Fictionalizing Your World
By Jenna Elizabeth Johnson, Coastal Dunes Branch
A great way to begin a literary piece that takes place in the realm of make believe (be that as far out there as science fiction and epic fantasy, or something a little more realistic, such as historical fiction) is to first begin with what you know. As writers, we are always seeking to create something new and original, but even if we manage to do so, everything we write will reflect upon some form of our own experiences and what we’ve learned and seen throughout our lives.
My genre is primarily fiction, and primarily fantasy and paranormal romance if we want to narrow it down even further. I like to write about worlds that exist entirely in my mind. The neat thing about that, however, is that these worlds have foundations in our own. I would encourage any fiction writer struggling to begin their piece, or having a difficult time mapping out the details, to take a step back from the writing process and take a look at the world around you.
If you are just now sitting down to start a project, consider setting your fictional story in your hometown, or where you attended college, or a country or city or region you traveled to during your vacation time. How can you use these places and the experiences you had there as a canvas to paint a new, fresh, and intriguing work of fiction?
Think of some of the great authors who have done this with their works: Jack London, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Harper Lee … The list goes on and on. These writers all observed and studied the world around them and from that knowledge, created something unique. In some cases, the stories, although fictional, reflected a situation or plot that was extremely realistic (Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, for example). In other cases, the world created was entirely fictional, but based on the geography of a region and the experiences of the writer himself or herself (Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy).
When I first began work on my Otherworld series, I made the decision to have the story take place in my hometown. Although the books are in the fantasy genre, with paranormal beings and creatures running amok, the town the events take place in is entirely real. Knowing the setting of my books so well really helped take away some of the stress of writing the series. The world building aspect was mostly taken care of, and all I had to do was figure out what was going to happen with my characters in this setting. Placing my series in a familiar setting helped the other aspects of the writing process fall into place more easily.
The most important thing for any writer to remember is that similar stories will be told time and time again. That is natural, and it doesn’t diminish an author’s work. What makes an author’s work stand out is their own application of their life experiences, in a sense, their voice. Find your voice, decide what is important to you. Use your observations and your favorite places to help you build a strong foundation for what may one day become an excellent work of fiction.
“Fictionalizing Your World”
originally appeared in Jenna Elizabeth Johnson’s
author’s newsletter, November 10, 2017.
Read more about her on her blog/website