I’m about 12K into a new book, a paranormal suspense. It’s interesting because I’m trying to keep the supernatural bit not as overwhelming as sometimes portrayed and there’s a delicate balance between… subdued and why bother?
I mean if someone is going to be a “supernatural” creature, shouldn’t they have some benefits?
World building happens in every book, even contemporary novels. I’ve always preferred for the environment to play a character part as much as the characters themselves because I think that paints a backdrop to where they are. Someone who has never been to Los Angeles will never know the mind-numbing monotony of the 405 at 3 in the afternoon unless an author creates that scene for them. In a lot of ways, even the tiny details are important.
Well, if ever you’ve read a book where there’s a drive-thru Starbucks in downtown Manhattan…. in 1998, you’ll know details are very important. We won’t even talk about the 1958 Ford Mustang a mechanic was “restoring”.
It does help if you’ve been someplace yourself but research is also good. Google Maps is very handy for checking out how an area looks and if you’re doing a spot check of neighbourhoods, it’s great to “walk around” the district to get a good feel of what you can see.
What also helps is reaching out to people who live there or perhaps know someone. Not to say you should post things to your Facebook feed like: What’s a good place to eat hot dogs in North Carolina or help me plot what this character says when he finds he’s stubbed his toe on something in the gutter in Philly… like what would you stub your toe on there?
That kind of stuff really should come from you. Get recommendations, sure… but balance it with your own experience. If it’s really key to the story, see if you can buy that brand of hot dog and see what it’s like. Believe or not, there’s a “red” hot dog we ate a lot in Hawai’i from Redondo’s and it has a very different taste than a normal Ball Park frank. If I were writing about that kind, I’d taste it.
It’s a part of world building and in a lot of ways, as important to establish as writing a character whose ethnic origins aren’t your own. Regions have quirks… I’m looking at you Chicago with your hot dogs… and what’s acceptable in one place… like Appalachian chocolate gravy… might be considered off putting in another. Chili on spaghetti noodles? Not in SoCal but definitely Cincinnati but keep in mind, there’s Mediterranean spices in there, not so much Italian.
So… that’s where I’m at right now, building up a world I’ve never played in and figuring out where everything fits. With luck, I’ll get something down and then get a great idea of how something should work and have to rewrite half the book 😀