Don Bosco is a writer who specializes in fiction for teens and children. His stories are inspired by Asian legends and pop culture. In 2015, his Sherlock Hong Adventures series was acquired by Marshall Cavendish for international release. He is a local co-organiser for StoryCode Singapore, which promotes transmedia storytelling across different platforms and formats. He also started the publishing studio Super Cool Books in 2011. His latest book is Imagine All This: How To Write Your Own Stories, published by Marshall Cavendish and available late-2016.
A storyworld is made up of all the places in your story that the characters might pass through.
A good storyworld is convincing. It feels as real as the other rooms in your own apartment. It buzzes with history. It stimulates your senses.
How does a writer bring a location to life? How do you draw your readers into the setting, so completely and convincingly that they become oblivious to their own surroundings? And how can you do this quickly and in an interesting way? Here are some exercises to get you going.
TIP #1: Food is good
Every city or neighbourhood has its own unique food experiences, whether it’s the tasty treats that are cooked and sold along bustling alleys, or the elaborately prepared dishes served in grand restaurants. You can’t think of your own hometown without also remembering its signature flavours.
One way to establish a convincing storyworld is to include lots of references to the local food. For example, if your character is trying to solve a mystery in Singapore and she’s hungry, she might get distracted when she notices a chicken rice stall with a long queue. It’s probably the most popular local dish. The locals love it. Visitors find it really yummy too.
TRY THIS: The next time you’re out for a meal, spend two minutes examining your food. Try to describe it in as many interesting ways as you can. Keep a journal and compile all these descriptions. Use the more interesting ones in your story. If you have an Instagram account, you could post photos of your favourite local dishes too. And then you could come back to these later on and try writing quirky descriptions about each dish.
TIP #2: Give a guided tour
When we visit a new city, it’s always nice to have someone there show us the more interesting local spots. If they know the place well, they’ll be able to share all sorts of entertaining anecdotes about it. And after some time, it might even start to feel as if we know the area intimately too.
Your own story will have a strong sense of place if you write about each location as if you’re taking a good friend on a tour. Focus on the idea that it’s the neighbourhood where your character grew up, or her favourite playground where she once had fun with her friends, many of them now dead.
Explore the emotions and memories behind each landmark or feature. This allows your readers to feel a strong connection with the storyworld. They’ll enjoy your story more.
TRY THIS: Pick a location that you’re familiar with. Write down three things you love about it, and why. Then, see how you can work these points into a story. Make your descriptions so accurate and vivid that when someone reads your story, she feels as if she has actually visited that place herself.
TIP #3: Go back in time
One way to make your storyworld even more fascinating is to explore its past, and talk about its history in a way that’s entertaining and surprising. This is one great way to charm your readers and draw them deeper into your story.
Show how past events still affect your character’s life. How does she react? Will her actions change things in the storyworld? For good or bad?
TRY THIS: Explore the Wikipedia website. It has all sorts of intriguing entries about the history of the world. You’ll read about personalities, peculiarities and perversities. Many of the entries are thoroughly researched and enjoyable to read. See if you can pick at least three entries that fascinate you, and then find ways to work this information into your story.