This week my 34th book, JUST DOWN THE ROAD, will be coming out and as always people ask me about how I create a world. Right now I have two series going: One, Whispering Mountain Series set in Texas in the 1800’s and the other, Harmony Series set in a small town today’s world. JUST DOWN THE ROAD is the 4th of what will be at least seven books in the Harmony Series and WILD TEXAS ROSE coming out in August 2012, will be the 6th book in my historical series.
So, how do I create a world for readers to step into?
First, the setting is the dressing around the story. We may all love it, think it’s beautiful or exciting, or exotic but don’t mistake it for the story. The setting may hold the story together and offer interesting twists and challenges, but it is not the heartbeat of the story. If it were, travel books would fill the top 10 of the New York Times list.
The story, the core, is the people. I don’t even like to think of them as characters. They are my people, who live and breathe in the world I create. They drive the story. They’re what keep you up reading at night. For example, when you read a story about a tornado, it’s not the path or the tornado or the size or the wind speed that keeps you on the edge of your seat; it’s the lives that will be affected by the storm.
One thing I remember about writing about the West is people lived by seasons and not by the calendar.
That said, the writer must look at the setting to find and understand the people. Characters, like real people, are molded by their surroundings. The way they think is influenced by their past, not just yesterday or their childhood, but the lives of their ancestors. Since I live in the Panhandle of Texas I chose to set my imaginary town, Harmony, in Texas. Like people everywhere, we think a little different.
Example: Last week I walked out of the library and ran into a friend. We stood by our cars and talked for a while enjoying the sunny day. When I got in my car I heard on the radio that the wind was blowing 30 mph. Neither of us had noticed “the breeze.”
When I was in England speaking to the Romance Writers a few years ago, I thought them hard to get to know, hard to just start talking to. After my talk, I pulled out a stack of my business cards and said, “Where I’m from people say y’all come. If you make it to Texas, come see me, I’ll put you up and cook you a meal.”
Suddenly, the world shifted. Everyone was talking to me and giving me their address; for, you see, in England, if someone invites you the only polite thing to do is to invite them back. I had a great time visiting and having tea with the writers and readers “across the pond.”
Knowing the people, studying how they lived and what they thought makes characters come alive. It makes them breathe. It doesn’t matter if they lived a hundred years ago or today.
I’ve been very blessed that people step into the worlds I create and go with me on the adventures with my characters. They live for me and I hope they will for all of you.
Click HERE to watch a video about the writing of JUST DOWN THE ROAD.
I’d love to hear things you’ve noticed that are different about the people where you live. A different way of thinking or acting that makes them your hometown people. From your comments, I’ll pick a winner to receive one of the first copies of JUST DOWN THE ROAD.
I look forward to hearing from you,
Jodi Thomas is the NY Times and USA Today bestselling author of 34 novels and 11 short story collections. In June 2011, WELCOME TO HARMONY won a RITA, the highest award for women’s fiction. Jodi currently serves as the Writer in Residence at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas.
Visit me at www.JodiThomas.com
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