As writers, when we talk about world building, we often discuss the senses. What are our characters seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and physically feeling? Who are the people who make up the world, and what are their individual agendas and misconceptions of their surroundings? What time, place, landscape, and cultural norms are integrated into the community where our plot pulls the characters?
World building allows the reader to be transported, and exceptional world building creates a cult-like following in the best of cases (think Tolkien and George RR Martin for starters). Readers can be immersed inside the languages, the scents, the clothing, if writers describe them with just the right touch of reality and yet without going into a deep backstory each step of the way. And this is true even if we are world building within the American west, where WWW members set the scene. Whether we are writing about the past, present, or even the future of the West, we still must transport our readers every time. Maybe it’s to a campground or a mine, a prairie or a bustling western city. Maybe you want your reader to really understand the limitations of a corset.
And while we’ve all read other books describing the world of the west, and many of the WWW writers live *in* the west, one of the often underutilized ways to grasp at the proper descriptions, feelings, smells and sights of anything in the Western past is to visit several reenactments, rendezvous, or to physically try it oneself.
When I’m not tied to the computer or acting as the WWW blog coordinator, I am often found at a rendezvous campsite, living like it’s 1830. My family camps completely as if we live in the past, so the smells are ripe, the grass is soft, and the clothing strange. I’m able to properly grasp the difficulty of baking a pie in coals over a fire in the rain, the struggle to keep clean, the pungent, sweet yet smoky cloying of sweat, dirt, and ash on skin. I can realize how a community used to be, how it was possible for the children to run free, wield knives at the young age of five, chop wood at six, and the necessary laissez faire attitude about toddlers wandering. And starting a fire with flint, steel, char-cloth and tow? Really hard. I wouldn’t have guessed what was all possible until I’d lived it! And if I have a question about rope-making, tool forming, cookie baking, or fur trapping . . . well, I wander down the line of tents and chat it up. Four hours later, I’ll have enough first-hand knowledge to pack about six novels, fiction or otherwise.
If you don’t want to struggle through gathering the props and reenact yourself, most camps operate an “adopt a family” attitude, where they will provide you with the clothing and day of hands-on living. Or simply plan to visit several and chat for the entire day. Most people who reenact desperately love to share their knowledge, and it’s surprising how much of the information bleeds into present day. It’s worth your while, gets you out of the writing chair, out into the world . . . and enables you able to build a more vivid world later when you come home.
–Sara Dahmen, WWW Blog Coordinator and Fur Trade Era Coppersmith Re-Enactor. Feel free to email Sara with questions about reenactments of *any* era at firstname.lastname@example.org. Email her with any announcements, topics, news or releases as well at any time!