World building is usually associated with science fiction and fantasy genres, but all fiction requires a credible creation—or recreation—of the world in which the story is set.
I try to set stories in real world places in order to ground the more exceptional (or preposterous) aspects of my fiction in a realistic setting. Using real places enables me to short cut the “world building” but it does not get me off the hook entirely. Most of the action in my current novel-in-progress takes place in New York City right now. It’s my turf so I’m more than familiar with the subways, the restaurants, the art galleries, etc. where the story unfolds.
But this does not mean that every venue is a specific, real life place. For this storyline, I decided it was best that I invent a particular museum, a specific at gallery, a diner, a townhouse, an apartment, etc. etc. etc. Everything that I’ve PLACED in my invented version of New York City makes sense and fits into the environment because similar places actually exist. I didn’t use actual places all the time because that would limit the possibilities of the story.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a real place—with a world-class collection of art from a wide range of periods and places. The made-up museum called The City Collection is reminiscent of The Met, but since I took a class on Art Conservators & Conservation at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and some of the principal characters are art conservators in a museum, I created a fictional museum and drew upon my real world knowledge of The Met AND the class I took at MoMA that gave me access to a real life art conservation lab to create the work place setting.
My world building combines the real and the not-quite real. You can’t locate my City Collection on a map of NYC, but I hope it will feel real and NY-ish to readers. If it does, my world-building efforts have been successful.
As a reader, I’m conscious of the worlds created by fiction writers. Do they ‘hang together’ or feel disjointed? I recently read a mystery set in New Orleans that made me feel like I’d traveled a city I’ve yet to visit. I’d call that successful world-building!
Where have you ‘traveled’ in a author-built world?