UPDATE: The winners are Pansy Petal, Debra Guyette, and Bn100!
I’m a workshop presenter at this year’s Chicago-North RWA Spring Fling conference, being held online due to COVID-19, and I’ll be talking about one of my favorite subjects: World-Building.
Imagine reading a story about vampires, but the author never tells you if these are creepy Nosferatu types, 80s-style heavy metal teen rebels, sword-wielding daywalkers, or sparkly high schoolers from the Pacific Northwest. What would you picture? What characteristics would you assign to them? How would you expect them to interact with other characters?
What if the story didn’t do any of what you imagined? That would be pretty disappointing—frustrating even—right? *This* is why World-Building is crucial… so a reader can immerse themselves into our stories and walk beside our characters without tripping up, taking a wrong turn, or thinking with a fair amount of annoyance, “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.”
I say all of this because, in spite of knowing better, I initially tried to cut World-Building corners with my newest book, Tin Man. I admit, I was a little tired of having to build a world completely from scratch, like a 90k ingredient cake recipe. I wanted something more familiar—a pre-made world that I didn’t have to invent. Like a cake from a box mix.
So, I decided to write a story located here on earth, in my current hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana. Human beings in an earth city where I could say “tree” and not have to describe the color of the leaves… What could possibly go wrong??
Wellll, there’s the fact that my story is set about 150 years in the future, so the city will have changed, but how? And the fact that technology will definitely have changed, such as what phones look like. And the fact my story is about cybernetic individuals, so what do they look and act like? And how might society perceive toasters versus a fellow human with machine parts? And the basic fact that not everyone is as familiar with the city of Indianapolis as I am.
Sigh. I had forgotten the main reason why World-Building is so critical to a good story: Not every reader’s individual life experience and perception is the same as another’s.
A story set in Indianapolis might feel like home for one reader, but a trip to uncharted lands for another. Saying a character is a cyborg might incite positive emotions from one reader, but negative from another. Based on our individual experiences, even something as seemingly universal as McDonald’s or Amazon will bring forth a wide variety of responses. Authors must build our worlds to gently direct our reader’s responses and perceptions. Are cyborgs misunderstood humans living in fear of their own safety, or are they dangerous timebombs ready to murder innocent people at a snap?
I smacked my forehead for ignoring the main tenet of my own World-Building presentation: No matter if we authors build a world from scratch or with the help of a box mix, we HAVE to craft a believable world so readers can experience the story as we intend them to. And to experience it in such a manner they feel they have lived the story alongside our characters.
And that they know what color the leaves on the trees are. 😉
My cyborg story, Tin Man, is book one in my Silver Cyborg Series trilogy, and is currently on pre-order to go live on July 17th. Despite my initial stumble where the World-Building is concerned, I’m thrilled with how it turned out, and I can’t wait to share it with you! Below is the beginning of Chapter One to pique your interest.
What book “worlds” have been fascinating/engaging/immersive for you as a reader? Post in the comments, and on July 16th, I’ll select three winners for a Kindle version of “Tin Man.”
Excerpt from Tin Man
A slow start to the night promises a crazy ending… said no one ever. But, based on his years as a bouncer at the historic Vogue Bar and Music Venue, Adam Lehmann knew the saying was truth. This Saturday night shift was downright dull so far, and the tingle in his lower back—the part which didn’t have cybernetic sensors running through it—assured him tonight was doomed.
He didn’t yet know what or why, but something would swerve into shit creek territory, and the cops would be called.
Cops who had once been his friends and coworkers. Guys who’d had his back. Up until part of that back, his heart, his left arm, and an eye had been replaced with cybernetics. On the outside, Adam didn’t look any different than he had. But simply knowing he wasn’t entirely organic beneath the epidermis layer was enough to make him an object of fear and loathing.
The awkward shift from pal to persona non grata hadn’t been listed as a possible side effect when he’d allowed doctors to replace his shot-to-hell body parts with experimental cyborg systems. If it had, he might have let himself die on the operating table. Scratch that, he would have assumed his friendships were tight enough to withstand a few synthetic enhancements.
The joke was on him. And it wasn’t funny.
“You seem on edge, Lemon.” The automaton bartender handed him a bottle of water. Adam forced a neutral expression at the slight mispronunciation, which turned his last name into a proclamation of his derelict physical state. Adam’s glitching cyborg parts and mid-forties human body did not mesh well. A mid-life crisis of epic proportions with no hope of coming out on the other side any way but dead. Not that he would admit that to anyone.
“I seem? A bit of a subjective statement, don’t you think, Arthur?”
Arthur’s robotic Swiss army knife body rotated beneath its head, its multiple attachments a symphony of cleaning, stacking, filling, pouring, serving. Only its face held any humanoid features, and those looked like the poor schmuck who passed out first at a fraternity party. Someone had taken a black marker to the mechanized bartender, decorating it with a scraggly goatee, handlebar mustache, scars, anime eyelashes, a black eye, and the word dildo in bold caps across his forehead. Instead of paying to have the synthetic covering cleaned or replaced, The Vogue’s owner had shrugged at the vandalism and invested in costume hats to add to Arthur’s look. Tonight, it sported a red bandana skull cap and pirate’s eye-patch. Adam refused to laugh at the ridiculousness of it.
To be honest, he didn’t laugh, period. Looming demise did that to a person.
Spring Fling Online Conference Registration: https://chicagospringfling.com
Tin Man Buy Links:
iBooks – https://books.apple.com/us/book/tin-man/id1519102092
Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/Tin-Man-Silver-Cyborg-Book-ebook/dp/B08B4YXYQQ/
Barnes & Noble – https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w?ean=2940162637080
Kobo – https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/tin-man-13