Thursday, October 1, 2015

Sense of Place: Alternate Worlds Versus Our World ...

Recently I was asked whether I thought it was easier to achieve a strong sense of place in an alternate world, like Westeros in George RR Martin's A Game Of Thrones, or Haarth in my own The Wall of Night series — as opposed to Fantasy stories based in what is recognisably our world, like Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely or Patrica Brigg's Mercy Thompson novels.

Which created a fair amount of food for thought!

At one level, creating an alternate world may give you more freedom to create things the way you want, but I can also think of some contemporary urban fantasies where the use of real-world places are used to powerful ‘world building’ effect.

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is one great example, and Charles De Lint’s Newport another  — and I also love Charlaine Harris's Louisiana backdrop to the Sookie Stackhouse novels (televised as True Blood.)

And  in terms of almost-but-not-quite-this-contemporary-world building, I personally don’t think you can go past Robin McKinley’s urban fantasy, Sunshine ...

In all these stories the sense of place is very strong, almost a character in its own right, and I feel that this sort of world building would have taken considerable imagination and craft.

So, too, of course, does creating an alternate world — and although 'creating your own world' may give you more freedom, you also have to give considerable thought to creating landscape, built environments, and associated cultures, to ground your readers in an authentic sense of place.

So perhaps, in that sense,  being able to use our world, where those aspects are taken as given, is a little easier.

The excitement, though, arises in the successful contrast of the fantastic and paranormal with our everyday experience — something we're all about on the Supernatural Underground!

1 comment:

Kim Falconer said...

Helen, I love this post, and I find that both alternate realities and completely fantastical ones have their challenges.

When writing an alternate version of a place in our world, accuracy is still important. Unless explained, a missing Golden Gate Bridge from a future San Francisco is going to throw readers out of the story. Just like a wrong street number or height of an overshadowing mountain. It can take painstaking research to pull off.

But the made up world, as you say, must have its own integrity and consistency within the narrative. (I'm thinking again of Whendon's Hell Mouth in "Sunnydale" California!)

Most of all, I love how a place can become a character all to itself, which is a storytelling success!

I'm writing a new world now, based on a contemporary but altered US city so these challenges are fresh on my mind.

Thanks for exploring!