’ve built a complex and compelling world, you have to seriously consider which details to include in your story. Include them all, and you’ll slow your plot to a crawl. Instead, you’ll need to choose only those details that have a significant impact on your story and its characters. Don’t bore your readers with minutia they don’t need to know.

3.       Avoid info dumps

Don’t tell us about your world. Put us in your world.

This is fiction, not an encyclopedia. When you introduce a new gadget, show a character using it, and we’ll learn soon enough what it does. When you want to dig into the nitty-gritty of a subject, let your characters discuss the subject in dialog. Or better yet, amp up the tension by turning that discussion into an argument.

Long passages of background information need not apply.

4.       Imbue your world with mood and atmosphere

Don’t forget my original premise, that readers want to be transported to a different time, location, and emotional state. How do you want your reader to feel when they’re in your world? Scared? Awed? Enchanted?

To achieve this goal, show us how your world affects your characters. If the world makes your characters feel scared, it’s likely your reader will feel scared too.

Also be smart with your word choices. Take a simple sentence like this one.

The wind rustles through the leaves.

Replace the word rustles with any of these verbs (whistles, weaves, whips, roars, whispers, barges, snakes), and I think you’ll agree that each one invokes a unique mood.

Create a proper mood, and your world will come alive!

Happy writing!

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Warren grew up in the Hudson River Valley of New York State. Upon obtaining his teaching degree from the University at Albany, he moved to Colorado, and settled in Denver where he can often be found typing away at one of the local coffee shops.

Warren is known for his gritty, futuristic KOP series. By taking the best of classic detective noir, and reinventing it on a destitute colony world, Warren has created these uniquely dark tales of murder, corruption and redemption.

Always eager to see new places, Warren has traveled extensively. Whether it’s wildlife viewing in exotic locales like Botswana and the Galapagos Islands, or trekking in the Himalayas, he’s always up for a new adventure.

Making the Long and Winding Road to Publication a Little Shorter with RMFW

by Mark Stevens, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers President

As she accepted the Writer of the Year plaque at Colorado Gold, Linda Joffe Hull talked about living and writing for a decade in the “purgatory of almost” before finding a publisher for one of her books.

As she will tell you, it was a long and winding road.

But Linda credits a certain organization (its initials are Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers) for the final break-through. As she talked about the two books she has launched in the last 12 months, she talked about the relationships she developed by taking an active role in the group.

Our group.

Yeah, yeah, yeah—for the last few weeks it’s been all Colorado Gold this and Colorado Gold that. (See paragraph #1 above.) It was three days of good times for us fiction nerds.

But RMFW is so much more than Colorado Gold and, I dare say, the tremendous variety of other events on the calendar offer an even better chance to develop relationships and make new friends who might have that one key introduction to an agent, an editor, a publisher. The conference can be, you know, intimidating. Fun, sure, but pressure too.

I’m not saying the conference isn’t cool, but now it’s another 12 months away (Sept. 5—7, 2014).

In the meantime, there are plenty of other chances to dive in and make friends—and develop your network—in a more casual setting. (And, in some cases, free.)

Check it out:

  • Later this month, a free two-hour workshop titled “Diving In: Character and Motivation” by Courtney Koschel. Location: Arvada Public Library, downtown Arvada. Date and time: Saturday, Oct. 26 at 1p.m. Courtney is the senior acquisitions editor for Month9Books. Senior. Acquisitions. Editor. Enough said.
  • Also this month, the experienced Trai Cartwight is offering a dirt-cheap online course called “Building a Better Book” that will help you demystify the process of novel building. It’s all about asking—and answering—key structural questions at the heart of every well-executed novel. Trai has roots in Hollywood, among other places. Get to know Trai and it’s one degree of separation between you and Stephen Spielberg. Or something like that.
  • Next month, there’s a free two-hour workshop titled “World Building: Don’t Let the Dream Collapse.” Location and times are still being finalized, but the program will be given by Colleen Oakes, author of the best-selling Elly in Bloom.
  • Also online soon, Sharon Mignerey (a true RMFW legend—she helped start our group about 30 years ago) is running a dialog workshop called “Let Your Characters Do the Talking.”
  • Also next month, over at our Grand Junction home away from home, best-selling author and RMFW stalwart Jeanne Stein is leading a day-long workshop titled “A Publishing Primer.” The first 20 people who register have the chance to pitch to Angie Hoddapp with Nelson Literary Agency and/or receive a two-page critique and 10-minute meeting with Warren Hammond, author of the KOP science fiction series. (Warren also won the Colorado Book Award this year!)

Cool programs, great opportunities to improve your craft and, maybe give you a chance to get to know other writers, develop connections and work your way out of the “purgatory of almost.”
All the details are available at www.rmfw.org. You probably knew that.

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2013conference66Mark Stevens is the President of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.

You can learn more about Mark and his novels at his website. He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.