I just found an awesome little idea on Sharon Bayliss’ blog. She is encouraging world-building by way of a little contest. The contest is almost over, but her categories and questions regarding the imaginary world in your book are great. I would encourage everyone–not just fantasy and sci-fi writers–to do this exercise at some point during the creation of your novel. (In fact, it’s a great thing to do when you have writer’s block; it can really help you get unstuck.)
I’ve gotten a lot of compliments from my readers that Acceptance has a really great, well-developed world and characters. That’s because I spent a lot of time writing the history of my vampires and working out their culture–not to mention doing medical research to make them more believable. I also spent a lot of time coming up with the back story for each character.
Now, I won’t say that you should write all this stuff out before you begin your story. I’m not a plotter; I’m a pantser. (That’s sort of a word; a lot of writers use it to describe their by-the-seat-of-my-pants writing/plotting style.) I believe in letting your characters–even their world–evolve naturally as you write. But, there does come a time when you need to sit down and hammer out the details so that everything you write is consistent and makes sense. It also helps add an extra layer of depth to your characters if you know little things about them–like their favorite music or their birthday (example: Anselm’s biography). Those aren’t the sorts of things you need to know before you start to write, but definitely something you need to know before you are finished with your edits.
(If you need more examples of how to do this, check out Mike Robinson’s blog entry. It’s a fabulous, travel-guide description of his fictional town.)
Geography & Climate
The Acceptance Trilogy is set in our modern world (aka urban fantasy). Kalyn’s Acceptance takes place on May 22, 2009 (which means the prologue–when Anselm rescues Ciaran–takes place in late spring, 2008).
The primary location of all three books is Lenoir City and Oak Ridge, Tennessee. They are both small cities about 30 minutes apart and each about 30 minutes south of Knoxville. (Can you tell I’m Southern? We don’t measure distance, but driving time.) The secondary location is Jerusalem, Israel (specifically the Old City). Charleston, SC also makes a brief appearance in the first book.
Kalyn was born in Lenoir City and has lived there all her life. The landscape is broad, rolling farmland, which is often separated by dense woods, and it is all overshadowed by The Great Smokey Mountains. The Smokey Mountains are actually listed as a temperate rainforest, due to the levels of rainfall and overall moisture (a lot comes from dew and fog) that they receive. (The valleys, however, do not receive nearly as much rainfall.) The mountains came by their name from the fog that so frequently rises from them. Even on sunny days, fog may rise from the mountains, and rainy days can produce some very magnificent shows of “smoke.”
The wide Tennessee River is the predominant feature in the valley, with many smaller rivers coming down from the mountains and feeding into it. Even when drought conditions exist, East Tennessee residents never want for water; lawns are watered, cars are washed, pools are filled, fountains splash. (I had never heard of water restrictions until I went to college in Roanoke, Virginia, which had to get its water from a reservoir.)
Lenoir City has a population of roughly 6,500 people. Oak Ridge is larger (thanks to the nuclear industry and continued use by the military) with about 29,000 people. Knoxville is the third-largest city in Tennessee (after Nashville and Memphis) and has about 179,000 residents (although that probably doesn’t include the transient student population at the University of Tennessee). In all three books, Kalyn and her group live outside the borders of the cities.
So, all in all, it’s a rural setting. And this does have an effect on Kalyn, as she is a bit more self-sufficient than your average 16 year old. She grew up hiking in the mountains and playing in the woods around her house. In the second book, Devotion, we see her doing farm work: feeding and watering horses and goats (and the dog that guards them), putting up hay, helping mend fences, learning to ride. She goes swimming not in a pool, but in a river flowing through the mountains.
Kalyn has a Southern accent. Sentences frequently end with prepositions. She says “ya’ll.” She measures distance in time, not miles. She eats Krystals and drinks cokes (note the use of the small “c” there). She has a deep prejudice against Chicago (and anywhere up north, in general). She is a loyal UT fan and hates Alabama.
Tennessee is considered a fairly temperate state, with decent amounts of rainfall and relatively moderate temperatures. Spring begins in March. (“Don’t plant before Easter” is the gardener’s motto, as freezing temps can continue into early April.) Summer begins in May. Fall begins in September. January is usually the coldest, messiest month; December frequently the wettest. The end of July and pretty much all of August is the hottest, driest part of the year.
Cold snaps in the winter can see temps into the teens and in the single digits in the mountains. We very rarely experience anything below 0 (unless it’s the windchill). The average temp for the winter, though, is about 40. The weather in the winter can be quite unpredictable, as it’s not uncommon to have at least one a 70 degree day in January or February. Then, it may turn around and snow the next day. (Occurring right now, in fact; yesterday’s high was 70, last night we had tornado warnings and severe storms, and tonight it’s sleeting.)
East Tennessee usually experiences a few snow/ice events each year, with usually at least one measurable snowfall per winter. 1-3 inches is about average for a “good snow.” Higher amounts do occur, but not on a yearly basis. The mountains, obviously, receive higher amounts of snow, and it’s not uncommon to see snow on the mountains and none in the valleys.
Rainfall in the summertime usually comes by way of thunderstorms, and some of these can produce tornadoes. Although East Tennessee is not as susceptible to tornadoes as the much flatter portions of West and Middle Tennessee, they do occur. You can expect at least one tornado warning–if not an actual tornado on the ground–every year in East Tennessee.
I have pictures of the landscape, cities, and buildings of Kalyn’s world. See them on my Pinterest board.