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.
I 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.”)