That is the question.

Imagine yourself standing on a stage in a serious pose with one hand held high while you ponder that aloud. Apart from looking a little silly, you’d probably be pegged as a writer. Or, a good looking architect with serious erection issues. (As in deciding whether or not to erect the building.)

This month we’re all about the world building that takes place in our novels. Some detail it meticulously while others do it as they go. It’s your map and you are wearing the hardhat with BOSS stamped on the front.

This is what I do when I start a new manuscript.

1. Find the poster board. And the yardstick. A pencil and the sharpener. Sometimes this takes longer than it should, but I persevere—nothing short of a natural disaster or the big hairy spider guarding the yardstick will keep me from completing my mission.

2. Name the small town/big city/mobile home park/space station, etc. where the bulk of my story takes place. I put this at the top of the map in bold letters—just to get me in the spirit of creating a world so unique that even I want to live there.

3. I’m not a very good artist so I usually draw boxes for the buildings. Blob shapes become bodies of water and long rectangle ribbons with cute little dashes make up the roads. I find it’s best to start with the building/structure where most of the action is going to take place. Office/ranch/home/apartment building/ supermarket/pet store, whatever and give it a name and a home on the map.

4. Draw more boxes for the other businesses in town. Where are your characters going to work/shop/attend school/party/visit their dear old grandmother/eat and meet? Often times scene ideas will come to me at this stage—so be prepared.

5. Next comes the fine tuning and adding in the details. Street names. What side of her house is the garage on? Parallel parking (which she can’t do) or diagonal slots in front of the drug store? Notations about the uneven sidewalk where she stumbles into him and he helps her up on more than one occasion. The gigantic pothole in front of the diner that gives him a flat tire so he’s late to pick her up for their first date. The poison ivy they get in while making out at the park behind the gazebo next to the old oak. The barn on his best friend’s property where he houses his horses. These little details will make your world come to life. You won’t have to remember if he lives on Walnut Street or Pine Drive because you can look it up. Does she head into or away from the blinding sunrise on her way to work? You may not use all these details, but if you need them, they’ll be in place for you. Especially if you’d get lucky enough to write a series of books set in the same town.

Remember, the sky is the limit. It’s your story. Your map. Your world. It doesn’t have to be perfect—it just has to be. Happy building or erect—never mind. I won’t go there.



Jessica Matthews said...

I love to "worldbuild". My world-building usually centers around creating a hospital or a clinic nearby, and then arranging the rest of the town around it. I will say, though, that I've used certain places I've visited as a model for rooms or building architecture. Magazines (home improvement, design, gardening, etc) are all helpful when it comes to building a world, too. No matter how detailed one goes in building a world, it's a very empowering experience to create a fictional world!

Roxann Delaney said...

It's interesting how specific and not specific we each are. Does it depend on the story? Does it depend on the setting?

Reese Mobley said...

Jessica, thanks for dropping by. Magazines are another great place to gather ideas. World building is so much fun. It's good to be the queen!

Reese Mobley said...

Rox, I try to map out each story. Since most of my books take place in small towns it's not all that hard. I can't imagine doing something like this for a science fiction manuscript.

Joan Vincent said...

After reading your post I think I should definitely get more organized. The devil is in the details as they say but also a lot of fun. I discovered last year at the Rennaisance Fair that my emigre spy had a "coin" made for all his contacts so they could identify one another. I purchased the small silver fluer de lis surrounded by a celtic braid because I just knew Andre had designed it!

Roxann Delaney said...

Reese, mine are mapped out in my head, but not on paper. Yes, even the series. I did map out the boys' ranch in the fourth book so it was easier to describe in words. I use house plans I find and have several photos I grabbed of farm-type houses and small town streets and buildings.

I may have to get out the poster board and yardstick if I get a chance to continue the series. *grin*

Pat Davids said...

Ah, Resse, your unique sense of humor always amazes me. I love the way you can turn a phrase into a chuckle over and over again.
You certainly have a knack for quirky small town. Thanks for letting me visit them with your characters.

Starla Kaye said...

You really did a great job of explaining your process of creating your small town world. I've done much the same thing, but on paper instead of poster board.

Reese Mobley said...

Joan, love your story about the coin. Do you still have it?

Reese Mobley said...

Rox, never in a million years could I keep a map straight in my head. I admire anyone who can! My brain must have a slow leak because it doesn't hold a whole heck of a lot.

Reese Mobley said...

Pat, thanks for the compliment. I live quirky--so it comes natural. XOXO

Reese Mobley said...

Starla, I used to do them on bits and scraps of paper until my husband noticed. Mr. Precision (in a good way) wanted to help and he drew my first town for me. Talk about perfection. He did a fabulous job.

Becky A said...

Hello Miss Reece,
After reading your blog twice, thanks to the grandkids, I remembered that I have also dabbled in map making.
In my first book I had to get my facts straight as my soon to be couple rode through the fields on her ranch. I had to do a little re-writing because the map in my head, didn't transfer to "reality."
In my current WIP I had to get the house on paper because the blueprint in my head again didn't quite jive.
I think my brain is actually twisted and everything looks good, until I try to "walk it out."
Like Joan, I think I need to get a little more organized and put the plans on paper first. It would save some time on those re-writes when the inside of the house doesn't match the outside.
Or reality doesn't match my warped brain!
Thanks for the grat blog.

Joan Vincent said...

Yes, I have the "coin" --it was sold as a necklace pendant. Finding it solved a real problem with my present story where the heroine has to make her way from Paris into Spain with the help of other agents. Now she knows how to ID herself as well as them.

Roxann Delaney said...

I don't know why I haven't done the map thing, especially when I'm so anal about everything else. I have graphs and charts coming out my ears for every book, but no maps? Weird.

Reese Mobley said...

Becky, thanks for the comment. Making a map truly does make it easier to keep everything in line.

Reese Mobley said...

Joan, I'd love to see the coin someday.

Reese Mobley said...

Rox, I've seen your charts and graphs so I know how organized you are. I envy your ability to do all that. I tend to wing it on more than one occasion--sometimes it comes back to bite me. That's why I make the maps.

Dina Preuss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dina Preuss said...

Hi Reese,

Well I've not written anything as yet that I 'need' a town map. The two stories I've worked on take place in actual towns that I have lived in for several years, so it's easy to keep things straight.

However the first time I write in my own fictional town, I will definitely keep this advice close by.

It sounds as though it will really benefit.

Thanks so much for posting this helpful tidbit!

Reese Mobley said...

Hey, Dina!! Glad I could be of some help. Can't wait to read your first novel! XOXO

Penny Rader said...

Great post, Reece! Can you bring a map or two to the next WARA meeting?

Like Jessica, I love to use magazines. While writing Sapphire and Gold I found several cutaways of ships and homes that helped me as well as a couple really cool maps of Colonial Philadelphia and Williamsburg. I also made (poorly drawn!) floor plans for a couple of the homes so I could keep track of where the characters were.

Since I'm writing contemporary now and trying to create a community for what I hope will be a series, I need to get the hang of making my own map(s).

Oh, and I love how you get ideas while creating your maps. Never thought of that as a plotting tool.

Nina Sipes said...

Love this idea! How practical and clever!