Getting from Here to There by Diane Burton

Posted on Jan 22, 2015 by   24 Comments | Posted in Blog · Uncategorized · Writing

Diane BurtonWhen I was growing up in the Detroit-area, all the adults I knew worked in the auto industry. They either worked at the Big Three (Ford, Chrysler, or GM) or they worked for an automotive supplier. In Michigan, we love our cars. I still dream of owning a red Mustang convertible.

With my background, it’s natural that I think about vehicles when doing the world building for my science fiction romances. I have to preface this by saying I build my world as I write. I’m more a pantser than a plotter. I make assumptions about my characters and the world they inhabit, then as I write I copy each detail into a separate document. Many people use Scrivener which, as I understand, has places for all those details within the same document as the story. I use MS Word and just keep a document with separate headings (characters, flora/fauna, food, government, transportation, etc.) so I can easily find the detail I’m looking for. Whatever word processor you use, find a way to keep track of your world building. Easier to find the detail without having to search your story. Plus, you may need the details for a sequel. There’s no right or wrong way to build your world. Do what works for you.

The first thing I determine for my worlds (I have two series, different worlds) is that they have mastered interstellar travel using faster-than-light speed (FTL) engines. While writing, I have a rough image in my head of what the starships look like. To flesh out the ship, so to speak, I’ve found Pinterest is a great place for ideas. I can’t believe the number of concepts.

But what kind of ship would my characters use? The type of transport depends on the character and the character’s lifestyle. My heroine in The Pilot has led a hard-scrabble life. She’s fiercely independent and barely makes ends meet as a cargo pilot who owns a small freighter—old, rebuilt, utilitarian, not pretty. The hero, from a well-to-do family, has a sleek, faster-than-fast personal ship that the heroine would give her eye teeth for. In my current WIP, my hero has a “yacht” with elegant surroundings and all the amenities. In my Switched series, much of the action takes place on an exploration ship similar to Star Trek’s Enterprise. Your story, your ship(s).

What about on land? First, you need to determine the type of place. A desert colony or a highly-developed urban setting? For the desert, the natives might ride animals similar to horses or camels. If the colony’s inhabitants are from other worlds, they might have brought sophisticated technology. Speeders or skimmers (think Luke’s speeder in Star Wars IV) that hover above the ground. No potholes to worry about. (A major concern where I live.) In an urban setting, you could have ground transportation (like we have on Earth) or the vehicles—single or multiple passenger cars, buses, taxis—could elevate and travel in “lanes” at different levels above the ground. What about marshlands? The characters could use airboats (like in the Everglades) or a skimmer that doesn’t touch down except on entering or exiting. Any vehicle could be driven by the character or auto-driven and voice-activated. (I would love to have one of latter on long trips from our home in Michigan to our son’s in Arizona.)

Do your characters live underground? Are they on an inhospitable planet and live in a type of bio-dome? Moving sidewalks, like at airports, might be a way to get around. Is there a form of public transportation like a subway? One of the considerations necessary to using a type of vehicle is emissions. Pollution in an enclosed area? All things to think about.

When we build our worlds, we (the writers) need to know everything. The reader does not. Filtering in info, without dumping, takes a delicate touch. I don’t need to know how my car works. I just get in it and drive. So too the form of transport your characters use. As with any type of description, let your reader see it through the eyes of a character seeing it for the first time. Some writers and readers (mostly male) enjoy detailed explanations of how things work. As much as I like their stories, my eyes glaze over at too much detail. Keep your reader in mind when deciding how much to reveal.

How your characters get from one place to another is entirely up to you. Transportation is a small but necessary part of the world you build.

About Diane Burton

Diane Burton combines her love of mystery, adventure, science fiction and romance into writing romantic fiction. Besides the science fiction romance Switched and Outer Rim series, she is the author of One Red Shoe, a romantic suspense, and The Case of the Bygone Brother, a PI mystery. Diane and her husband live in Michigan. They have two children and two grandchildren.

For more info and excerpts from her books, visit Diane’s website:

Connect with Diane Burton online:
Goodreads: Diane Burton Author

24 Responses to "Getting from Here to There by Diane Burton"

  1. Comment by Patricia Kiyono
    January 22, 2015 8:17 am

    Great advice for world building, Diane! I use Scrivener, and I plot, but for some reason details keep changing as I go along. I need to remember to create a section for those details so that names, eye colors, and number of children stay the same! Love your first series. Can’t wait to read more.

    • Comment by Diane Burton
      January 23, 2015 2:40 pm

      Thanks, Patty. I heard Scrivener has many options. I’ll just keep plugging along with Word. Old dog, no more new tricks. 🙂

  2. Comment by Kristen Brockmeyer
    January 22, 2015 8:25 am

    Great article, Diane! I don’t write s/f, but some of your world-building tips definitely carry over on to other genres. Especially the light touch with filtering in info!

    • Comment by Diane Burton
      January 23, 2015 2:41 pm

      Thanks, Kristen. You make a good point. No matter what we write, we build our world. I’ve been know to be heavy-handed with the details. Just ask my crit. partner. LOL She keeps me on track.

  3. Comment by Constance Bretes
    January 22, 2015 8:45 am

    Great article Diane. You gave us a lot to think about!

    • Comment by Diane Burton
      January 23, 2015 2:42 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Connie.

  4. Comment by Alicia Dean
    January 22, 2015 10:36 am

    Wow, very interesting and informative post. I love how much thought and detail goes into your world building, and it really shows in your stories. Our writer’s meeting last Saturday was presented by one of our authors who shared her method of keeping track of the details of her books. She actually uses a binder for each story. I am thinking that might work for me, because I don’t like having to open and refer to all the different docs. If I can flip through a binder while I’ve got my story on screen, I think it might be helpful.

    • Comment by Diane Burton
      January 22, 2015 1:47 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Alicia. I’ve used a binder, but prefer the doc file so I can search a term. But, hey, whatever works, right?

  5. Comment by susan coryell
    January 22, 2015 11:44 am

    You and my husband both yearn for a red Mustang convertible! I am in awe of your world-building.What a great way to organize details. Best wishes for all your projects.

    • Comment by Diane Burton
      January 23, 2015 2:43 pm

      Thanks, Susan. I had a used red Cougar. 2nd best as far as I’m concerned. 🙂

  6. Comment by Kara O'Neal (@KaraONealAuthor)
    January 22, 2015 6:32 pm

    Goodness gracious. What a process. Your imagination is overflowing. I admire people who can create alternate worlds.

    • Comment by Diane Burton
      January 23, 2015 2:45 pm

      Thanks, Kara. Even for my rom suspense & mystery I have to keep track of all the details as well as build the worlds–even if they are real places.

  7. Comment by Leah St. James
    January 22, 2015 7:20 pm

    That’s really interesting, Diane. I’m not sure I could write sci-fi. I don’t think I’d be very good at world building. I think I’m too literal!

    • Comment by Diane Burton
      January 23, 2015 2:46 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Leah. I’ll bet you do build a world for your stories.

  8. Comment by Nancy Lee Badger
    January 26, 2015 9:06 am

    Great article! Makes sense about not HOW it works, just that the reader understands WHAT your character uses. By the way…I met my hubby when he drove a ’64 Mustang. Yahoooo!

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