Author Jillian Stone has stopped by the blog today to share her secret sauce recipe for world-building magic. Plus, she has a giveaway after her really awesome demonstration on sensory world-building. Please join me in welcoming her to the blog!
The Secret Sauce of World Building
by Jillian Stone
Whether you are aware of it or not, world building is a part of every word you write. Take this exercise for example, see if you can guess what world this character is in using sensory world building:
Character sees: Nothing. Pitch blackness.
Character hears: A dog barking. A car passes by. A thud and a squeak, as though s tire hit a pothole.
Character feels: Her hands are bound. She tries to call out: her mouth is taped. She feels hot, sticky, short of breath, as if she might be suffocating. She is surrounded, encased in something. The material feels slick, smooth, like plastic. Maybe she is wrapped or bagged in plastic? Something warm and damp trickles down her temple. She rubs her face against the plastic wrapper smearing the warm liquid around.
She smells: A rusty metallic scent reminds her of blood. Her blood. Her nose picks up more than blood. It picks up the sent of rotted food, engine oil, disposable diapers.
She tastes: Blood
She hears: Footsteps on wet asphalt. The whine and groan of metal––like a door opening, only the sound comes from directly overhead. And a thud…
She feels: A heavy weight land on her from above.
She hears: The tinkling sound of glass breaking and a clatter of objects surrounding her. Another groan of metal hinges and a thunderous bang––like a lid shutting on a…
What world is she in? Where is she?
(Answer: Dumped in a dumpster.)
Every breath your character takes, every word she speaks, every choice she makes make, every skill she possesses, has world building in it.
Whether you’re constructing a paranormal setting full of shapeshifters, pulling together the details of a historical mystery set in Victorian London, or bringing to life a fictional, contemporary small town, world building is a skill that makes your story come alive.
Every writer world builds, but if you are looking for reader immersion, your world building has to be present in every word, sentence and scene and it must include sensory, the secret sauce of world building.
Generally, I break down world building into three components:
- Specifics: Facts, factoids, use of proper names, etc.
- Supporting Details: Underscores specific, use to explain or bookend specifics.
- Sensory: Directly sensory or evoking sensory/visceral
I have found that the absolute best way to practice these components is by diagramming your own or someone else’s work. So here are two scenes from the opening chapters of An Affair with Mr. Kennedy to practice on:
- Specifics in Bold Green.
- Supporting Details Underlined.
- Sensory will be Pink
London’s West End, 1887
Detective Inspector Zeno Kennedy unbuttoned his collar and pulled out a shirttail. “What have you got for me?”
Scarlet, aka Kitty Matthews, reclined on the mattress and struck a seductive pose. Propped on her elbows, the girl lowered and raised sultry green eyes in a brazen inspection of his person. “You blokes from Scotland Yard are a handsome lot.”
She arched her back and thrust her breasts up and out at him. Quite a robust figure—ample bottom and curvy topside. Studying her, he decided she could not be more than seventeen or eighteen years of age. A shapely little thing with chestnut colored hair, big green eyes and a button nose. She could easily raise a man’s temperature.
Zeno did his best to ignore the girl’s bountiful charms as he took up a post at the end of the bed-frame. “Actually, I work for Special Irish Branch.” He leaned over the brass rail.
Scarlet gaped at a bit of exposed chest. “Blue eyes and dark hair—Black Irish, are you?”
Zeno hastily pulled his shirt closed and admonished himself to be patient with his newest recruit. “Special Irish Branch is a division of Scotland Yard aimed at investigating anarchists. Fenians mostly. We’re after the blokes who want Home Rule for the Irish at any price, by any means.”
Her eyes grew wide. “The dynamiters?”
A low groan and squeaking bed springs drifted through the wall. Zeno raised an index finger to his lips and gave a nod to the adjoining room.
The budding beauty in front of him typified the adolescent female offerings of this pleasure house. Mrs. Jeffries’s, as it was referred to in hushed tones among gentlemen at their clubs, was a popular brothel marketing young women—very young. Some were girls who had not yet been spoiled, for a steeper price.
With venereal disease rampant, and the Contagious Diseases Act repealed, men of means found the idea of a virgin, even if less bawdy, certainly a healthier amusement. It seemed the baser instincts of gentlemen of privilege would continue to find ways to avoid the pox at any cost, both to their pockets and to the lives of the innocent juveniles conscripted for such harsh duty.
Scotland Yard’s Criminal Investigations Department of the Metropolitan Police had moved on some of the worst offenders, but there had been tremendous pressure from the top echelons to keep the safer brothels open. As for the use of young girls, Zeno’s position was well known. Turning a blind eye to their plight made them all dirty.
“You sent an urgent wire, Scarlet. Anything to report?”
Another excerpt from An Affair with Mr. Kennedy:
Caught in a deluge of rain, Cassie cursed The Daily Telegraph. Wrong again. The forecast for afternoon precipitation arrived early and descended upon the city in more of a deluge than a shower. The storm hit as she neared the halfway point of her trudge to hospital. It took only a few short minutes of such inclement weather for her to rue the decision to walk off an extra slice of lemon tart.
