Building a New World for Myself

When a writer builds a world for her novel, she can either begin with the known earthly world and add details to make it her own, or she can create a world from scratch, building the world from the outside in. First, the broad view of how the world looks, smells, feels. Second how the inhabitants make this world their own with cities, farms, and designated wild areas. Third, the infrastructure of this world — the basic divisions of society including cultural, racial and governmental . Fourth, the creatures of the world and how they relate to their environment and each other. Finally, the minutiae of life in this special world — how and what the inhabitants eat and drink; how they deal with bodily waste, move around, survive, find comfort.

heavenI  frequently think about a writer’s need for worldbuilding now that I am carving my own world out of the known world. I’ll be leaving in a couple of months for a road/camping/hiking trip, and though the first three steps of worldbuilding are already in place (I am going adventuring to see what is there, not creating the environment itself), I hope to find new ways of relating to the world and its creatures. To this end, all the minutia of life in this new world has to be thought out.

For example, when some people take off on such a trip, they acquire a recreational vehicle, a home away from home that is larger and more luxurious than the places most of the world’s population live. Other people go minimal — taking just what they can carry on their backs.

Me? I’m far from wanting the conspicuous consumption of the monster RVs, or even the convenience/inconvenience of a camper, but I’m also not yet ready for a minimalist adventure. I will have a car (though my automobile is rather minimalist, now that I think about it. An ancient VW Beetle is about as minimal as you can get and still be driving an enclosed vehicle). I will stay with friends occasionally or in motels when inclement weather so dictates. But for the rest of it, I have to create my own world. What sort of shelter will I use? How will I stay warm? What will I sleep on? How will I deal with body functions in the middle of a frigid night? What will I wear? What will I eat? How will I cook? How can I create a modicum of comfort?

So many details!

I’m not going off on an expedition to a remote corner of the galaxy, where I need to bring everything for survival. I probably will never be more than an hour or two drive from civilization, where I can rectify any oversight or under buying, but still, the point is to be as self-sufficient as possible. Or maybe not. Maybe the point is to prepare as best as I can and see happens.

One of the things I want to seek on this expedition is darkness, places that are far from the light pollution of cities, where stars are so numerous you feel as if you are falling up into the sky. Last night I had a vision of myself in a lounge chair, lying under the stars, and letting myself fall into the infinite sky. Romantic, I know. The truth is probably more dangerous and uncomfortable — frigid temperatures, no protection from the small creatures of the night, and none from the large bidepal ones. But still, I’ve been searching for a strong and comfortable folding lounge chair to make my vision a reality.

Other details I still haven’t worked out, such as disposal of body waste. I had planned on getting a portable camp toilet since I’m not sure I have the muscle tone to squat for as long as I would need to do to my “duty,”  but so far I haven’t found one I like. Maybe plastic bags and kitty litter would work. And maybe I am stronger than I think.

Some people find my preparations amusing, and to be honest, sometimes I do too. But I also find the mental exercise a challenge — rethinking every part of life to see what the alternatives are.

In this, too, my preparations reflect the way a writer builds her world, because isn’t writing about rethinking life as we know it to see what the alternatives are?


(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

10 Responses to “Building a New World for Myself”

  1. directorb Says:

    Good stuff! Keep up the creativeness.

  2. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    One thing I do like about the characters that come out of novels are their back stories. You find out why they are the way they are. In real life you rarely do discover the back story of people. A writer telling her own story and here we have the back story before the real story, the expedition, gets started.

