Hello, writers. Let’s continue our conversation about worldbuilding. Pico mentioned that last week’s challenge made worldbuilding easier because it required giving directions, which allows the writer to give details.
An outsider is an extremely useful character for worldbuilding. A traveler newly arrived to the scene can discover it along with the reader—can take the journey from Platform 9¾ as it were.
Two tried-and-true ways to deliver an outsider to the scene are time travel and world-transfer. (World-transfer being when you climb into a magic wardrobe and, bam! you’re in fantasyland.)
Once s/he’s comfortably transferred to another time or place, the protagonist can then express astonishment at aspects of your world that the regular world-dwellers take for granted.
The problem for many writers seems to be getting the protagonist to accept what’s happened. The reader suspends disbelief, but the protagonist often refuses to. Don’t get stuck on this. Handle it as neatly and cleanly as possible. Two of my favorite ways of handling the transfer:
1. Connie Willis’s Oxford books. The protagonists expect to time travel; it’s their job. So they’re annoyed when it goes wrong (as it always does) instead of astonished that they’re in another time.
2. The scene in “Buffy the Vampire-Slayer” when Oz has it explained to him that there really are vampires, magic is real, etc. He frowns and says something to the effect of “Actually, that explains a lot.” Done.
The Willis approach requires double worldbuilding, since the reader first has to accept a world in which time travel is possible. The characters, since they already live there, accept it automatically. But the characters still get to describe the new time-world as outsiders would. It's never what they expected.
One key to getting your characters into a new world or time successfully is choosing characters who can handle it. In their own way. They might only cynically be pretending to handle it till somebody owns up to the joke. What you don’t want to do (although some writers have) is have the character continue denying that the world-transfer or time-travel has occurred for pages and pages, until the poor reader has no choice but to fling the book across the room.
Tonight’s challenge is a tricky one.
Your protagonist is in Washington, D.C. The year is 2012. Get him to Washington, D.C. in 1864. It’s up to you to decide how he gets there and whether he knew he was going. Either way, show us his reaction when he gets there.Here’s the first line:
With considerable trepidation, Michael opened the door.
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