Building a paracosm is the scholarly way of referring to the act of building a fictional world. I imagined, before writing my novels set in a fictionalized version of Bergen County, New Jersey, that the task would be quite daunting, but it turns out I’d been preparing for this creative endeavor my whole life!
The first and most important thing to do is to find the motivation to create this world. Some people are naturally motivated while others, like my foster daughter, want to escape traumatic personal histories, but the quickest way to enhance your desire for escape is by inviting–no–seeking a certain level of chaos in your real world. This will build the desire to escape it.
Keep plenty of pets, date ne’er-do-well boyfriends and carry your money and credit cards loosely in your back pocket. What with pet bills, nights bailing out boyfriends at the county jail and creditors hounding you the desire to escape should follow.
Explore the Real World and Different Time Periods:
One day you will wake up with a restless desire to see new things. Load your pets in the car and drop them off at your mother’s house (along with any children you may have had with the ne’er-do-well) before journeying to research different time periods and/or travel to different places.
Some of these adventures will end up being in books you write (only because my children and I spent a summer on a free-love, organic farm run sort of like a cult was I able to send BUCK CRENSHAW to a 19th century utopian society with such ease).
The need to escape the real life you’ve created will fuel the obsession to learn how others lived. Obscure libraries, old houses with dead people’s spirits and travel brochures will stir the part of your soul you’ve starved for so many years. You will no longer have time for those “friends” who really just loved helping make things chaotic.
It is now that you create your first adult, imaginary friend.
Mapping the World:
Soon after you must find a home for this imaginary friend. Luckily you’ve researched your own escape and the imaginary (let’s say, new friend) amicably agrees to be your muse. You begin to make maps. These may come in the form of outlines or just maps. You realize that you can shrink time and space with this new friend. Englewood, New Jersey doesn’t really have to be the exact Englewood you walked the streets of last week.
Dress the Part:
If you are truly lucky you do have one or two good friends or children who enjoy make-believe as much as you do. You all decide to dress funny for research. Something about this exercise really sets the imagination on fire. I can’t quite figure out why wearing a corset and hoop skirt and flirting with grown men in costume transformed how I think about women, but it did.
Be an Empath:
The other day I was told by a social worker that I was an empath. Maybe you are too:
“They are sensitive to the visible as well as the invisible and pick up on body language, tone of voice, body movements, the words people choose when they speak, the words they avoid, the logic they use; and the hidden things that only an empath can sense inside another person. It is not uncommon for an empath to “freak out” for no apparent reason, only to discover later that a friend or family member went through some sort of trauma at that exact moment. So essentially an empath is someone whose feeling sensory is extraordinarily heightened, meaning they receive the majority of their psychic input from what they feel.
Since they’re being assaulted constantly by emotions which do not originate internally, they can’t figure out why they feel the way that they do, and therefore can’t address the core issues. Since empathy isn’t something you can really ditch it’s sometimes difficult to sort out what the Empath truly feels in a given situation or what they are taking on from someone else. This can prove to be very confusing!
Emotional empaths are so sensitive that they can absorb the negative emotions of others in their body, and actually take it on. So when an empath is around somebody who is anxious, they can actually absorb that energy into their body, when it isn’t even their own anxiety.” Empathguide.com
Being able to communicate with spirits, trees and animals and to feel the various mood swings of the people around you can be exhausting, but also a gift. You are not limited by your own mind and heart. The lines between you and I are blurred, sometimes dangerously so, but still you can use this in creating a world full of people you are not–or are you?
A question for readers: What is your favorite fictional world?
A question for writers: What’s your favorite thing about creating fictional worlds? Your biggest challenge?
COMING SOON: THE NEXT BOOK IN THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES!