Today’s blog is from the author of BOONIE, Richard Masson. BOONIE takes place in a world like no other — one where water is scarce and desperation has driven a society to the edge. Below, Richard shares his advice for creating alternate worlds. BOONIE is out this week in paperback, so make sure you pick up your copy!
Every book you read takes place in its own world, no two are identical. But when it comes to creating something really different, it takes a spark, something to set you off.
In the case of Boonie, the world came first, long before the story.
I’d just finished writing another book and sat down with the proverbial blank piece of paper (actually a blank laptop screen) to start something new. I somehow had a picture in my mind of a barren place where everything was the wrong colour; the ground was red, the sky purple and when something appeared it popped up in some vivid chemical colour, brilliant yellow or startling orange. I wrote a page or two about this odd place and began to get it into my mind. Then I put a building into it, an old broken down shack seemed right and as soon as it was there it just had to burn down, orange and yellow flames licking all around until it became nothing more than a pile of grey ash. So you see everything I wrote was based on that original thought about colours.
OK, that seemed to be good, all I needed now was a story and a few characters to get going and while I was scratching my head working out incidents and plots I began to wonder how this place got to be the way it was? Why all the chemical stuff and why was the ground so dry and red? No water obviously but why wasn’t there any water? And if there wasn’t any water, what did folks drink?
Now, if you have read Boonie you will know the answers to these questions and perhaps be able to imagine yourself into this odd world. As for me, I actually based a lot of JD’s surroundings on places I knew. I know, geographically where the Dry Marsh is, I know where the Old Road is and, when I was a boy, rode my bike along it and yes, the concrete slabs really did rear up in hot weather and make it difficult to ride but not to the extremes I describe in the book. But it helps to be able to put yourself into your world because then things pop into your mind. At one point I describe where a house (or shack as JD calls it) has been reduced to nothing more than a few broken bricks with wires and shards of porcelain sticking out of the ground. Now, I was born during World War ll and grew up playing on bombsites in East London. As you can imagine when a house had been bombed flat, all that was left were few broken bricks, some electric wires and bits of shattered porcelain from sinks and loos. See what I mean?
Once JD’s world existed, harsh, hot and brutal it wasn’t too hard to fit some weird characters into it. They are often harsh and brutal too, a product of the world they live in. Even Ma, the loving mother who played games with little JD before she went off becomes callous and uncaring. We are all children of our own world.
If you’ve ever studied what is now rather grandly called Creative Writing, you will come across the term: A sense of place. This is another way of describing what I’ve just said. The place is where your story is set and you have to make it intriguing and draw your reader in. Once you’ve started, as I did with the colour thing, you will pretty soon see the place in your mind. You don’t have to describe it in detail though, just lay out a few clues and let your reader fill in the detail. That way your imaginary world is as much theirs as it is yours. If you can do that, they are hooked.
For more blog posts by Richard Masson visit his blog at http://richardmasson.com/