Building Your Own World With Words


WORLD BUILDING is a most important factor in your novel. I cannot emphasize this enough. It’s what makes a book cinematic, fuels the imagination, makes a scene turn into Technicolor in the readers mind and become vibrant and alive. My series is set in the 1920’s and I spent a lot of time researching the era. I wanted to get it right, bring the reader into my world.

Setting is the spice, use too little and the result isn’t rich enough; use too much and it will overpower everything else.  We writers need to find a balance;


There are certain elements of setting which you must implement in your writing to bring the story to life.

*Period – What era are you writing in? In this element you need to remember the physical, sensuous world. Their clothes, hairstyles, food, transportation, buildings, the sounds, the smells, etc. Make sure you get it right, put your reader in the story by getting the time period correct.

*Time Span – What time frame does your story cover? Does it span a few days, weeks, or years? This needs to be clear to the reader. Take care of your transitions in time, eliminate the confusion. If it spans years, you may want to check facts. Things are invented or become obsolete. Make sure the automobile was actually invented by that time for example. I did research in my novels to get the automobiles correct for 1929.

*Location – World building is important, whether you are putting the scene in a known location or building a new world. For each scene set the stage for your reader. It can be a subtle nuance, or a prominent building, but always let the reader ‘see’ where the scene takes place.

*Conflict – Your protagonist must have a struggle, some kind of obstacle to overcome. Keep this in mind when creating your setting.

  • If your character has an inner struggle, you have many choices to allow this scene to play out. In his study, on the beach alone, in a quiet forest, even walking down a busy street lost in thought. Put your reader there.
  • If it is a personal conflict with friends or family, create a setting where this would logically happen. At a family gathering, reading the will, family game night, out with friends, etc. Put your reader there.
  • If your main character is fighting society as a whole, a belief he can’t wrap his mind around, standing his ground for something he believes, fighting for good against evil, setting is very important. It must be believable, and time relevant.
Patty Wiseman
Patty Wiseman


The idea here is not simply to describe something, but actually tie it back to the tension in the book.

Here is an example of setting. He heard small waves lapping at the timbers, and the echoing cries of a lone gull.  But Ethan was listening for the man’s breathing, for the scrape of a shoe or the whisper of a blade being drawn. From Thieftaker, D.B. Jackson.

In this passage you were told what he heard, setting the scene and the next line let you feel his fear.

Let me share a passage from my book, An Unlikely Conclusion, “Captain Alexander Adams, a man of means, a career Navy captain, and a coward, glanced at his stylish wife while maneuvering the classy, gray Duesenberg through the country roads.”

He stiffened, tightened his grip on the steering wheel, and through clenched teeth said, You don’t have to be so heartless with your hatred, my dear. Everyone knows how you feel about me.”

The automobile came to a stop at the crossroads. With hatred in his eyes, he looked at his wife full on. “Have you any idea how much I despise you?

I had to make sure the Duesenberg had been produced by that time frame, 1929. That one word put you back in that time. You also knew a lot about the man driving that car.

Time doesn’t permit me to describe the Mafia and the crime boss in my stories or the speakeasies, the docks, the alleyways where these scenes take place.

To produce the settings for my ‘Jazz Age’ series, I leaned on the stories I heard as a girl as my grandmother recounted them. I listened to the language, the descriptions, etc. Those images were imbedded in my mind.

The voice of the characters came naturally. However, as I continued, it was clear I would have to do more, books on the ‘roaring twenties’, friends who lived in the area, and articles on the internet about the era helped to broaden my ‘feel’ for the time.


Immigration was very active during this time frame, so I researched ‘where’ my characters immigrated from. I adopted mannerisms, customs, etiquette, and language that would be relevant to those characters. Sometimes we forget to round out our characters by investigating their past. This is important, for it gives your character credibility. Their past can make a big impact in the ‘setting’ of your story; make them stand out as real, viable people.

My hope is that we make our characters believable by adopting all aspects of their personality and how their background molded them into the people we see in the story.

In my last book of the series, An Unlikely Conclusion, I ended up doing more research than the other two, because of a train wreck I made the focal point in the story. As I researched the train, I felt myself taken back to a time and place long gone, the dinner car, the ladies dresses, the ticket master, and the unstable movement of the train.

Immerse yourself in your story, your readers won’t be disappointed you took the time and trouble to create the magic.

Please click the book cover image to read more about Patty Wiseman and her novels.



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