On The Chain Gang #2 – Story-world Building

My LINK in the Blog Chain

THE BLOG CHAIN is comprised of a group of fiction writers from Query Tracker and Rally Storm. We thought it would be fun and insightful to acquire differing ideas and opinions on a particular writing topic.

So, we work through the chain posting one-by-one with the same general focus, and then, we repeat the process with a new topic for discussion. Check out the previous post at Mary’s blog and the next post will be published at Elana’s blog within the next couple of days.  If you would like to read this topic from the beginning, please see Heather’s blog.

All Blog Chain members are listed in the sidebar to the right.

My previous Link in the Blog Chain was on the topic of Characters.

This Round’s Topic is:

How do you as an author choose or create your story-world and give that setting authenticity?

My fantasy tale, THE GATEKEEPERS’ CHARGE, blends two worlds – one mortal and one magical. As I mentioned in my last blog chain post, my characters told me about the worlds in which they live. They did not tell me every specific detail, but rather they offered a general knowledge of their surroundings. It was enough to give me a basis from which to start building. Writing this novel gave me plenty of room for make-believe. My imagination could run wild within the magical world, but it also needed to remain restrained within the confines of small town mortal life. To me, it was the best of both worlds, so to speak.


There was no real difference in the process of building the two different story-worlds for THE GATEKEEPERS’ CHARGE. From my characters I knew both of my worlds were centuries old, although the magical world was much older than the small town in the mortal world. To best portray this, I wanted to create the worlds with layers of traditions, history, and character connections. I built layer upon layer intertwining them to knit a cohesive structure to support the story-worlds.


From there I breathed life into my worlds by giving them personality. Everything required individual traits, whether it was landscape, atmospheric conditions, celebrations, politics, emotions, laws (mortal or magical), relationships, or what have you. I felt it was important to evoke all of the readers’ senses in allowing them to become a part of the story-worlds. I wanted them to feel the very pulse that beat beneath the surface. And I found creating eccentricities to be a key tool in expressing and eliciting these responses. Quirkiness overlapped throughout both worlds and their respective denizens.


Research for these worlds came on an as needed basis in order to lend realism or spark ideas for my worlds. I have enjoyed the research, and have found myself so enthralled by the new things I was learning that I have wasted many, many hours more than I should have. I’ll just look at it as research for future books. Yeah, that’s it!

My cozy mystery, TIME’S UP FOR FATHER TIME, is set in a fictional small town in Vermont. Why you may ask? I don’t know. I’ve never even been to Vermont, but cozying up to a bright fire with drifts of snow outside just sounded wonderful to me. As a lifelong southern Californian living at the beach in Orange County, snow is not something I deal with, and therefore, is very romantic. And besides that, nothing can beat Vermont’s maple syrup!


My process of story-world building for the cozy mystery was very different from the creation of my fantasy tale worlds. Because Vermont is a real place, even though my town is fictional, I wanted to be able to intersperse reality into my world – real geography, history, business, and so forth. I started by drawing a map of my town. I had specific ideas about some of the places within the town, and I needed to lay out the relationships between the other buildings and infrastructure.


Then I needed to research. I asked for brochures and booklets from the Vermont Tourism Bureau, checked out the State of Vermont official government website, looked into the state flowers, trees, boasting rights and other interesting facts, old cemeteries and funeral practices, and so much more. I wanted to learn about the history of Vermont, its landscape, its ski resorts, the maple sugaring industry, what houses look like in different areas of Vermont (I love that real estate has gone internet, and you can actually see houses inside and out online). I signed up for a couple of small town web-papers to find out about various traditions, celebrations, and to acquire a flavor of the state and its people.

As I continued writing the story, I discovered that I needed an architectural sketch of the inn in which the main part of my story takes place. It was like building a world within my story-world and everything needed to be precise. It was intricate and things were complicated so, I had to get it drawn in the hope I could stay consistent and not confuse my reader.


Building this world was every bit as layered and many-sided as building my fantasy worlds, and again quirkiness and eccentricity play big parts in warming the readers’ hearts to the story-world.


If I were to give any advice on building a story-world, I think it would be this: Depth gives your story-world authenticity. Life is not one-dimensional, it is multi-faceted and fluid, and writing it as such inspires realism no matter where your world is based. Allow your reader to connect with your world as well as your characters. Readers like to get lost in books…and as an author that is exactly where I want them.

I’m interested in your thoughts on story-world building. Don’t forget to post a COMMENT at the top of this post.

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~ by bloggingexperiments on September 21, 2008.

9 Responses to “On The Chain Gang #2 – Story-world Building”

  1. Excellent advice! I had a writing teacher once stress that the most important elements in a story are the senses- feel, taste, touch, smell, sight – if a reader can get a sense of all of that kind of stuff, they can get sucked into the story right along with the characters 🙂 Wonderful post!

  2. Snow seemed romantic with the light dusting we had on my wedding day (when my bridesmaids and I were singing “White Wedding” all morning). Otherwise, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on the romance of snow unless you want to come shovel my driveway this year. *snort*

    Great idea for snooping through real estate listings!

    Cool post, Abi!

  3. Oooh, you have some gorgeous pics in this posting – the one with the trees is especially nice… Although I have to say as soon as I read that you thought snow was wonderful, I knew before I even read it that you must have grown up in a warm climate. LOL. I am just bitter… like the cold that I grew up in – in Buffalo, NY – that at times froze the locks of my car door closed.

    I also love “Life is not one-dimensional, it is multi-faceted and fluid.” Well said!

  4. Love the last paragraph. Wonderful post, Abi. I’m with Kate, the tree pic is magnificent. Thanks for sharing your writing process with us. Your blog site is beautiful, by the way.

  5. Awesome post Abi! I love how you mentioned the layering of traditions. That really brought a visual image of how we build realistic story-worlds.

    I agree with Heather about the snow. Man, I slid off the road in 14 inches of the stuff = not romantic. Seriously. But your pictures are very cozy! Good job!

  6. I especially liked this line: “Everything required individual traits, whether it was landscape, atmospheric conditions, celebrations, politics, emotions, laws…” That really gave me a sense of the kind of richness and detail you include, and the texture such research must create in your stories!

  7. That was a great post…I never thought about actually drawing out a home or builing, much less a town. Goes to show that you learn something new every day!

    🙂 Terri

  8. Good post! I agree that building layers of detail are important for making worlds real. And yes, I don’t like snow either.

  9. Great post, Abi! Wow are you intense with your research! I too used the realestate online aspect to search out an apartment complex that my characters would live in. I had to sketch out a floorplan to help me stay consistant. Great job with this!

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