Guest blogger: Bronwyn Parry

Dark Country by Bronwyn ParryWorld-building

My DH and I were recently watching an episode of Battlestar Galactica, where Felix, injured in the ship’s hospital, was singing to alleviate the pain. His songs were interspersed throughout the episode – the melodies were similar in many ways to traditional Anglo-Celtic folk songs, and yet they weren’t, with unexpected shifts in rhythm and tone. I’m assuming they were written for the show, and, although I didn’t catch all the words, they seemed to belong fully to the world that the writers have created for the series, as well as adding another layer to Felix’s character. One of the things I enjoy about Battlestar Galactica is the attention that has been given to world-building, and the many, many subtle touches that bring a consistency to it and ‘fill-out’ the world – small things, like the shape of their paper, through to the more significant things, such as the religions and the ways in which the colonies have different cultures.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s fantasy, science fiction, historical or contemporary fiction; there is world-building to at least some degree in every novel, even when the setting is somewhere real and well-known. As authors, we need to bring that setting alive for our readers, not merely as factual description, but the world as our characters experience it.

The opening scene of my first romantic suspense novel, As Darkness Falls, was born in a short, vivid dream I had early one morning; a female detective, in an isolated area of bush, facing a mob of people she’d known in childhood, trying to dissuade them from attacking a man suspected of a terrible crime. That dream became the inspiration for the prologue of the book; but then, as well as working out who she was, where she was, and what was going to happen next, I had to create the community and landscape in which the book is set.

As Darkness Falls by Bronwyn ParryI live in ‘the bush’, ie, rural Australia, and travel a lot through small towns. Most of them are struggling; changing social and economic patterns, the long drought, merging of local councils into regional ones, withdrawal of services, the lack of water for crops and grazing… Where there were once thriving communities, there are now main streets lined with empty shopfronts, houses falling into ruin, few employment opportunities, and a dearth of young people, who have no reason to stay.

Some communities have risen to the challenge, reinvented themselves, created ventures that bring tourists or residents to the town, but I knew my fictional community wasn’t one of those (at least, not yet!) To start with, all I had was that it was small, isolated, and that there’d been two terrible crimes already – so, not a happy, well-adjusted place! I used a real area – a huge wilderness of native scrub forest – as the landscape inspiration for the town’s setting, so that I could be consistent with details of wildlife and so on, but changed the names of the places and was vague about the exact location. The town itself, and the residents, are entirely fictional.

It’s been an interesting process, creating this community over the course of two (and a half!) books. I’ve gradually found its history, its characters, the rhythms of life there, the challenges it faces, and how, and who, responds to those challenges. I’ve enjoyed viewing the town and the surrounding landscape through the eyes of my protagonists, too. In As Darkness Falls, the heroine, Bella, returns to Dungirri, her old home town. Brought up by her father, a drover, she knows the bush and the plains intimately, is at home in the wilderness, and often ‘sees’ the landscape with layers of memories. By contrast, the hero, Alec, is city born and bred, and frequently reminded of the unfamiliarity of this environment. Kris, the local police sergeant heroine of Dark Country, alternates between despair and hope for the community she’s lived in for five years, but considers herself part of. Whereas Gil, the outcast returned, sees himself as separate from it, yet is at home in the surrounding bush.

The third book in the series will be the last. While I now ‘know’ far more about Dungirri and its people than will appear in the books, three romantic suspense plots with murders and associated drama are, I think, quite enough for any small community to endure! My fourth book will be set in another community, in another area… and I’m looking forward to creating that world, and finding its residents and their stories.

Bronwyn Parry

http://www.bronwynparry.com

About Michelle Diener

Michelle Diener writes historical fiction for Gallery Books. Her debut novel, IN A TREACHEROUS COURT, released in August, 2011, is set in the court of Henry VIII. It features the real historical figures of illuminator and painter, Susanna Horenbout, and Henry's Keeper of the Palace of Westminster and Yeoman of the King's Robes, John Parker. A second book, also featuring Susanna and Parker, THE KEEPER OF THE KING'S SECRETS, was published on April 3rd, 2012. THE EMPEROR'S CONSPIRACY, a historical novel set in London during the Napoleonic Wars, is set for a November 27th, 2012 release.
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9 Responses to Guest blogger: Bronwyn Parry

  1. Liz Kreger says:

    Terrific blog, Bron. Thanx for joining us here at MM.

    I looooove world building although mine tends to be science fiction/other worldly. There’s such a freedom in creating your own setting. Particularly when you can see it all so clearly in your head. Even with a city that might be familiar to someone — say San Francisco, you can still create fictional locations within. For my next book I’m going to have to create an entire underworld for the city. :cool:

    Really looking forward to it.

