Hey everyone! Today's post is another guest post, and this time it's from the author of the newly released book True North: L.E. Sterling. Keep reading, and I hope you guys like it!
There’s a point in True North where my main characters, Lucy Fox and Jared Price, end up somewhere new. As I started writing my couple into this different space (literally outside the world of Dominion) I started thinking, how did the characters get there?
Besides the obvious (duh - you wrote them there), my mind wandered to the question of how I could write about places I’ve never been. Let me get the easy truth out of the way first: it’s a heck of a lot easier to write about places you’ve never been if they are set in a dystopian sci-fi/fantasy future.
Dominion City, where the True Born novels are (mostly) set, is not a place I’ve been because, despite the fact that it’s based on a real North American city, it really is a city of the future—a place of the imagination. Eventually, Lucy and Jared end up in a small city in Russia (also a real place). But I’ve never been to Russia, either, let alone a future-tense Russia. Still, at a certain point I had to ask myself, does that matter?
The answer is: yes. And no.
I guess there’s a specific kind of freedom that’s possible when you write sci-fi and fantasy. The real world can be your canvas, but it’s a warped canvas, more like a Picasso painting, all jumbled and strange, than the realism of a photograph. The ‘real world’ details that you’d typically rely upon as a writer don’t matter as much.
But what are these ‘real world’ details? These are things we all know about in the here and now, like: that the sky over Montana is big or that 5th Avenue in Manhattan is a pretty awesome place to go if you have a gold card, or that the metro (subway) in Montreal, Quebec look like toy trains. That magnolias smell sweet and cut grass has a distinctive scent that often smells like childhood. We live in a world where there are four seasons (in some states) and the Kardashian sisters and Syrian refugees.
Dominion, on the other hand, is an amalgam of city spaces that I know very well, but projected into another reality. The smells and flavors that would ordinarily be present in a city, giving it its distinct flavor (and also making it readily identifiable by readers) are skewed in Dominion. Here, the sky is leaden and white-gray. The stores are closed and the streets are populated by a growing number of corpses, with rovers to collect them. There are dog-sized rats and graffiti everywhere, though not the kind of tagging you’d see outside your school today.
To write convincingly about a place is to make it real to your readers. So the question is, how do you write convincingly about a place if you don’t know the space you’re writing about? You make sure you think about all of those little details.
“World craft” is what Sci-fi Fantasy novels do best. SF/F writers quite literally create the map—and then fill it in. My favorite books are those that provide you a map of their fantasy world complete with rivers, mountains and lakes. Writers can write these make-believe places so well because they make these worlds. And the more the writer thinks through the nuances of their world(s) (are there birds here? Do people shake hands or do they bump elbows?) the more convinced the reader becomes.
It was when I’d stuck Lucy and Jared on an ancient cruise ship that I realized I’d come to some dramatic conclusions about the world of the True Born Trilogy, and specifically about this place outside of Dominion. The sky, leaden over Dominion, sometimes peeks blue over the ocean. The ship is powered by coal and Lasters who will likely die before the end of the journey, while hundreds of Upper Circlers, as well as some members of the Gilt, sup from fine china.
As I wrote, I saw Dominion get bigger, and more complex, and more and more detailed. Every sentence revealed to me some new nuance of the world, each detail changing something about the way the characters acted and reacted to their environment. For me, that pure creativity is one of the best things about being a writer. I am a maker of worlds.
Brooke's a high schooler who loves to read all sorts of books. She's happy to be able to share all the books she's reading with all of y'all.