Today Kathi is talking with Lindsay Franklin about how to build a world for our story. Any time you are writing you are creating a world. So, where does one start to help the reader feel like an active part of the story? Listen in to find out Lindsay’s answer, discover how to add a richness to your writing and learn:
- What to do to start building this world
- What is pulling your reader into the story
- What should you pay attention to the most in world building
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Meet Your Hosts
Author, Speaker, Communicator Academy Creator and CEO
Lindsay A. Franklin is a Carol Award–winning author, freelance editor, and homeschooling mom of three. She would wear pajama pants all the time if it were socially acceptable. Lindsay lives in her native San Diego with her scruffy-looking nerf-herder husband, their precious geeklings, three demanding thunder pillows (a.k.a. cats), and a stuffed marsupial named Wombatman. She’s @LinzyAFranklin on Instagram and Twitter, and she Facebooks at www.facebook.com/LindsayAFranklin.
Read along with the Podcast!
Writing at The Red House Podcast # 217
How to Build a World for Your Book
Kathi – Well, hey friends. Welcome to Writing at The Red House Podcast, where we gather at the table to break bread and tell tales with some of our favorite writers and speakers, who share their wisdom to help us share our stories. Today, we’re starting a special series. It’s called My Best Writing Advice. We’ve got four authors, all of whom are going to be at the West Coast Christian Writers’ Conference coming up in February. I’ve asked them to share their very best advice for the rest of us who are trying to figure out this whole writing thing. Today, I’m super excited, ‘cause it’s the first time I’m getting to talk to her, but her reputation precedes her. We are friends on Facebook. I always enjoy her posts. I enjoy her positivity and her smarts. It is Lindsay Franklin, and she is a Carol Award winning fantasy novelist. She is going to be teaching at The West Coast Christian Writers’ Conference. I love the title of this: Weaving Worlds – Crafting Speculative Universes. Now, some of you may be thinking, “What does that have to do with me?” Don’t worry, Lindsay is going to explain everything. Lindsay, welcome to the podcast.
Lindsay – Thank you so much for having me. I’m super excited to be here.
Kathi – It’s so fun to finally get to meet, kind of, in real life. I think Zoom is as real life as we’re going to get for a while. It’s very exciting to be here with you. Now, the first thing is: I know that some people will turn off a podcast as soon as they hear a topic they feel doesn’t work for them, but I promise you, everyone is going to want to listen to this. You have to tell people, first, what is speculative fiction? I don’t know that everybody has heard that term.
Lindsay – That’s a term we tend to use a lot in the industry. Oftentimes, readers have no idea what we’re talking about, because we don’t necessarily have a speculative fiction shelf in the bookstore. It’s going to be fantasy, sci-fi, superhero stories, anything that has that fantastical element to it. Of course, the word speculative, we’re speculating about some element or another in all genres of speculative fiction. That’s going to include steampunk. It’s a very diverse genre.
Kathi – Yes. So, think of your weirdest Christian friend authors. They’re probably writing something in speculative fiction. Some of my favorite people, my son is a speculative fiction author, Shelley Adina, I don’t know if you know. I love her stuff. Steampunk and all that kind of stuff. Let me just be honest. This is not my jam. I appreciate, and I can read some of it, but my brain does not bend in the way it would need to, to write this stuff. I’m thinking a lot of people listening to this podcast are probably the same way, but here’s the thing I got really excited about, that I wanted to talk to you about. You were talking about creating worlds. My favorite books, whether they’re fiction or non-fiction, you feel like you can drop into that world. You can touch it and feel it and smell it and taste it. I want to know how to do that. So, you have eight minutes, Lindsay. As somebody who is a master at this, this is what you’re going to be teaching on at WCCW. Where does one start? That’s my overwhelming question for you.
Lindsay – I think that starting at a place, as a writer, understanding that if you’re writing a story of any kind – any genre of fiction, or narrative, memoir, anything where you’re writing a story, you’re crafting a world. So, starting from that acknowledgement is a really good place. It’s really easy to not realize that, if you’re not writing in a genre like I am, where it’s very obvious that I have to build a world in my fantasies.
Kathi – Right! Here’s the thing, for me at least, this is the reason I haven’t wanted to go into narrative non-fiction. I am writing a memoir, and this is the part that scares me. At least I acknowledge that I have to create this world. So, I may be a step in the right direction. Yay. So, I’m so glad.
Lindsay – Acceptance is the first step.
Kathi – Okay, so where do we go from there? There’s a lot that needs to go into that.
