Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Temptation Tuesday - Imaginary Worlds

This Tuesday at The Pink Heart Society our own Trish Wylie peeks over the walls of her own imaginary world to tempt you to create your own....or maybe not...

Once Upon A Time in a land far, far away...

Haven't we all been to that land far, far away at some point? We may have started out with Cinderella's or Alice's or Beauty's who fall for beasts - we may even have made up childhood worlds of our own (for me it was an island on a sponge in the bathtub... I even wrote it all down an made pictures when I was about seven...) - but all we've really done as we've got older is swap one form of escapism for another, right? I'll hold my hand in the air for that one...

Whether we're immersed in watching a movie set in the future, or addicted to a TV Show where the places become so real to us that we talk about them as if we could actually go there, or even if we're all just fascinated by the possibilities of a magical world that's managed to transport an entire generation the way Harry Potter and Hogwarts has - we're still living in imaginary worlds. And we as the readers or viewers get to reap the benefits of all the long thought out details from someone elses mind.

So where am I going with all this you may ask? Well, welcome to the ramblings of my mind...

I've been thinking some about which kind of world I like best in category romances and in books in general. Do I prefer a story that's grounded in a real place I could hop on a plane and visit, or do I prefer a half-way world that has the flavour of a region...or do I just like a completely fictional world where my imagination can fly? Mmm... it's a toughie...

Last week right here on The Pink Heart Society's Temptation Tuesday slot, the very lovely Annie West talked about Being Elsewhere - about how a book or a film can transport us to a destination without us ever having to leave our homes...which got me thinking again (so all this rambling is her fault) Real world or fictional world?

Do we need real locations with real street names and real landmarks to set it into our minds or is a *named country* enough and then everything else can be fictional? And if we go with the 'everything else is fictional' choice then how do we go about building a world all of our own? Am I confusing you yet?

Okay. Here's how it went for me...

It was something I wasn't really conscious of when I started writing. In my first book, The Bridal Bet, I set the entire story in the real village of Boyle in Co. Roscommon. I was running with the *write what you know* theory, and having spent every summer of my childhood there it made perfect sense to me...But I did add places that didn't exist, places like the hero and heroines homes for instance, because I needed those for my story. It was only after it had gone to print that some bright spark asked me wasn't I worried someone from that real place might mistakenly think I was referring to someone real? Or what about if I'd got a location not just right or a left or right turn wrong? It was a complication I hadn't considered... And it made me fearful... Yes, all brand new writers love to have something else to stress over. Thankyou helpful miss-bright-spark!!! (Four years on there still haven't been any emails so I reckon I'm safe....)

But I was already considering going the imaginary world route...

By book two I'd started to sample with fictional places based on places I knew and by book four I'd gone straight into a world of my own. In Marriage Lost And Found I created an entire village - Killyduff - with a Pub and a Hotel and a river bank to walk along. I could see it all so clearly in my mind. And then once I'd built that *set* I got to fill it with characters - the postman with the crooked teeth, the annoying girl behind the hotel reception who never got off the phone, the delightful Tom on his barstool in the fictional Fiddler's Elbow Pub... And then into all that I dropped my hero and heroine... A whole world all of my own... And I controlled every little part of it. It almost made me god-like... O-oh the power in my hands...

But the devil's in the detail they say. And if I decided to go back to that fictional world for another story then I'd have to check everything all over again, wouldn't I? I'd have to remember where the pub and the hotel and the river were in my village. Because even if someone reading it didn't catch the mistakes, I'd know - and I'd lose sleep over it! Hmmm... so maybe a real place would've been better after all?

Now Annie was right in her post, in the short format of a category romance the setting becomes a garnish. Without the characters as the focal point I think it's a bit like egg mayonnaise salad without the egg. But they've still gotta have a world to be in, don't they?
But when I talk about building a world I'm not just referring to setting I suppose. Because theres cars and clothes and delicious things to eat. I have to remember seasons and the weather and the scents there would be in the air. I might even have to debate whether or not an entire house can burn down when large pants catch fire (if you've read my books you'll catch that last reference...) Hey - this god-like control of the universe is hard work! No wonder people spend half their days addicted to the SIMS!
So is a real life setting just the easier option. Or does any of this rambling really matter at all???But on the other hand is it alright to bend things to suit us when we write, or does it irritate the reader when they find something they're an expert on and they know it's just plain wrong? Hmmm again... real world or fictional? Where do we draw the line?

Certainly from a 'putting in the hours' point of view in building a world there's very little between the two - a real world will need researching; hours on the internet googling maps and local sights and festivals and the names of rivers, or better still the travelling to research it in person - but a fictional world used again and again will need some kind of a map too, won't it? And with just as many details...

Aha. So maybe the half-way is the best option after all? All we need is a small reference to reality and then we sprinkle the story liberally with little corners from our fictional world - like a bridge to walk across or a nice flowery garden for our characters to kiss in? I think that'll work for me as a writer - and I know it has of late... But does that do it for the reader? Does it do it for you???

