Research and World Building

When the topic was first suggested for a blog, my knee-jerk thought was that I don't world build! The trouble with that idea is that I do. We all do. I just never thought of it that way. No matter what the time or place of a story, a world is built for the characters. It's a place and a time where and when they participate in the life we create for them.

When choosing a setting for your story, even a fictional setting requires some kind of research. My first published book was set on a ranch in Montana, where the heroine became stranded during an October snowstorm. I've only been a few miles into Montana in August and am not familiar with the early snowstorms there. Luckily I knew someone who lived there and could help me with specifics.

We're often told to "write what you know," but writing would be boring if we kept only to what's familiar. Information about anything and anywhere can be found on the Internet, making researching much easier. I wanted to do a scene with the hero and heroine of a story taking place outside under mistletoe, but not necessarily a Christmastime story. I've known for years that most of the mistletoe (the real kind) we see here in Kansas during the holidays comes from Oklahoma. I once heard that it grew on the oak trees there. After doing a little research, I learned two things. Mistletoe in Oklahoma grows on apple and other trees, especially fruit trees, but not so much on oak. And mistletoe just happens to be Oklahoma's state flower. As it turns out, that's even better than I'd imagined. Now I have a scene in an old apple orchard and, depending on the time of year it ends up becoming, mistletoe can be found all year.

There are so many interesting places in this country and in the world, why keep to something you know? Have you ever watched a movie and wondered what the real location of the setting was? Did you think it might be a great setting for your own story? Try IMDB.com (Internet Movie DataBase). That's where I discovered where The Man Without A Face was filmed and hope someday to use that setting (Bath, Maine) for a book.

Details--accurate details--can help make the story come "alive" and real to readers. Don't try to cheat on this. Having too much research information is much better than not having enough. If drawing maps or keeping charts is what's needed to keep details straight, that's okay. Everybody has their own way of doing it. If you don't know where to start, talk to someone who's happy to share their method. You're always welcome to change it to fit you.

7 comments:

Reese Mobley said...

What a great story about the mistletoe. Whatever you're doing for world bulding seems to be working for you, so keep up the good work. Happy Mother's Day! XOXO

Elaine Morrison said...

Roxann, I am taking to heart what you said - having too much research information is better than not having enough. Thanks for the good advice. Your mistletoe scene - is this book published yet? I'd like to read it.

Roxann Delaney said...

No, the book with the mistletoe scene is still a proposal in my editor's hands. I'm still hoping, though. :)

I always over-research and use only a small portion by the time I've finished. But knowing those details, even if I don't use them, makes me more comfortable. Readers aren't shy about pointing out inaccuracies!

Starla Kaye said...

Like you, Pat, when we first mentioned doing blogs on world building, I thought it was really for sci-fi and fantasy writing.

Then I got to thinking about it and knew I was dead wrong. If you, the writer, don't do your homework and create a world that fits your storyline, then your story will come across flat.

I also love learning interesting little tidbits about a setting detail when I research. Like Pat's learning more about mistletoe. Sometimes you don't end up using these little details in a story, but what great new knowledge!

Starla Kaye said...

Sorry, in my last comment, I meant Roxann and not Pat.

Joan Vincent said...

I love the internet movie database link! I almost always sit through the4 credits to see where a movie was filmed. It is always great to have someone's first hand info if you can't visit your setting. I've been very blessed with English men and women who shared their setting with me.

Penny Rader said...

Thanks for the tip about IMBD, Rox. It never occurred to me to use it as a setting tool. Pretty nifty!