Monday, June 13, 2011

Debut Author Dawn Metcalf Talks World Building and Speculative Fiction

Today we introduce Dawn Metcalf, her debut LUMINOUS will be released June 30th, from Dutton.

Dawn is a regular on Twitter, Co-Founder of the Twitter Chat#YaLitChat and what I believe to be an authority on world building and all things Karate and Chocolate.

I asked Dawn to join us to talk World Building and Speculative Fiction.

Most of our readers write books with a major element of world building. What are your tips for World Building?

My favorite thing about speculative fiction is solid world-building, that it is in some way entirely believable and true and that I can trust-fall into the author's arms and completely immerse myself in this strange reality that they've created. For me, a lot of the richness comes in subtle things: the little turns of phrases, idiosyncrasies, habits and symbolism that pop up throughout the narrative as second-nature to the characters, supported by the world itself. It's not just a matter of the religion or long names with Xs, Ks or apostrophes in odd places, but the background myths and stories that exist inside the narrative, the superstitions and Things You Just Don't Do make it real for me. For example, no one said  "Voldemort", they said "You-Know-Who" in hushed tones. That said a lot more to me about the character and the world's opinion of this person than any long paragraph of narrative ever could. It's the smallest things that, added together, give depth to a storybook world.

How do you organize your thoughts and the world you are building from conception to completion?

Honestly, it's not hard because, in my mind, the world is logical--no matter how illogical or crazy I make it, *I* believe it so everything has to stay internally relevant and "realistic" given the surreality. I think that's a true test of good world-building: if, as a reader, I believe that I could ask the author a question about any aspect of their story and they could instantly turn-around a clear answer, then it's real. I feel confident because my guide, the writer, wrote confidently. If I walk into my writing knowing what a character would or would never do, then I have to do the same with how the world would and would never work. There are some great stories that have setting as a strong character: Middle Earth in THE HOBBIT, the entirety of DISCWORLD in the many Terry Pratchett's stories (my favorite by far being the Chalk in the Tiffany Aching series), the swamp in CHIME, the reservoir in IMAGINARY GIRLS, the moors of THE NEAR WITCH...I'll admit that these are some of my favorite devices in writing! While some might need charts and notebooks, all I really need is to dive right in and believe.

Is there a coherent order to your worlds or is it whatever works and really strikes a chord within you?

I'm for order versus chaos, even if it's a sort of fluid, chaotic order. I think it helps if your world has rules and then you can play havoc within those rules. If you break your own rules of world-building, magic, character, whatever, you risk undoing the trust you've created with the reader and break the fragile soap bubble of suspended disbelief. Lie to readers, and you've lost them. Period. So to avoid doing that, I like to have a reason behind every aspect of the world and its systems: why does magic work this way, why are houses made of this material, what shape are the plates, how do ordinary folks get around, what are the curse word expressions; again, all those little things make a world solid, stable. It's probably why I liked to watch every single extra reel on the L-RD OF THE RINGS dvds! When you hit the details just right, they often feel real (and, when you read the whole thing aloud--a real must in the revision process--it will sound real, too!)

Genres can be subjective, what is your take on Speculative Fiction?

Speculative Fiction is when you ask "What If?" and spin out a creative, possible interpretation to its logical conclusion. It's the best sort of curiosity and definitely the genre that I like best.

So I’ve heard you say... you cannot lie, you had a normal, great upbringing, did everything in order and your writing is everything but. Do you feel that somewhere amongst the normalcy of your life you were corrupted in alternate reality or your mind is just a realm of it’s own?

HAHAHA! Well, while *I* consider my upbringing normal, perhaps not everyone was raised by high school sweethearts under cut-out felt banners proclaiming "Love", "Peace", and "Togetherness" while watching Muppets and M*A*S*H. My parents were also volunteer teen educators and out-of-the-box creative thinkers so I grew up thinking a dozen teenagers talking and writing about their hopes and fears and feelings about G-d and sex and what it means to be a Human Being was a normal Saturday evening. That and the costume parties. And the blintz-making marathons. And the imaginary family cooking shows... Okay, my upbringing was weird.

I just remember reading fairy tales and seeing pictures of dragons and elves and aliens and puppets and wondering "What if they were real? What if they were alive? What would that be like?" I was fascinated by that possibility. I would lie on my back and stretch my feet towards the ceiling and wonder what the room would look like if the ceiling was the floor, all neat and clean, with the light fixtures sticking up like a table instead of hanging down by a chain and the floor littered in carpet and toys and upside-down me. That bizarre childhood perspective was probably the best training for writing speculative fiction.

That said, I'll admit that every time I share a first chapter of a new project with my parents, they hand it back, look at me at little strangely, and sigh, "What did we do to you when you were a kid?"

So, evidently, it's just me.

Thanks so much Dawn for dropping by Paper Hangover.

You can Pre-Order LUMINOUS

YOu can catch Dawn on Twitter @DawnMetcalf, careful she's a hoot or at her website www.dawnmetcalf.com

2 comments:

Michelle Julian said...

I don't write fantasy, but these techniques will work with realistic fiction as well. Thanks Adrienne for this great post. And thanks to Dawn for sharing.

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