Writing Advice: SF Benson

Worldbuilding and Research

When I was considering what to write for this post, I first thought I’d write about my research process while writing my latest fairy tale retelling. But then, the question popped up—why did I need research for this story? All Things Dark & Magickal: Bitter Fruit requires worldbuilding. Lots of worldbuilding—hence, the necessity of research.

Everyone has a procedure for creating fictional worlds. This is how I developed Crowley, England.

  1. Deciding on the time period.

The first book in the series—The Glass Watch—is a retelling of a Brothers Grimm tale. I figured the nineteenth century was the obvious choice for a redo of Cinderella.

  • Narrow in on a place.

This step was more involved. My main character is Trevor Cuthbert. I wanted him embody the spirit of Cinderella in a Charles Dickens-type atmosphere. England became the general setting. But I still had to pinpoint one city or town.

The Glass Watch involves magick (purposely spelled with a k). I had two great resources available: Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction by Orson Scott Card, Philip Athans, and Jay Lake, and The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft by Judika Illes. Both books provide a wealth of information to help write fantasy, science fiction, and stories about witchcraft. Both books mentioned a man named Aleister Crowley who spelled magic with a k. It was his way to distinguish between the occult and stage magic. Now I had a name for my town. I also had names to use for relevant buildings and streets.

  • Create a map.

This is where the fun begins.

I looked up a map of London in 1836. I imported the image into Photoshop (one of my favorite toys) and created Crowley, England. For these two books, I had to have different versions of the town. In The Glass Watch, my main character travels from 1836 to 2017 in Crowley. The first version was a village with horse-drawn carriages and chimney sweeps. The second version was a modern Crowley (think London) complete with an Underground Tube.

  • Creating landmarks.

Using the real map of London, the names I cultivated from my resource books, and the Internet, I made up key landmarks in Victorian Crowley. It was interesting to look up places like the Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe and give them new names. In Bitter Fruit the business becomes White’s Antiquities. The infamous London Bridge becomes Crowley Bridge. So on and so on…

  • Establishing time.

Establishing the time period is the most important part of worldbuilding. The curious reader might fact check your references. He or she will quickly discard your book if you make mention of something that couldn’t have possibly existed in your story. For me, if a building or even a type of food didn’t exist during the English Victorian era, I don’t use it.

The same holds true for clothing, types of houses, transportation, and even language. Because this is a young adult series I refrained from modern swear words. Instead, my characters say things like bloody (it was used in the 19th century) and gadzooks.

In Bitter Fruit my main character travels back and forth through time—Ancient Rome, twelfth century England, and even World War II Germany. I have done lots of research to reference key places to establish the setting and make the story believable.

  • Hone your resources and use often.

One of my favorite online resources is The Dictionary of Victorian London. It’s a website created and edited by the author Lee Jackson. There’s so much information and quality details that a person can get lost in the pages. I spend quite a lot of time searching for those minutiae that help to bring the story to life.

A resource that I use infrequently is Wikipedia. It’s true that you can discover a lot through it, but you should verify everything you find. There’s a bit of a difference between Victorian America and Victorian England. But Wikipedia can be a great starting source. Just be sure to keep digging.

And that is how I do the research portion of worldbuilding for me. To sum up the process:

  1. Decide on your time period. Make sure it’s relevant to your story.
  2. Decide on your general location. Does it make sense to your story?
  3. Narrow and specify the setting. If the general locale is Ireland, would a New York-style setting work? You want the reader to be convinced that this world might have existed.
  4. Create a map. If you’re skilled at drawing, have at it. Otherwise, “borrow” one and use it to create your own.
  5. Create landmarks. This is where reality and creativity get to merge and play nicely.
  6. Establish the time period. Do your due diligence and make sure that details fit not just your story but the era you’re writing about. For instance, if women are wearing bustles in your novel, make sure there’s a good explanation.
  7. Hone your resources. You’ll be using them throughout your story. Make sure they’re good.

Happy writing!


About the Author

SF Benson is the author of the Another Falls Creek Romance novels and the Alliance Chronicles. Find out more at AuthorSFBenson.com

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