Thursday, June 16, 2016

Creepy Places with Strange Odors and Slimy Walls

Okay, confession time. World building is not my strength. You know what I mean by world building? The term refers to the author's process of constructing or fleshing out the overall structure (political, geographical, cultural) of their imaginary world. It's a big deal particularly for science fiction and fantasy writers. Good world building gives readers a strong sense of a believable imaginary world outside the confines of the immediate plot.

I don't enjoy it so much. It probably shows. My devotion tends to be toward characters and events, mood and tone, but I do very much enjoy creating memorable settings. These, of course, can contribute to world building, but in fact, they operate much like the setting of a play or a scene in a movie. They place the readers in a distinct location and give them a stage on which to locate the characters and keep track of the action.

Boy, do I love to create a memorable setting, something that readers can feel and smell, something that gives a distinct impression, something they will remember. I don't know how good I am at it, but I enjoy it. So with that in mind, let's look at some of my favorite settings from some of my novels. These are places I loved to create, places that were vivid in my imagination. If you've read the books, which of these stick out in your memory?

Children of the Mechanism - Grong Room

One might say that this whole novel is set in a memorable place. It's a vast, dark, grungy factory full of slimy refuse holes with dented robots roaming about. It's labyrinthine and smells bad, and it's full of danger. But, one place in particular that I enjoyed writing about was the Grong Room. This is the place where a character named Kuo lives and works. It is a vast, high-ceilinged place with a rubbery floor on which a hideous, huge flesh-creature rests. The Grong is a headless, limbless, living bio-mass of some kind that absorbs a nutrient-rich "meat paste" which workers spend all day slopping under its massive skin folds. Doesn't that sound fun? It's hideous, odorous, dark, and disgusting.

Mary of the Aether - Chesset

Chesset is a small, fictional town set in rural Arkansas that has a lot of qualities that I have experienced in real places. If you know the area of Northwest Arkansas, you will see pieces of Mountainburg, West Fork, Winslow, and Chester. The only two businesses in town, at least initially, are a small convenience store and one of those ubiquitous soft-serve ice cream parlors that small towns love. Everything revolves around these two places, until a big gas station sets up shop just off the highway. Chesset feels like a real place to me. It is very much like towns where I have actually lived.

Garden of Dust and Thorns - The Garden

The garden in this novel is the last green place in a world that has otherwise transformed into one vast, dusty desert. Since it was created to preserve plant and animal species, it is a unique sort of place where things from many different kinds of environments and climates all exist side by side. Baobab trees next to stately aspen, bison grazing with camels, and a magical power somehow allows all of these things to thrive together. If such a place existed, it would be quite a thing to see. Every kind of fruit, every color of flower, it's all there. A massive wall of thorny vines surrounds it and keeps out the dust. The tragedy of the story is that the people who live outside the garden take it for granted. Some never go inside. They are content to live in their sad little town on the other side of the wall.

The Vale of Ghosts - The Archaust Chamber

This place appears in the first two books of The Archaust Saga. Actually, it appears in the second volume, Army of the Inner Eye, quite a bit more. It is partly a natural cavern and partly a constructed chamber. Primary access is through a hole in the roof, which drops into a deep, muddy pool. But the real heart of the Archaust chamber is behind an ancient door, where a narrow passageway leads into a secret room. It's dim, dark, oppressive, and hopefully super creepy. And it is here that our curious protagonist first comes face to face with the real evil that threatens the kingdom.

Teth of the City - The City

A sprawling futuristic city, full of massive metal buildings, countless balconies, winding streets, sleek vehicles, and thousands of neat little workstations and living quarters for all the people. That's the setting of my next novel. A place for every person, and a person for every place. That's the motto. But if you look a little closer, you will find seedy places, rundown and desolate locations, street dwellers, and mysterious entrances into underground corridors. It's overrun, busy, noisy, and a bright red sun burns through the constant haze in the sky overhead.

Anyway, those are just a few examples of some of the memorable settings I've enjoyed writing about over the years. I love to create a vivid sense of place, where readers can practically feel the grime and smell the odors. Hopefully, I have occasionally managed it.

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