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You can thank Stephen King for this post. I recently read “The Shining” and if any of you are at all familiar with the book or movie, you know the Overlook Hotel is a bad place to be. The basic premise of the novel is this: Jack Torrence, his wife Wendy, and son Danny are to take care of the Overlook during the winter months. It’s located so high in Colorado that when it snows there is no way in or out, thus the need for a caretaker. While there, they experience strange and disturbing events related to the hotel.
How does King do it in a way that is believable?
Anyone who has read the novel knows the amount of detail that went into creating the hotel’s sordid past. At multiple points, Jack finds himself pouring over old records as if he can’t read it fast enough. The history of the hotel reveals more about the murders that have occurred there, the many owners it has had, and the failed attempts at running it.
King doesn’t start the novel flaunting all of this at us, though. He’s subtle about the details he brings into play so that when the hotel “comes to life”, so to speak, readers are prepared for it. We accept that the hotel is basically alive and wants to kill the people who are there. Of course, the building itself is not malicious. It’s the “inhabitants” (AKA the ghosts of those murdered there) that are. Because the ghosts are so much a part of the hotel, the building itself seems to come alive, thus becoming a character on its own.
Want to give this technique a try?
Treat your setting as you would one of your main characters. You give them a name, a history, a life before your story. Do the same for your setting. Your’s may not be filled with ghosts out for blood. It might be so rich in history that it comes alive for readers in an entirely different way. The details are what make it. They’re the backbone not only of the world you build, but of the story itself. If you can spend the time and effort in building a believable world for your story, you will be amazed at how real it seems to your readers.