Today’s guest post is written by Virginia Wise, one of Tamela’s clients. Welcome, Virginia! She is the author of the Amish New World series, in which colonial settlers discover love—and God’s promises—in the Pennsylvania wilderness (Kensington Publishing). Her latest books include An Amish Second Christmas, Where the Heart Takes You, and When Love Finds You. Connect with Virginia on Facebook at www.facebook.com/VirginiaWiseBooks or visit her website (virginiawisebooks.com).
What do you look forward to most when you curl up with a good book? For many people the answer is escape. One reason we love fiction is because it gives us an escape from the reality of our daily lives. Who doesn’t want to drift into a world where dreams really do come true?
Escaping into a different world is most often associated with fantasy. Worldbuilding has become a huge aspect of that genre; and readers have come to expect an entire “universe” that an author painstakingly builds, using everything from detailed maps to fictional history and mythology.
But worldbuilding isn’t only for fantasy.
If fact, I’ve found that many aspects of worldbuilding are just as important in Christian and inspirational fiction as they are in fantasy.
Now, I’m not suggesting we should start creating elaborate, fantastical backstories for all our fiction. But we should ground all our stories in a world that feels as substantial and relatable as the real world.
When readers escape into a Christian or inspirational story, they want to immerse themselves in a safe place, a place where they are free to believe that good will overcome and love conquers all. How do we make this escape feel as real to the reader as possible?
When I write my Amish New World series, I try to put myself in the mindset of my target readers and imagine what kind of escape they crave. I believe they want to feel transported to a cozy, historical setting where characters face challenges on the 18th-century frontier—but only within the security of a loving community and a guaranteed happy ending.
So how do I build this world for my readers? What do they want to feel as they travel the pages? What do they want to smell, see, and hear?
Often, the answer lies in the details. Small things add up to build a realistic world that readers want to inhabit. In my Amish New World series, these details communicate all is well with the world—even in the midst of a trial. For example, I know a good cup of hot tea on a cold winter morning makes me feel warm and cozy. So to help my readers feel warm and cozy—and associate that coziness with my fictional world—I might have a character sip a hot drink while snuggled beneath a homemade quilt in a rustic, wood-smoke-filled cabin. You get the idea.
To create a believable world, the sights, sounds, and smells need to hit home. This can be tricky when writing about something unfamiliar to readers, whether it’s an imaginary outpost on Mars or a frontier settlement grounded in history.
A lot of historical details go into my fiction. But without incorporating details that modern readers can relate to, many of those historical details would fall flat; and the reader would not feel transported to a real place. For instance, when one of my characters in Where the Heart Takes You learns to use the community bake-oven, she burns the bread. Who can’t relate to burning dinner?
I could have left out the bread baking entirely. It isn’t essential to the plot. But the incident helps establish how the settlement operates and how the characters adjust to life in the wilderness. It also draws on the positive association readers have with the smell of baking bread.
In short, details around something as insignificant as baking bread help build the world—and, in turn, the feelings I want readers to associate with that world. My goal is for those readers to feel such a fond association with my fictional world that they long to return to it again and again.