Lindsay – Yes. There are a ton of different elements in world building. The word that always comes to mind is richness. You’re adding such richness to your story, when you’re focusing on building, crafting a world in which to drop your characters and to let your plot take place. We can talk about setting. That’s part of world building. Maybe some people use that interchangeably – world building and setting – but I like the concept of world building better, because I think it lends to that idea of richness. As you said, you want that to be a three-dimensional place that you’re reader is dropped into, so they can sense what you’re characters are sensing and really be in that moment and in that place. There are a bunch of different elements to building that richness. You can talk about geography and climate and some of those very physical elements of world building. That certainly affects the story. You’ve got to think about that stuff, especially when you’re trying to write with a lot of sensory detail, which we should. That enriches our stories, too. You have to think about those physical things. My historical fiction friends will completely understand a lot of these things, because there are so many parallels between writing fantasy and writing historical when it comes to building worlds. We have to think about the technology of the time. What tech was available, or what tech you’re imagining, if you’re writing sci-fi, or the future. This comes into play in any genre. There are so many stories. I grew up in the 80s and 90s. Reading YA or middle grade that was written in that time? My kids enjoy that, but they always laugh ‘cause they’re like, “Where are everybody’s smart phones?” So many of those stories, all of the conflict, if smart phones had existed, where somebody could have just sent a text, all of the conflict has gone.
Kathi – Okay, so this is so funny that you say this. In modern times, people have to lose their smart phones, or their battery runs out. Anybody in the middle of the night in a modern story, rolls over and their phone hasn’t been charging. I’m like, “I want the magical, never-have-to-charge phone.” But it’s so true. I’m rewatching West Wing right now. I get pulled back into “Oh, yeah. That’s not right now.” They’re not looking things up in the same way we are, so there’s really that building of it. Okay, that’s really interesting. I want to ask you, Lindsay, what are some great example? Immediately what comes to mind are the Harry Potter books. Those feel like the most immersive world building books I’ve ever experienced, but I’m sure you have a list of others.
Lindsay – That’s a big one. That’s a strength of JK Rowling, for sure. Her world building is phenomenal, and I think that’s one of the things that pulls us in to that story. You want to be at Hogwarts. You want to be in that castle and going to those classes and experiencing what those kids are. It is so immersive.
Kathi – You want it so bad that they built a theme park to help you immerse.
Lindsay – Yes! So you can be in it.
Kathi – So what are some other works that you might recommend if this is a skill you want to build?
Lindsay – I think, especially for my non-speculative readers, Lord of the Rings is another one in the fantasy genre. That’s a huge strength of Tolkien as well. To be honest, in my opinion as a reader, I think he took it a little too far. You can get a little lost in the weeds because it’s so detailed.
Kathi – You mean elfin? Should we just go there? He developed a whole language.
Lindsay – He did. Languages was one of his personal strengths. It’s one of my weaknesses, so I’m like, “Wow!” Language was kind of his thing and history, which is another huge part of world building. If you don’t understand the history or the world or the place you’re writing in, your world is not going to be as deep as it should be. History. Culture. Those things are hugely important. He was great at those things. I just think he went a little too far in what he included in the actual text.
Kathi – Got it.
Lindsay – That’s something I’m going to talk about in my workshop. What is that line of what you know, as the creator of the story, what do you know about your world versus what your readers need to know and what they character’s eye view is. Those are not the same.
Kathi – Right. Okay. Very cool.
Lindsay – I could say he’s a great example of the fantasy genre. So for something outside of the fantasy genre that has great world building: Downton Abbey comes to mind. That is so rich. That is, of course, a different format we’re talking about. Television, in this case, but it’s such a great example.
Kathi – The details of the food and the telephone. Oh gosh, I can’t remember the butler’s name right now.
Lindsay – Carson.
Kathi – Carson, thank you. Not knowing what to do with the telephone was just so rich. It’s like, “Yeah. You wouldn’t automatically know.” He’s introducing himself on the phone. Absolutely. I will say that there is one book that I absolutely love. I mention it quite a bit. It’s called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It’s by Barbara Kingsolver, who is, of course, an amazing fiction writer. Poisonwood Bible. This is her memoir of local eating for a year. You can picture the farmhouse. You can picture the turkeys – I’m sorry, it’s a big part of the chapter – having sex. Nothing you ever wanted to picture, but it is world building. Okay, Lindsay, I’m wondering, would you be willing? Do you have a list somewhere, or something, “Here are the things to consider when world building.”?
Lindsay – I do. As I’m writing the slides and working on my notes for my workshop, I’ve got a list.
Kathi – So, I’m trying to think. What I really want people to do is go over to your show notes and click on the link to go to WCCW. Okay, so Lindsay, these are all great examples. Here’s my question: I’ve seen people do this in different ways. Ripping pictures out of magazines. Building a Pinterest board. For somebody who’s trying this for the first time and says, “I want to build a world.” Let’s just use me for an example. Could you give me some private coaching? So, I’m writing a memoir about The Red House. What do I do to start building this world? It’s a real world. I live there. I can take pictures of it. That’s not a problem. How do I start to gather that information and translate it onto the page?
