Fantasy and SF writers talk a lot about world building, and for very good reason. The world in a novel functions inevitably as a character. It has a strong influence on plot, on other characters, on tension, pacing . . . every aspect of your book. We’ve talked here on Magical Words about world building before, but I wanted to spend a little time talking about Crosspointe and the world, because it’s was both super different for me and very challenging.
Let me first say that The Cipher will be released March 31. Look for it. Put it on your calendar. All right, on to the show. Crosspointe is an island nation set on a changeable sea. The ground under the black waters will change at the drop of a dime. What was once a shoal will suddenly drop away into a deep trench. Underwater mountains rise and fall without warning. There are no predictable currents and only those from Crosspointe with certain magical powers can navigate the sea. This means that the island of Crosspointe controls all commerce on the sea. Stir in to the waters a magical substance called sylveth. Anything it touches will change. A stick, a ship, a person–they will be transformed into something else, usually something alive and scary and deadly. Every year during the month of Chance, storms blow up carrying sylveth and during this time, every ship must go to Crosspointe in order to dock. Protected by the Pale, the island is the only safe place on the Inland Sea during the storms.
There’s a fair bit more going on, but that’s it in a nutshell. The world is active so it literally can physically move to impact characters. They must act with or against it. What makes this challenging, is that as I make rules for the world, I force my characters into actions or inaction. It was really unusual in that the land was so isolated, but extremely wealthy because of the requirement that all shipping had to come through it, and there’s a sense of power and superiority to the people of the island, even as they are completely isolated. Everything they are has to do with the environment in which they live.
So, take Lucy. She’s a customer (a customs agent who inspects cargoes and ships for smuggling). Her job depends on the fact that ships all must come through Crosspointe and that they dock there during Chance. Early in the book, the sea outside the harbor changes and several wrecks occur. A sylveth tide comes through and suddenly there is spawn everywhere (those horrible nasty creatures made from touching sylveth). Because of that, Lucy is forced to do things, to make choices, some bad. She can’t run from her home when she gets into trouble, and later in the book, she has to face the world as both an enemy and an ally. Wow, this being cryptic is difficult.
The thing is, building a world that is vibrant and very real is fundamental to my stories. It’s the foundation of every story and every character. Each person must come from some place, and that place teaches them out to feel, to react, to think, and to live. You can’t create a character in a vacuum. Or rather, you can, but that character will be flat and made of cardboard. When I start a novel, I don’t always have a full sense of the world; in fact I often don’t. I paint things in as I build the character so that I understand the character. I fully paint what I need as I need it, looking under the tables and in the drawers and out the windows. That may not ever make it on the page, but it tells me about what my character notices and thinks as much as it tells me about the world.
So now, questions? Anything I can be more specific about?
The Biography of Me: I didn’t start out to be a writer. I was a storyteller from as far back as I can remember, and a daydreamer of epic stories, but it never occurred to me to write anything down. I read voraciously, but I wasn’t one of those people who said–hey! I could do this! Or even, this is so awful I could do better. I marveled at writers and thought of writing as something other people did. I did try my hand at some really horrible poetry in my senior year of high school. It was dramatic and bleak and world-tiltingly awful. When I got to college, I did poorly in my freshman comp class. I wrote in purple prose and use twenty words for what I could say in two. I loved language, but I didn’t really have much control over it. Then I took a creative writing class. It was awful. Total slaughter. I had caught the bug, though, and from there on out, I wrote. Eventually I wrote a really bad romance and finished it. I finished it! I could do that! And then I went to graduate school and another graduate school, got married, had dogs, had kids, went to work professing, and kept writing. Finally I had my first book accepted and I’ve been writing ever since.
As far as the prosaic stuff goes, I like to crochet, bake bread, spoil corgis, eat chocolate, sing to the radio, pretend to play tennis, geocache, crochet, and garden. Though I really hate weeding. I also like to make my hair purple with some frequency. You can find me on twitter as @dianapfrancis and my website at www.dianapfrancis.com or on facebook.