What is it about our favorite books that makes them…well…our favorites? Why do we lose ourselves in approximately 300 pages of literary bliss, happy to let life go on without us? How can something as simple as Times New Roman font entrance us to the point of burned dinners, showerless days, vanishing hours, and drag us around an emotional roller coaster?
It’s the worlds created by our beloved authors. Worlds so rich and enticing that we sink, quite willingly, into each and every page. Worlds crafted in such a way that we feel IN the action, a part of the story — all of our senses activated by the words on the page.
A well-crafted world, fictional or not, comes from research and study. If you’re writing historical fiction, this takes dedicated hours, days, even months or years of conducting interviews, diving into Wikipedia, historical documents, videos, pop culture and more.
However, if you are creating a fantastical planet, people, language, or alternate universe or world, where do you begin to breakdown the sounds, smells, education, history, animals that inhabit the area, and story of the people and your main characters? Every little detail needs to be explored in order to create these amazing worlds.
Having a well thought out, descriptive world is just as important as having well-developed characters. In fact, many would argue that World or Setting IS a character. They are living, breathing elements in the story as well.
Stop by the Goddess Complex panel on Friday, June 28th at 10 AM where fab authors RaShelle Workman, AG Henley, LM Davis, and RK Ryals will discuss how the creative process intertwines with research and imagination to create rich, believable characters, settings and mythology that keep the reader coming back for more.
What do you hear, smell and feel when you read the following:
Wishes are like the wings on a butterfly—frail and easily destroyed.
Still, as I watched Kelari’s second sun sink into the Alayeahean Sea, I offered one.
“I wish to find my parents.”
In answer, a frothy wave slapped the sand. Its edges clambered between my toes, a cooling balm, before retreating. I stepped back.
When it came to the sea I was a lurker, an admirer, definitely not a partaker. Though I did love the sound of the surf as it broke along the shore. The sea baffled me. An entity I didn’t understand and had no control over. The waves, the tides, and the creatures beneath . . . all of it left me frightened.
I closed my eyes, and took a deep breath, the salty air clinging to my insides. The wind whipped against my braid and sent my light dress skittering around me like a dancing kite.
Behind me, over the grassy hill, sprawled my family’s castle. Beyond, spread wide with verdant greenery, orchards, and vegetation, was Alayeah. A lush and vibrant countryside kept clean by solar powered energy produced in our city above the clouds, Nimbus. The two entities were separate, but each was intrinsically necessary to the other’s survival. One teaming with rich color, beautiful landscapes, and all manner of life, the other metallic and industrialized.
In between the crashing waves I heard the chk-chk-chk of beetles, the buzzing of insects, and the mawarrr-mawarrr-mawarrr of the tsar monkeys.
My home, I thought, fighting tears. Since my return to Kelari, even the little things, like the smell of the brackish sea, made me cry.
— BEGUILED, RaShelle Workman
Or how about the urgency, tension and despair created by the following description of the landscape:
I was suddenly on my knees, one hand still in Marcas’, the other covering my eyes as the world went white. It was sunlight and it wasn’t. We were in a desert, a bright, hot, blazing desert. But it wasn’t Earth. No sun on Earth could burn that bright. And we were burning. Truly burning. The heat was too strong. Even beneath the sweatshirt, I felt my skin smolder as if it were ablaze.
Marcas was quick, moving behind me, lowering himself over me to block the sun with his body as we looked out over the landscape before us. It was a vast wasteland of nothingness. There was only sky and sun and sand, gritty sand that was bone white and sharp where my palm rested against the ground. And it was hot. So very hot. Even breathing hurt. My lungs felt charred. There was a rawness in my chest and back every time I attempted to breathe. Every lungful of air was a battle. A raspy, greedy battle for survival.
I heard Marcas struggling with his own breathing, watched as the arm he held over me began to redden, and I knew we were going to die. There didn’t seem to be any way around it. We had both heard Satan’s voice.
“In this moment, you are completely human. You will have no powers. You will be able to bleed and die. You will be able to starve. You will be able to suffer as you have never suffered before.”
Even the amulet Monroe had given Marcas was useless. It only protected against Demon possession. We weren’t just enduring trials. We were enduring them as humans, our Angelic and Demon counterparts temporarily stripped away.
“It will be okay,” Marcas whispered in my ear, his voice strained.
There was nothing we could do but wait. I looked out from under Marcas’ body, desperately seeking any kind of protection from the punishing environment, but there was nothing. There was only white sand, sun, and blue skies. It was blindingly bright, and I whimpered as sweat beaded beneath my shirt. The moisture was no relief. It hissed against my skin, steam rising from my body as it evaporated.
It had been only minutes, and the heat was already killing us, wrestling as much moisture from our bodies as it could in mere seconds. My skin crawled, and I knew it was because it was drying out. The burning would come next. Marcas’ skin above me was already a terrifying shade of red. He kept his face averted, facing the sand, and I watched as he gritted his teeth against the burn. He was shading me, protecting me, and he was going to be the first to die.
