If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I’ve just been on an epic road trip across America – 3750 miles from Atlanta to L.A. It was so awesome that I’m boring everyone by talking about it lots, and as it was my turn on the blog today, I had to find a way to tie it into work somehow!
The trip was amazing for so many reasons, but one thing I really noticed was how different the various towns and states were — all the little details and quirks that were individual to that specific location. This got me thinking about world-building and how careful attention to detail can really bring a place to life.
Some things to think about:
- What type of things do your characters eat? Certain places have very distinctive food that is always associated with that location. In New Orleans we did a food tour – tasting some fantastic gumbo, Po’boys, muffaletta, jambalaya. In Texas we ate steak for every meal. There is no need to describe meals in extensive detail, but a few small details add texture to your world-building.
- What does it look like where your characters live? When they move around their world, how do they see it? We drove through pretty much every type of landscape — cities, swamps, mountains and deserts. We saw many different types of architecture and places people call home, from skyscrapers to trailer parks. If you’re setting your story in a location you’re unfamiliar with, jump on Google Images for inspiration.
- And how does this location impact your characters’ lives? If you set your book in L.A., it might be that your character has to have a car to get around, and it takes an hour to drive five miles! If you set them in a remote mountain town, then you also need to think about the restrictions of this on their day-to-day lives.
- What is the weather like? For my trip, it was a similar temperature across the country, but in Phoenix it was more of a dry heat, and in Louisiana it felt more humid and sticky. Again, you don’t want to overly describe the weather, just the effect it has on your characters.
- What type of people live in the same area as your character? Overheard conversations in restaurants can be very informative – in L.A., all three of the tables around us one breakfast were discussing scripts and auditions (seriously). In a diner in the middle of Nowheresville, two waitresses were talking about fitting in a second cleaning job to pay the bills. Developing believable cameo characters can really add depth to your world.
- What type of clothes do your characters wear? Where do they shop? Not every teenager wears Chuck Taylors — although in books they seem to! The location/weather will have an effect on this, but it also might be that regionally there is a trend.
When you are in a place, you soak up all the atmosphere and all the little details I’ve described above, but when you are writing you have to create these – either from memory, or from scratch – and it’s getting these across that can make the difference between a rich and vivid world that jumps off the page, and one that doesn’t.