On days like today, the Underground trains were swamped with passengers and every hansom cab in London occupied and in service. Her coat would soon be soggy and damp. Well, there was nothing left to do but soldier on. She angled her umbrella against the slanted pelting drops and slogged ahead.
At the corner of Piccadilly and St. James, awash in rain and self-pity, she heard her name in the crowd.
She pivoted toward the voice in the storm, and came face-to-face with Mr. Kennedy. He tipped his hat. Before she could register surprise, he grabbed hold of her and whisked her into his carriage.
Dazed and dripping, she took a moment to compose herself. A musty whiff of damp upholstery and soggy woolen coats pervaded the air. He sat opposite, wearing an amused, condescending expression, which she found to be entirely vexing. He leaned forward and coaxed the umbrella out of her hand. She watched in silence as he gave the handle a good shake.
“You are soaking wet, Mrs. St. Cloud, and I am late for a briefing. You should consider a return trip to Lyall Street for a change of clothes.”
“Nonsense, Mr. Kennedy. I’ll be dry in no time, once I get into my classroom.” Cassie remembered her manners. “I must thank you for—” She halted, overcome with curiosity. “How on earth did you find me?”
“I chose a route you would in all probability take on foot.” That piercing blue gaze of his shifted from the passing street scene to her. “To spy you amongst a rain-sodden crowd, easier still.” He hesitated. “You are both tall and attractive, and I would have to say luminous, even in a rainstorm, Mrs. St. Cloud.”
Heat rose from her collar, melting away her earlier vexation. Still, she resisted much expression, waiting to see if the corners of his mouth would ever turn up.
There, he cracked enough of a grin to make a dimple with a deep crease.
She returned a brief smile, dipping her head to peer out the fogged coach window. A glimpse of Trafalgar Square, gave way to a jumble of government buildings. As the carriage slowed, she wiped a medium-sized spot clear, just enough to see the entrance to Number 4 Whitehall Place.
“This is where we must part company, madam.”
She sat up straight. “You work for Scotland Yard?”
“I do.” He turned up his raincoat collar and gathered his umbrella. “I will instruct my driver to take you on to Foundling Hospital.”
“You called me Cassie again, even though you’d rather not.”
She nodded. “Just now, when you fished me out of the rain.”
He opened his mouth to respond and then paused. He wore a curious, contemplative expression, as if after considering her remarks he still could not account for such a familiarity. “I shall come collect you this afternoon, Mrs. St. Cloud.”
Her gaze tracked the bob of his umbrella as he jumped a rain puddle and entered the grounds. After a bombing incident some years past, they’d fenced off the famous government agency. There was scarce foot traffic to be seen, as pedestrians were now directed down a narrow pathway that ran alongside the administrative offices. From what little she could make out, he passed by Horse Guards at the gate and disappeared inside the building.
Pressed to her seat as the carriage lurched off, her lips slowly curled upward.
“So Mr. Kennedy is a Yard man.”
Use these two exercises to attune yourself to your own writing and make sure there is plenty of sensory world building! Thanks to Smash Attack Reads for inviting me to guest blog today, I had a blast putting together this exercise on sensory world building! And now, a question for commenters:
Do you have any questions on sensory world building or world building in general? If so, please share.
I’m giving away a signed copy of A PRIVATE DUEL WITH AGENT GUNN to one lucky commenter today. Open internationally until 1/15/13. Good luck!
Prima ballerina Catriona de Dovia lives the glamorous life of a starlet, filled with glittering jewels, sumptuous dinners, and admiring suitors. She’s grown up considerably since losing her heart to Hugh Curzon once upon a time, no longer wasting her emotions on the empty promises of charming gentlemen. On her own since the untimely death of her parents, she will do anything for the only family she has left: her brother, a notorious anarchist.
Scotland Yard Agent Phineas Gunn–sometimes known as Hugh Curzon–receives his new assignment reluctantly. He’s up for something a little more strenuous than playing nanny to a ballerina, until he sees who his charge is. Then, it’s a completely different story, because he’d been unable to forget the trusting, beautiful Cate since he had to leave her behind in Barcelona. And he suspects Cate is more than a ballet girl–in fact, she just might be a jewel thief, or even more arousing–a clever undercover operative.
Finn is determined to find out as the two race across the Continent–by land, by sea, even through the air by zephyr–it becomes uncertain who is keeping tabs on whom, and Finn and Cate must battle the sexual tension that snaps and sizzles between them every step of the way.
Meet Jillian Stone
Jillian Stone is the author of the Phaeton Black, Paranormal Investigator series, which includes The Seduction of Phaeton Black, and the just released, The Moonstone and Miss Jones. The third sequel, The Miss Education of Doctor Exeter, is scheduled to release in summer 2013. Jillian is also the author of The Gentlemen of Scotland Yard series. Watch for A Private Duel with Agent Gunn in late November!
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