  2. Michelle says:

    Thanks for a great blog, Bronwyn, welcome to MM.

    I write historicals and YA fantasy, so I know exactly what you mean. My historicals have been set in places I know quite well, but in the present, and the trick is trying to see them as they must have been – in once case 400 years ago.

    I love trying to put the reader in a fiction setting, and make them believe it.

  3. LOL, Liz, having been to SF for the first time last year – a girl from the bush almost overwhelmed by sights and sounds – I could believe almost anything about the city! (But I did love it, and hope to go back some day with more time to see it.)

    Michelle, I hope to write a historical or three one day :-) You’re right about the trick being to see them in their historical time, rather than now. I did a walk in the UK countryside once, ending up in West Wycombe, which has a main street full of buildings hundreds of years old. I sat on a wooden bench outside one of them (eating a very non-historical ice-cream) and touched the wooden beam in the Tudor-style house behind me, which was original, not mock, and wondered what had changed in the past 400 years. I think the youngest building I could see was about 300 years old!

    It’s getting late here in my corner of Australia, so I’m heading to bed, but I’ll be back in the morning. Thank you, Michelle, Liz, Edie and LaDonna for having me here at MM.

  4. LaDonna says:

    Bronwyn, so happy to have you join us at Magical! First off, Australia absolutely mesmerizes me. I fell in love with your home reading Colleen McCullogh books and watching Thorn Birds. There’s a spirit to your corner of the world and is a writer/readers dream. And now that Michelle lives there too, I feel a little closer to the place! One day…

    Anway, I write small-town, southern fiction, and bulding my character’s world is a pure joy, so I understand your passion for that part of story. You used the word rhythmn, and that’s so true. I love when a setting flows, and becomes an integaral part of the character’s lives. Vital to welcoming readers into stories. I’m so looking forward to reading your books too. I’ve been starved for another Aussie writer’s work! Much continued success with your books. :smile:

  5. Edie Ramer says:

    Bronwyn, thanks for your great blog. Like LaD, I’m fascinated by Australia. I’d love to visit one day.

    My WIP is in a city that I’ve never been to. I do know someone who lives there, but right now I’m creating it through little things — mention of its unique identity in metaphors, etc. (It’s Nashville, which calls itself the Music City.)

    I had another scene in a rough part of L.A., which is a whole different atmosphere and setting. My next scene will be at a beach house. So I’ll need the small details to bring that to life in the reader’s mind.

    I’m reading this and thinking I have 3 different settings early in the book. No wonder my progress is slow.

  6. LaDonna, thanks for the welcome! Australia, like the US, is an amazing and varied country – we just have a whole lot less people :-) I’ve not spent much time in the southern US, but it always sounds fascinating – so rich and diverse in culture and traditions.

    Edie, I’ve written places I haven’t been to, sometimes. These days, with Google maps and internet connections it makes it so much easier to research and ask others about things, to get those small details that make the setting resonate. I’m not sure yet if I’m going to the RWA conference next year, in Nashville, but it will be interesting to see the city, if I do! I live about 90 miles from Tamworth, which is the ‘Country Music Capital’ of Australia with a huge festival every January that brings visitors from all over the country and the world.

  7. Theresa says:

    Hi Bronwyn,

    Excellent point that even contemporary works have world building. Anytime you set a book somewhere, that world needs to read believable and realistic.

    So far I’ve set every book in places I’ve lived, because I know those words and can build them better. So much is how that character moves through her world. A character is Cashmere Washington is going to live differently than a character in downtown New York City. I’d guess about 50% of the population around here don’t even lock house or car doors. In some cities that would be unthinkable.

  8. Hi Theresa,
    The setting for my books is actually a few hours’ drive from where I live, and being further west in the state (our state is larger than Texas) the landscape, the climate and lifestyle is different – but most of the differences are subtle. I’ve travelled a lot in the area, though, to make sure that I’m capturing that particular place. One of the things I love to do there is to drive into the bush, then get out of the car and walk and/or sit for a little, just writing down the things I can see and hear – the birds, the sunshine glinting on the belly of a dead lizard, the sweet smell of the spring wildflowers. Then I can weave those kinds of things into the story.

    I love your phrase ‘Cashmere Washington’ – just those two words draw a vivid picture for me!

  9. Theresa says:

    You know that’s a fantastic idea, to take a bit of time and actually drive out to the area you’re using for the setting. Then you could just commit the scenery and smells and textures to memory. I think I’ll do that with the book I’m revising now. I’ve been noticing that while character details are in abundance, I’m not building the world as lushly as I’d like.

    Maybe actually going there and soaking the ambience in will help.

    Thanks for the tip!

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