Friday, February 19, 2010

Back on the Blog Chain--Building Your Characters' World

This round's topic was suggested by Cole, who asked


which translated, means How do you get inside your character's world?

(And no, she didn't post the number, but when I pasted it in accidentally, I thought it would be funny to leave it there.)

My current project, Across Two Universes, literally takes place on two different worlds: one is a future Earth, and the other is a 1980 Earth. Travel between them occurs through a wormhole, so much of the story is also set on a spaceship. I have a lot to keep in mind when I create my settings, so how do I do it? It's a mixture of research and extrapolation.

Researching the 1980 setting would seem to be easier, but sometimes I have trouble tracking down the specific information I need. My characters land in the western part of the U.S.; how do they get to Chicago? In earlier drafts they flew, but this time, they have less money, so they take a train. I had to research routes and schedules, estimate prices, and look up pictures of the cars in service at that time. The Internet was a big help here, not just for looking things up directly, but by finding people willing to send me additional information. I even researched some points the old-fashioned way, via books at the library. An important scene is set outside the Museum of Science and Industry at the U-505 exhibit. I remember seeing the submarine when it was still outside the museum, but I couldn't remember how it was set up and if it was roped off. I found a book about the history of the submarine, but the pictures didn't show me how the exhibit looked. In the end, I went with what worked for my story. I tried to be as accurate as possible, but if it's not quite right, I can always claim that that's because it's an alternate universe.

With the futuristic settings, I start with what's known or what's projected and go from there. The future Earth setting contains references to global warming, problems with agriculture, and overpopulation. For the spaceship, I chose to make it fusion-powered (since that seemed the most likely power source to me) and made it self-sufficient with fish ponds and greenhouses.

To bring these settings to life, I think about what my main character would notice as he moves from one location to the other. He smells, feels, and tastes differences between the two universes. He misses having access to computers in 1980 but is amazed by how lax security is. It's all in the details, so I try to include telling details when I can.

That's all I have for now. Go check out what Mandy said yesterday and what Michelle will say tomorrow!


Nisa said...

That sounds awesome! I want a wormhole back to the 80s! Okay, not really. Unless it was an alternate reality where the clothes and hair styles weren't so awful. But the rest could stay the same. :) Great post!

My verification word is nospit... Think the 80s are trying to tell me something? Haha!

Cole Gibsen said...

Very interesting. I'm always fascinated by the world building processes of scify writers. Oh, and before I forget: 67239.

Ann said...

I was trying to research fares of transatlantic crossings in the 50's, the lay out of a ship that did these crossings etc. But could find nothing. I had to shelve the story due to frustration. How wonderful you were able to find what you needed. Sounds like a great story!

Eric said...

Ann, that's too bad that you decided to give it up. Maybe you'll be able to find more later and continue writing the story.

This is a great post, Sandra. I like the idea of your WiP. I can just imagine how difficult and frustrating it would be to go back to the days of "not so good Internet". My son however, would love to go back to the 80s. He is fascinated with it, which I find really funny. Oh, and my number would have to be 8675309.

Sandra said...

Nice 80's reference, Eric? How is Jenny doing these days? Is she still popular?

Elana Johnson said...

Wow, Sandra! Putting in those differences is what's going to totally make your new universe shine! And point out the differences between our life now, 30 years away from 1980. So cool!

Emily Ann Benedict said...

The 1980's is a fun decade to choose. :) Asking questions about what your character would see and feel is my favorite way of finding descriptions too. :)

Sarah Bromley said...

Sci-fi writers amaze me with their worlds. It's why I stick to what I've seen with a twist. Wow.

B.J. Anderson said...

Wow, this is cool. And it looks like you did so much research. I love doing research. It's my favorite part of writing.

Kat Harris said...

*slaps forehead* You and I should have exchanged 80s info.

It wasn't that long ago. You wouldn't think it would be so hard to find info from then.

Shaun Hutchinson said...

I love that U-505 exhibit. So cramped on the inside.

I like that you try to be accurate but don't allow details to cramp the story. Great post!

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Wow, it seems like you have done a ton of research to get all the little details right - I am also so impressed by that level of dedication!

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