Project Description

One of my challenges in the drafting process has been worldbuilding, or, setting the scenes throughout the piece to make this fictional place and situation feel not only believable, but also familiar.

It is tempting to move from plot point to plot point and forget about these details that can not only introduce elements of a world much like, but so different from, our own. But beyond setting the scene, this worldbuilding can also build character backstory and help readers become invested in the characters.

Here’s a portion of a chapter that needed some worldbuilding:

This is how my father died.

On the last Monday of each month, he caught the 5:55 flight to Washington, D.C. When he arrived, a car would take him somewhere in the mountains of Virginia. Sometimes he would call us from the car if he couldn’t concentrate on work, he said, just to check in. He usually called my phone because Denny kept strange hours and was sometimes still up when he got in a private car on this side of the bridge to get on that first flight to Washington.

His driver up north hated when he would call because dad always called from his secure line that came up unlisted. An abuse of power, some would call it. We never talked about much, cutting off abruptly when reception would fuzz out somewhere at the base of the mountain. [what did they talk about that day?]

When the car delivered my father to work he went underground and wouldn’t resurface until Friday afternoon, when he would catch the 8:56 flight back to Florida and fall into bed. After a few days the color would return to his face and he seemed to become himself again. 

I have no idea what my father did deep within that mountain in Virginia all week once every month. I knew the internet was down there somewhere, in servers that spanned football-field length warehouses with fans struggling to keep that at the optimal temperature of ___.

He died on a Wednesday.

Here’s the second draft of that passage:

This is how my father died.

On the last Monday of each month, he caught the 5:55 flight to Washington, D.C. When he arrived, a car would take him somewhere in the mountains of Virginia. Sometimes he would call us from the car if he couldn’t concentrate on work, he said, just to check in. He usually called my phone because Denny kept strange hours and was sometimes still up when he got in a private car on this side of the bridge to get on that first flight to Washington.

His driver up north hated when he would call because dad always called from his secure line that came up unlisted. An abuse of power, some would call it. We never talked about much, cutting off abruptly when reception would fuzz out somewhere at the base of the mountain. 

“Do you remember what the rain used to smell like?” He asked me that morning.

“Like honeysuckle, sometimes,” I said. Sometimes when it was raining you could open the door and it would just hit you: a summer smell that was impossible to replicate. It made the rain feel warm and inviting.

“Yeah,” he said, “Sweet like that. Your mother used to get so upset,” he said. She wasn’t upset at the smell of the rain but rather what we would do in it. When the street would flood during a big storm dad would take Denny and I out in it, let us play in the water. A normal storm would only send the water up around our calves, and we’d splash barefoot, carefree. Mom would stand on the porch with her arms crossed, shaking her head and pointing up at the inevitable lightning bolt that would strike us all down out there.

But it was not the lightning that would get us, but the water. The floods got deeper as we got older, trying to catch our knees as we grew. One night Denny came in after a storm with a rash up both her legs, and that was the end of the rain dances for us. We knew the flood water wasn’t exactly clean, but it got dirtier the higher the water got, as the pipes underground became stressed and strained from the weight of the flow. That rash kept Denny out of school for a week, covered in ointment as it turned to scabs.

“Denny got that rash,” I said. 

Dad laughed a little, like he knew he shouldn’t. “I gotta go, Jo,” he said. “Say hi to your sister for me.”

“Mmhmm. Bye dad.” I dropped my phone into my backpack, distracted by the rush of getting to school.

When the car delivered my father to work he went underground and wouldn’t resurface until Friday afternoon, when he would catch the 8:56 flight back to Florida and fall into bed. After a few days the color would return to his face and he seemed to become himself again. 

I have no idea what my father did deep within that mountain in Virginia all week once every month. I knew the internet was down there somewhere, in servers that spanned football-field length warehouses with fans thrumming to keep that at the optimal temperature of 64 degrees all the time. 

He died on a Wednesday.

I’m sure this passage will continue to evolve in a third, fourth and perhaps even fifth draft. But for now, it feels more confident, doesn’t it? More sure of its place. I may fix some details later, but for now, you have a better picture of who’s involved in this story, and perhaps why.