  3. Betty Rountree Says:

    Don’t look back, and not too far forward. Let each day open a new adventure! I can’t wait to read your account of each new discovery! I’ve been ‘on the road’ all my life, except for my formal schooling, college degree time in college, and when not in a classroom teaching children.
    Each new adventure will be like a new chapter! Nothing usually turns out like we plan, OR like we fear. Don’t prepare with ‘material things’ ahead of time, because they soon will probably not be what you thought you wanted, or maybe not work the way you expected, ……. but you will find your way on the interstates, highways, mountains, valleys, and in the dark vast deserts as you move along at your own pace, writing your own story, the same as usual, but maybe with a different medium, a new perspective, an unmet expectation, or a thrilling new experience.
    There will be new smells, new noises, new senses awakened ‘from a different type of world’ and you will build that world, just in a different, but somehow familiar way, all the same. I was once caught in a snowstorm on a jam-packed highway while in my motor-home. While I was cozy in a motor-home, most were stuck in the same traffic, but in cars. As traffic stalled for longer, I found myself handing hot cups of coffee or bottles of water out the window to the ‘strangers’ who had none. I felt like it was what I was meant to do, and why I was there stuck in that particular traffic. The great equalizer is that all people have the same basic human needs, and when coffee is consumed, while traffic is at a standstill, within 2 hours, the coffee wants to be released.
    When mother nature ‘called’, people began emerging from cars, more women than men, which led me to believe men had either a coke bottle or had barely cracked their car door to relieve themselves. For others, and especially women, many squatted between the car doors, and most trudged off the freeway, off the shoulder of the freeway, crawled through fences, and sought small trees and bushes. Mother Nature is certainly the ‘great equalizer when an opportunity presents itself, and although I found the sight amusing, interesting, and a study in human nature, I can’t for the life of me, remember a single face of those seeking a bathroom!
    No need to ‘purge’ possessions or worry before hitting the road. Travel in your comfy clothes until you tire of them, then leave them folded neatly on the ‘free table’ in a laundromat or campground for someone else to enjoy. It’s so much fun to ponder the ‘what if’s’, …….. and so much fun to actually experience them. There is a brave new world out there full of wonderful people and places to go. There is a huge desert in Arizona where there is nothibng to see at night from horizon to horizon, nothing but stars, and many times not even a bush to brush against your thigh, and not a plane or shooting star in the sky. It will be you and the dark, and you can sink into your own self with peace and renewed spirit.
    Write your plans in jello, so you won’t worry about strange movements, or write them in the sand so you can erase or edit them on a whim.
    May you be blessed, thrilled, calmed, invigorated, strengthened, toughened, gentled, and reach contentment as you move through your new world. I can’t wait until you start building it, or remodeling the one you encounter!!
    Hugs and Enchantment from another soul to you!!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Not having a motor home, I will have to make some preparations. Make sure I can keep warm if I get caught in a snowstorm, for example, or have enough water in a desert. I’m not getting much — tent, camping quilt, hiking poles. After all, not many material possessions will fit into an ancient bug. But oh, I love your lyrical description of what could be in store! That’s exactly what I ready for — the world that is waiting for me. I’ll follow your advice and write my plans in the sand.

      Thank you for taking the time to leave such a wonderful comment. Maybe we will meet up someday, we two travelers.

      • Betty Rountree Says:

        I began as a child on an army cot and mosquito net with my parents. Graduated later to a tent, then a tent trailer, and finally when I needed to devote my time to my aging father, I suggested that despite our ages, we could go RV-ing comfortably together, he could teach me, and I’d be the student. Suddenly he purchased a RV in 1999 without consulting me. He traveled with me for a month, feeling important as my ‘instructor’, and then retired to his recliner in his 80’s and sent me on to travel., asking me to just find a ‘sitter’ to stay with him
        . .
        I was over-whelmed, and so, instead, I parked the RV and took the back seats out of my SUV.. I had a cot mattress, a sleeping bag, sheet, favorite pillow, an ice chest, and 2 pillow cases …one for clean clothes, one for dirty. I spent $99 at Walmart for a battery that charged while driving, then provided energy for my laptop or a fan at night. I bought a porta-potty (looked like a round plastic ottoman, so could be used as a small night stand, also. I took along my favorite insulated mug,, some chocolate diet bars, and peanut butter crackers, and at first I ate a $!.00 sausage biscuit for breakfast, and a $1,00 spicy chicken from McDonald’s the first few days, and a sandwich from a geoceey store deli for dinner. …… or hit a flea market for fun and dinner. After a few days, I got a handle on the idea of ‘meals’ and ideas flourished. At first I parked and slept early, around dusk, and departed at dawn to prevent being ‘obvious’. As time went on, I changed, rearranged, adjusted, and all of the changes were the result of desiring more experiences and using all my senses, rather than looking for luxury.

        I switch between the RV and the simplicity of the SUV, but I boon-dock either way I go. Simplicity makes it so simple, and ‘making do’ with less, is a great equalizer among true RV people, where your interests,, your personality, your attitude, and your choices will be your guide, and the values on which you are judged; I can’t wait to meet you ‘down the road’!! There IS LIFE out there!! Let’s live it.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          I like your philosophy. I’d considered getting a van or some sort of vehicle I could sleep in, but decided to stick with my 44-year-old bug for the time being. Not great for sleeping in, not great for carting around the “ottoman”, but fabulous for striking up a conversation. (Everyone has a VW bug story.) I’m planning on driving just a couple of hours at a time, then camping and hiking. I much prefer seeing the world at the rate of 2 and 1/2 miles an hour than 60 or 65 mph. It’s all a big learning experiment for me. I’ve seldom traveled, never camped, always had a home base, though I lived simply. Now that there is just me, wherever I am, there I am. I’m looking forward to the quest for whatever life is out there.

          Yes, let’s live it!

  4. rami ungar the writer Says:

    If you decide to pass through Ohio, I’ll be flying home soon, so maybe we could meet up.

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