— RETRIBUTION, R.K. Ryals
Or read carefully the description that keeps you guessing until the “reveal” of the main character’s main attribute in the last line:
The shadows shift as we pass under the canopy of trees. I wrap my hand around Eland’s sapling-thin arm—roots and creeping weeds on the forest floor have sent me sprawling more often than I want to remember. We reach the clearing, the heart of our community, where a bonfire sizzles and sputters to life. People shout to each other as they make their way down the paths from the gardens and the water hole, their work done for the day. The luscious fragrance of gardenia winds through the air. Someone must have strung garlands as decorations.
Our home, like those of all the other Groundlings, nestles into the embrace of the towering greenheart trees circling the clearing. Eland pushes open the door of our shelter. Aloe, my foster mother and his natural mother, calls to us from inside.
“Come in here, Eland . . . are you presentable? Comb your hair and be sure you clean the muck out of those fingernails. Fennel? Did you finish in the caves?”
I move to Aloe’s side, where I know her outstretched arm will be, and take her hand in mine. Her skin is weathered but warm, like the surface of the enormous clay cooking pot in the clearing that never quite cools off. She smells of rosemary, from working in the herb garden, and something else I can only liken to the scraps of pre-Fall metal we sometimes come across in the forest.
“There’s plenty of blankets and firewood, but we could probably use more salt meat,” I tell her.
“We can store what’s left of the boar after the celebration. We’re fortunate the hunting party came across such a large one, and so near to home. The Council is pleased.”
“When will they meet?”
“Soon. Sable and Adder want to perform the ceremony before the Lofties arrive.”
Aloe will join the Groundling Council of Three tonight. One more reason to look up to her. Aloe is the most capable person I know. I was given to her as an infant to foster because she’s Sightless, like me. She taught me to rely on myself first, and others only when absolutely necessary. Her guidance made my childhood much easier.
— THE SCOURGE, A.G. Henley
So how do the authors do it? How do they wrap us readers around their wee pinkies until we hang on their every word? Read one more, and then join us at utopYAcon in June.
Where are we going?” There was laughter in Avery’s voice as he looked down at the green-eyed, brown-skinned girl who tugged him across the courtyard. She was surprisingly strong to be so petite. Though petite was relative, given that he was already almost six feet tall.
“Just come on,” Larissa replied breezily, not at all affected by her exertion. She pulled him along as though he were nothing more than a bunch of balloons. Lighter than air. It shouldn’t have been that easy for her. Not that he was struggling, but he was not exactly cooperating either.
The girl dragged him along until finally he realized that she would indeed yank him the entire way to their destination. Though he had only known her for a few weeks, he was already beginning to recognize the determined look on her face. He shook his arm loose, with not a little bit of effort, and started to walk with her. Together, they crossed the courtyard of the Kula in amiable silence, walked out of the gates, through the vestibule and into the grasslands that spread outward just beyond the entrance.
A little more than two months ago, even this minor feat, an unescorted excursion beyond the Kula gates, would have been impossible. Of course, just a little more than two months ago Larissa’s mother, the Imperial Bastion of Panteria, had been missing, along with her father. Panteria, itself, had been under attack from unknown assailants. All the people of Panteria had feared that they and their families would be the next victims of the faceless malice.
A little more than two months ago, Larissa had only just learned of Panteria, this strange, alternative dimension that was, apparently, her ancestral homeland. Everything was new, disconcerting, and rather frightening.
So much had changed in so little time….
“Larissa?” Avery prodded, knowing that they were not just out for some leisurely stroll. Larissa walked steadfastly, silently onward, traveling quickly down the path that began at the gates of the Kula and came to an abrupt end at the base of a hill some several hundred yards away. Giving up on any hope of a response, Avery trotted along behind her, helpless to do anything else.
When they reached the foot of the hill, Larissa finally faced him. Instead of speaking, she grabbed the bottom of her linen-like, emerald-green tunic and pulled it over her head. She neatly folded the garment and placed it on the ground. Then she removed her pants, stepping daintily out of one leg and then the other. In seconds, she stood before him in her black body suit with an expectant look on her face.
Avery blushed furiously, unable to help himself as he gave the girl an appreciative once over. Luckily, or unluckily, Larissa didn’t seem to notice at all. Still, he quickly followed suit, disrobing and placing his crumpled clothing the girl’s outstretched hand. As Larissa shoved their clothes behind one of the bushes that grew in great abundance at the base of the steep hill, Avery shifted.
Moments later, the two cats, one pitch black panther and one honey-colored leopard began the steep climb up the hillside.
— POSERS, L.M. Davis
Grab all of these books, as well as the books by our other talented author panelists, by clicking on the links above or visiting the Official Reading List page.
What are some books you’ve read that had super wicked worlds that swept you away? Do you prefer completely fabricated fantasy worlds or something based on a real place, but nowhere you’ve ever been? Let us know in the comments.
D.B. Graves is a young adult writer living amidst the rolling hills of Middle Tennessee with her husband and young and wildly entertaining son.