Tuesday, April 06, 2010

WWW: Welcome to my World

I suppose a lot of readers, when they think of world-building in fiction, think of fantasy realms and science fiction universes, where all the rules have changed. Why would contemporary romance writers need to build new worlds when they have the real world as their canvas?

But fictional worlds are made up of more than soil and sky, governmental entities and fantastical creatures. They're made up of people, relationships, power-struggles and alliances, too. And that's true of contemporary, "real world" fiction as well. The stories we love as readers—and love to write as writers—create worlds of connections and conflicts that seem as real to us as the world in which we live.

My first three novels for Harlequin Intrigue, FORBIDDEN TERRITORY, FORBIDDEN TEMPTATION and FORBIDDEN TOUCH, took place in a contemporary world where paranormal gifts were a reality. The three Browning sisters, Lily, Rose and Iris, each had a special gift that put her in danger--and thrust her into contact with the man who would become the love of her life. These characters had histories, connections and conflicts that fleshed out the present-day world of their stories.

Though I'm personally skeptical of the paranormal, I tried hard to make the three sisters and their gifts seem utterly grounded in reality. They struggled with their abilities, with scorn and disbelief. They suffered painful consequences for using the paranormal abilities they'd been given. Had I given them gifts that always worked smoothly and didn't have negative aspects, I don't think the world I created in those books would have seemed believable. The real world is full of obstacles, a rollercoaster ride of gains and losses, joys and sorrows. For fictional worlds to seem real, they must share those same aspects.

With my next series, the Cooper Justice books that started coming out from Harlequin Intrigue starting January 2010, I created an even more far-flung but interconnected fictional world where the events in foreign lands have real-life consequences. I used a country I'd created in FORBIDDEN TOUCH, the war-torn Central Asian republic of Kaziristan, to flesh out the back story of Sam Cooper of my February 2010 book, CHICKASAW COUNTY CAPTIVE. I also created a new nation, the struggling democracy of Sanselmo in South America, to give establish the idea that Sam's quest for justice had created many powerful international enemies.

By grounding Sam in a world I've already created, I retain the ability to connect characters from that other series to the current series if I want. And by creating a new piece of that world, I helped create a playing ground for the next Cooper Justice book, coming out in August 2010. Sanselmo plays strongly into the background of Luke Cooper, a retired Marine who made a deadly enemy during his time on patrol in Sanselmo during the aftermath of a coup attempt.

Even the first Cooper Justice book, CASE FILE: CANYON CREEK, WYOMING, expands the story world I created, taking a secondary character from my stand-alone book, COWBOY ALIBI, and giving him his own story. I was able to revisit some characters I'd loved in my previous book and see where they were in their lives after the Happily Ever After, and I was also able to flesh out the tragic back story I'd given the character of Riley in that previous book, offering him closure and the hope of new love.

See, one reason why writers love to write series and interconnected stories is that the characters and worlds we're creating when we write a series become real and beloved to us. I think readers often feel the same way. When the heroes kiss and the book ends, readers aren't quite ready to say goodbye to those people and their world, any more than we writers are.

So, how about you? Do you like interconnected books? What about series works for you, and what doesn't work? Do tell!

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