World-buildimg and I have a complicated relationship. For one thing, I write historical romance,. and the first genres that come to mind when many think of world-building are science fiction and/or fantasy, where one very well may have to build a literal world (or multiple worlds) from scratch, complete with alien species, advanced technology, and/or magic systems that require careful recordkeeping, with checks and balances, governmental structures, possibly changing the laws of physics, and…eep. That all sounds like a lot.
My story people live in the really real world, albeit a long time ago, but I don’t have actual historical figures (apart from a couple of brief cameos by Charles II, in Orphans in the Storm.) in on the action, an the focus is on the romance, so I often feel like I’m in the wrong room when I look at world-building resources that are created for SF/F authors. They’d probably feel equally out of place when it comes to resources geared toward romance authors (who do not write SF/F or paranormal romance) but that’s beside the point. All genres require world-building, even contemporary, which I co-write with Melva Michealian.
Right now, I’m getting my ducks in a row to create a small village, in the North of England, sometime in the eighteenth century, probably corresponding to the American Revolution, but that’s not a huge part of it, and this is not a story about the American Revolution, so, no, it is not like Hamilton, so back off with all the pressure, okay? (Oh, wait, I’m the one with the pressure. Still, back off, me.) In my workshop, Play in Your Own Sandbox, Keep All The Toys, there’s one segment called “Everybody Has to be Somewhere.” Theoretically, that’s the part about world-building, for which I feel at once both optimistic (of course I’ve got this) and completely unqualified (please don’t ask me about magic systems, and I don’t know anything about aliens, nor have I memorized all of the Scottish clan names) but I had the world-building thing on my mind, because, well, everybody does have to be somewhere. “Hogmanay” is not a setting in itself; I have to do more.
The other thing that pushes me into slightly uncomfortable territory is that, this time, I know I’m purposely creating a story world that I will be using for more than one story. I love standalone stories the best, and they are my favorites to read and to write, but series, or at least linked books, sell better, and that feeds into the “commercial” part of “commercial fiction,” and of course the gentleman in A Moment Past Midnight (abbreviated AMPM) the heroine does not pick, is going to go :makes vague gesture: way the heck over there and find the love of his life (who is not at all like the heroine of AMPM) in another story, maybe for the second Camp NaNo of the year. Possibly. We’ll see. That’s the plan. (No, I have not figured out where, as of yet. One story at a time, okay?)
So. I need a village. I need a small village, for that small town feel (but in 18th century England) which means that the village has to be based around something. It needs an economy. Why do people live there? What are its resources? North of England is all well and good for a start, but where in the North? Coast? Inland? Mountains? Forests? What’s the water source? My story people need the same things we all do: food, water, shelter, companionship, but how do they get them? It’s winter, so it’s cold, so how do they stay warm? What do they eat? why did the heroine’s husband, a healthy, able-bodied man, leave the village, and why did heroine’s (second) betrothed, also a healthy, able-bodied man, of the same age, stay? What do the villagers need, that they don’t have, and where and how do they get it?
This doesn’t strike me as much as world-building, but as answering questions. I have a lot of questions. The village isn’t a place as much as it is the people who live there. How many of them there might be is certainly one of the considerations, but it’s the individuals that come to me the strongest. I have my leads, but who else might live there? What are the necessary jobs, and who does them? Right now, I know that, since it’s a small community, some of the people are better identified by bynames, rather than the names their parents wrote in the parish register. Asking after Mary Jones, for example, might have a follow-up question of which Mary Jones one wants. Did one mean Molly Cook, who works in the manor house kitchen, or Big Mamie, who’s taller than all the men in her family, or maybe Mary Smart, who can add any numbers in her head, without chalk or slate. Then there’s Old Mary, Baby Mary, etc.
Once I had that settled, that was when the as-yet-unnamed village clicked, and became “real.” That’s when the real work begins, and where I get to pull out the notebook that will help me make sense out of it all.
I’ve had this pad for a few years now, and no idea what to do with it. It’s typewriter shaped, I obviously need it, but for what purpose? Today, it goes toward world-building. Write down stuff that occurs to me about the village, its inhabitants, its history, and possible future. Things are still nebulous at this point. There will be at least one poorly drawn map, with lots of erasures and revisions, and then…then it will welcome me home.