So, Buffy and Supernatural are both shows in which good-looking people fight monsters. The same themes and scenarios (and actors) turn up in both of them, but the Winchesters’ universe is dark and damp and vaguely 70s; all blue-collar bars and classic rock. Sunnydale is bright and quirky and compact — the people there go to the mall and watch TV and wear colours. Even though Supernatural is the newer show, an iPod feels out of place there in a way it wouldn’t on Buffy… and on Buffy, the Impala would be a joke.
As much as I need Faith and Dean to hook up (and, believe me, I do), they don’t inhabit the same world.
I have the outline for After, the this-then-that. The characters are up and moving. Coco has a delightfully foul mouth. Lucas always has his foot in his. I thought Jamie was going to be cool because Jamie thinks he’s cool, but it turns out no one else is buying what he’s selling.
I’m writing, but mostly in circles. I still don’t know how their world feels.
(Tense, POV and style are all facets of this, but I’m not talking about voice here. Voice — although obviously influenced by what you like and steal and are motivated by — isn’t something I think you can engineer. It develops as you do, but you can’t consciously affect it without sounding like a stunted douchebag. The tense I’m writing in changes the atmosphere of the story, but I can’t decide to write like Elmore Leonard or Meg Cabot any more than I can grow a tail.)
I know it’s hot there. Dry and barren and broken-down. There’s crows and sun-bleached bones and carcasses by the side of the road. People ride horses and carry guns on their hips. There are tattoos and long-fingered trees and rusted-out cars. I know those things, but I can’t feel them yet. I’ve built their world, but I don’t inhabit it.
I went back and read some of Sparks the other night, just to remind myself that although the story may not have worked, I can, historically, write coherent English. The setting — the feeling — of that book centres it. Grounds it. Whitaker is an island that only exists in my mind, but I know how it feels to walk around there.
It helps that I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest. Whitaker is equal parts Deep Cove and Bowen Island, and it feels like the top of North Vancouver in October. It’s crows and firs and constant, half-hearted rain. The mist sits on the ground at night and gets tangled in the tops of the trees in the morning. Raspberry canes crowd out over the sidewalks and houses perch over streams or back into cliffs. In that world, everything is damp and heavy and lush. Everyone has an agenda. It’s seedy and unruly and slightly claustrophobic.
I wrote Sparks here, in New Zealand, mostly in summer. I don’t need to stand in a desert to write dry heat in cold rain, but I’m not comfortable in After’s world yet. I haven’t got the mood, the feel, the weight of it in my head. I wrote a whole sequence in a deserted suburban house before I realised that the house didn’t belong. I moved it outside and changed the tense and it started to click, but I’m still pushing the pieces around, looking for a way in.
It isn’t enough to build the architecture of a world — to know the rules and logic and history. You have to build an atmosphere. The setting and the characters should build on and inform each other, creating something bigger than the sum of the story’s parts. Creating a universe.