Alyssa’s Notes from Susan Fletcher’s Presentation on Creating Fictional Worlds: The Strange, Exotic and Unfamiliar

Susan Fletcher gave her talk on setting and how this connects to your plot—fiction or non-fiction. While Fletcher herself works in fiction, she encourages all types of writing. She writes in the past, and utilizes all of her resources to research for her stories. Recently, Fletcher wrote a book in the future (Ancient, Strange, and Lovely), which was harder for her to get through, but  due to research and answering the questions of her own world, she created a setting that is comfortable for her readers.

Here are a few Notes:

  • There are worlds within our worlds; even if you are not writing fantasy, or even fiction, there are world within each place we leave. The world of baseball players, the world of an art critic; everything fits in its place.
  • Reading fiction allows the reader to experience another person, another world and you, as the writer need to go there first. You need to understand your world and your characters before anyone else can.
  • Strange, exotic, or simply unfamiliar writers must make their readers comfortable with their worlds.
  • When creating a world, the combination of imagination and reality is what helps to get your reader more aquatinted with this unfamiliar world. Using the places around you in your creation is just fine, because it’s what you know best and will increase your persuasion to the readers.
  • Great ideas come from reality.
  • Fantasy writers have to become more convincing of their worlds because the reader is unfamiliar with this new world.
  • Always write about what you’re interested in. Fletcher got the idea for her stories from her connection to Whales (her maternal grandmother came from Whales) and her yearning to understand her own heritage.
  • Make your own map. If this proves a problem to create from your mind (Fletcher admits it’s hard for her to do), hire someone or even combine different already existing maps.
  • The more ordinary things you list, the more your reader will connect (things like, furniture, shoes, and how they wash their clothes).
  • Study writing by reading fiction as well as non-fiction.
  • As for a research plan: Start with basic questions and research; while writing, certain questions may appear, write these down and research after you finish your thoughts; go through the serendipity of randomly selecting books that sound interesting (You’ll be surprised to see how often they relate to your research).
  • When you’re writing a story, tell people about it. You never know how much they might be able to aide in your knowledge.
  • If you are unsure about a subject in your book, find an expert and have them read it (depending on importance, it can simply be one part of the story) or at least help inform you of the subject.
  • Go to the place, or to a similar place, where you are writing about.
  • When people confirm, or you confirm by seeing something or doing something, it boosts your confidence in writing.
  • Your world should build and respond to the characters—they are connected.
  • When you travel places, be alert to details you might be able to add.
  • Introduce your world and information intriguingly; try to avoid exposition paragraphs as much as possible.
  • Don’t tax your readers patients; break up the information and feed it to them bit by bit, but avoid random factoids and hoping they won’t notice (they will).
  • Don’t answer all the questions. Leave some mystery for your readers.
  • Convert information into actions.
  • Never remind the reader they are reading.
  • Blend exposition between actions, like a sandwich.
  • Weed out all the information you don’t need; reader can infer.
  • When introducing information, give the character’s opinion on it; readers can piece information together.
  • Embed in emotions. “He’ll be dying to know what you’ll be dying to tell him.”
  • Fletcher admits that workshops don’t always produce the best writing (even for herself); it’s the exercise that’s important.

Here are a few tips to sum up:

  • Don’t be afraid to use imagination when you’re creating the world of historical fiction.
  • Don’t be afraid to use reality in your fantasy world.
  • Try using photographs, music, and maps to evoke the general feeling of your world.
  • Make good use of your library resources, and don’t be afraid to consult your reference librarian.
  • Leave space for serendipity in the library stacks and in book stores.
  • Let people know what you’re working on and what kind of information you’re looking for.
  • Consult experts, but don’t waste their time. Wait until you’ve found out everything you can without them.
  • If you travel to the place you’re writing about, be alert to sensory detail and serendipity.
  • Grind it fine.
  • Convert information into action.
  • Leave out unnecessary information.
  • Embed exposition into emotion.
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