Lindsay – I think a lot of this really depends on your personality and the way that you’re built, the way you take in information and process it. It varies from person to person. I’ll tell you what I do. This is not the one right way to do it, but I love to be in a place. For me, I’m often creating a fictional or imaginary place, but I like to go to a real world place that inspires me, or reminds me of what I’m trying to build, or can kind of serve as a seed, based on reality, to start building from. I like to be in that place. I like to be in that place and be silent. Smell the place and feel the place. There’s something where, and this is going to sound weird, I don’t mean this in a new age-y kind of way, but I will take in the vibes of the place.
Kathi – Absolutely. I’m a big believer in Holy Spirit vibes.
Lindsay – Okay, so you understand what I mean by that. Every place just has a feeling like that. Something deep in here. So, when I was writing the third book in my trilogy, released in May, and I was in the process of pre-writing that, I visited my husband in London. He was overseas, working for a couple of weeks, and I went out there and spent one of those weeks with him. We got on a train and went a little outside of London to these caves, because a lot of my stories were taking place in this underground complex. I needed to know. I had never been in a real cave before. I needed to be in that and feel what that felt like. Feel the silence and feel the way that the cave plays tricks on you with light and sound and what that feels like in your soul, kind of.
Kathi – It’s a very different feeling.
Lindsay – Yes. The silence in an underground cave is like nothing you hear above ground. It’s just not. There’s just nothing like that. So, for me, I have to be in it first. I have to have that moment of quietness to just start writing down notes about what I’m experiencing. It’s both a five senses kind of thing and also that kind of sixth sense, where you’re just feeling the vibes of the place. That’s where I start. So, for your book, I would go to The Red House, which of course, easy. Easy for you to do because you live there. I would shut off my brain and just start feeling what I feel in those moments and just start writing those things down. Start brainstorming. It doesn’t even need to make sense on the page at that moment and that’s going to be the core of what you start with and go out from there. For some people, who are very observational with what they’re seeing, it might make more sense for them to very actively engage their brains, rather than wait for the vibe, to actively engage and start writing down every detail of what they observe. That’s another way to start getting the feel of the place, and really depends on the way your brain processes it.
Kathi – I love that our key concept here is to experience the Holy Spirit vibe of the setting so that you can translate that onto the page. This is the most woo-hoo concept I have discussed here, but it’s actually so true. It’s that feel, that smell, that sound. But then there’s that intangible. That’s our job, to convey that the best we possibly can. Okay, so I twisted Lindsay’s arm. She was actually quite gracious and it didn’t need to go back very far. I said, “I would just love a list of the top ten things that, when you’re world building, pay attention to this.” So, we’re going to put that over on the show notes. Lindsay, thank you so much for doing that. I think, for us to get our toe into this, but if world building is something you really want to do, I really suggest people go to WCCW and take your class. I’m going to take your class. I’m one of the workshop leaders as well, but we can take the classes whenever we want. I want to go and learn about this. I want to see how your brain works. Thank you for sharing a little of your brain with us today.
Lindsay – Of course. I’m so excited to teach this class. It’s a lot of fun.
Kathi – I’m super excited, because WCCW, West Coast Christian Writers’ Conference is, hands down, my favorite conference to teach at. Guys, this year it’s going to be February 25-27.. So, that’s 2021, depending on when you’re listening to this. I love their theme. Cast Your Net: The Deep Awaits You. I love it. It’s a mega conference with over 60 online workshops, agents, editors, award winning authors, general sessions, and I love this: opportunities for live feedback and appointments. I can’t wait to see how they’re going to control this three-ringed circus. If anybody can, Susy Flory can. Now here’s the thing, guys. This conference is normally $249. They have a very quick flash sale every year. I’ve got permission from the director, Susy Flory, for the month of November, while you’re listening to these podcasts, this series, to give you the flash sale price. Normally, this conference is $249. It’s going for the flash sale price of $129. It’s such a huge deal. I’ve also convinced her to do something else for my listeners. If you use the code REDHOUSE, for the month of November, we’re also going to throw in something cool. Susy Flory taught something at The Red House called Escape the Stuck: Free Your Story at These Five Stuck Places. So, you’re going to discover the five stages of a writing project and determine which stage is your biggest challenge. In other words, where do you often get stuck? Find ways to get unstuck and transition from stage to stage, moving forward with fresh energy and insight. So guys, this is a series that Susy did for a group of 25 people. We got rave reviews on it. When you register, you’re going to be able to get that whole series for free. So, I’m super excited for the learning we’re going to have this month on the podcast, and to see all of you at the West Coast Christian Writers’ Conference. Lindsay, thank you again for being on. I’m now excited about world building. Who knew? I can’t wait to attend your workshop.
Lindsay – Thank you so much.
Kathi – Thank you. And friends, thank you for being here today. You’ve been listening to Writing at The Red House podcast. Now, go share your story of God’s extravagant love.
*see show notes in podcast post above for any mentioned items