I've always been a character driven writer, at least I think I have. But with a few books under my belt I'm feeling the need to stretch into more detail and better researched worlds. Hence all this rambling. It's yet more to stress about when we all know that writers stress half their lives away...

Remind me why I do this again?

So which one is better for you as a reader or a writer? Which one is easier to write? Is it the tone rather than the place? If you had a fictional world and could put anything you wanted in it, what would you put there?

Have you ever been tempted to create a world of your own???

And if you do create an imaginary world of your own, could I have a nice soft padded room in it somewhere? Because frankly, at this point, given the choice I'd quite enjoy a weekend on Terry Pratchett's Discworld myself. Just for the sheer fun of it. But then that's another example of a fictional world that has detailed maps... I know... cos I have them all... and we're talking detailed! I'd have to go lie down in a darkened room if I had all that to do.
I think I liked it better when I wasn't so determined to get better at this lark you know. But then, for me, a set of characters without a world of their own is like egg mayonnaise salad... made with just the boiled egg... You can see my dilemma, can't you?

Trish's latest release is for the Romance line. Rescued: Mother-To-Be is a Romantic Times Top Pick for April! And was recently reviewed over at The Pink Heart Society's Review Blog...

The book is available at both Amazon and EHarlequin. To find out more you can visit her Website or her Blog.


  1. You should worry! I had to create an entire country for 'Crowned: An Ordinary Girl'. And I got in a terrible muddle with my Crown Princes. In the end I had to draw up a proper family tree for Sebastian. :)

    And we do it because it's fun!! I think. Some days ....

  2. Lovely pictures, Trish!

    I like to do a mix of real and fictional settings. Using a real setting keeps it clear in my mind (kind of like casting my hero/heroine). But being able to add fictional elements makes things a lot more flexible to mold the setting as I see fit.

  3. Yes Natasha I don't know how you did all that!!!! I must just be too much of a lazy ass. If half a world already exists I reckon I'm halfway there - kinda soothes my guilt at being a lazy ass - and yet I'm not really doing that much work in the greater scheme of things... ;) Though I did think your country and castle were LOVELY!

    THANKYOU MARCY! Yes aren't the pictures lovely!? So nice of you to think so! I took AGES looking for them all. Okay. Maybe some of them I already had. Its that soothe my guilt/lazy ass combo again... And I'm with you I think. A little reality dosed liberally with some fantasy works best for me out of all the methods... I am *sorely* tempted to visit Killyduff again tho...

  4. Trish - your post is all my fault, eh? Sounds good to me - I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    You posed an interesting question to which I don't have a precise answer. Like you I enjoy writing what I know, but even then I'll create houses/hotels/whole streets in my mind that aren't in the real world. And when I wrote 'The Sheikh's Ransomed Bride' I had enormous fun creating an archipelago in the Arabian Sea. The research for it was almost too enjoyable - I kept finding more to do. The upside was that once it was fixed in my mind it seemed completely real and that was a major incentive in writing 'For the Sheikh's Pleasure' next - I just loved the place.

    I love dipping into fictitious worlds and it's a real joy to open a favourite book I haven't read in a while and visit one of them again.


  5. I hadn't analysed what I do before but I tend to stick with the real and overlay my imaginary characteristics of my settings. Although, with my current book, the setting is totally fictitious and I have to say I have struggled more with the setting than I have in any other book. I dream of doing a sheik story in an imaginery sheikdom in the Persian Gulf one day. Mind you, if all the imaginary sheikdoms ever created in the Persian Gulf existed there'd probably be no Persian Gulf at all! LOL!

    Yvonne... off to puzzle some more on Trish's most excellent post.

  6. ... and to puzzle some more on why neither my blogger nor my google identities ever work more than once! Grrrrrr! Is it real? Or is it just my imagination?


  7. LOL *Who said that???*

    Whoever she was said "I hadn't analysed what I do before..." - Yuh-huh so what you're saying basically is that I think too much??? Sigh... how well people are getting to know me. So much for an air of mystery...

    And LOL again to the Persian Gulf issue! All the kingdoms would be the size of a postage stamp, wouldn't they? (I just had a small vision of a row of terraced kingdoms with everyone chatting about their romance problems over the *garden fence* - see there goes my mind again...)

    But then every author will have a different view of each kingdom they create won't they? I think thats the thing I like about the *completely fictional* option... and hence the dilemma returns...

    ANNIE I DO BLAME YOU! So there! I read your blog and thought about it heaps while I was writing my latest Modx *ducks for cover from Ally, Jenna and Natasha* - cos the book was the first one I'd been conscious of putting sooooo much detail into - Street names, actual locations in Dublin, Oscar Wildes reclining statue on the rock - all real life things... Then sprinkled with some fictional... And it was a delight to write *ducks again - OKAY - WHO THREW THAT EGG?*

    Trish - liking the term 'most excellent post' - I'm doing a Bill & Ted nod now...