What I Learned from J.R.R. Tolkien, Part 2
My second lesson from Mr. Tolkien is this: All writers, even nonfiction writers, are in engaged in some kind of world-building.
With any kind of speculative fiction, the world-building is obvious. But any writer who is introducing readers to an unfamiliar world has to do a type of world-building for it to seem real to the reader.
Historical fiction uses a world-building different from speculative fiction. The writer wants the reader to understand a given time period so well that she feels like she knows what it was like to live in that era. Such well-researched settings enhance the fictious story.
But even nonfiction history books have to explain a vanished past in terms a reader can comprehend and make connnections with.
My novel is set in the eastern mountains of West Virginia in the present, and I still have to do world-building, or at least, region-building. So many Americans are unfamliar with a rural lifestyle that I need to explain things like a lack of chain stores or bad phone reception. I have visited the area and researched the animals and plants so when I need to drop in some description, I can be accurate. Readers will feel like they are visiting an unique place and people who live in the area won’t find errors.
Nonfiction writers have to do this kind of research and then present it in a way that engages the reader. A dry listing of facts won’t do it.
So whether you write fiction or nonfiction, realistic or speculative fiction, I think all writers can appreciate the effort Mr. Tolkien put in to make the unreal so amazingly real.