TTT: Fictional Worlds

Top Ten Tuesday is a blogging meme, blog hop, whole lot of list fun hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Every Tuesday, someone there posts a list topic, and participants blog their response and join the linky list on TB&TB’s blog. The topic for today’s Top Ten is:

Top Ten Most Vivid Worlds/Settings In Books

One of the things that annoys me is when the setting of a novel is not clear and I can’t picture where the action is happening. I especially don’t like it when I have to keep flipping back to see where the characters are (“Is this happening inside the car?” “Are they under the tree or in the tree?–did he say there were trees?” etc.). Sometimes this is just the result of my inattentiveness as a reader. Other times, it’s because the writer didn’t do a good enough job of describing the world, and making sure I have enough information to see the world in my imagination. So, it’s a notable thing to me when an author does a good job of world-building, such that I can easily follow the story without having to ask “where am I?” and “where did that car come from? I thought we were in the woods?” Here are ten books I think are good examples of excellent world-building (and I don’t mean this in a strictly fantasy or sci-fi sense; I mean in the sense of giving me a good idea of place, whether it’s a distant planet, a magical world, or a modern suburb). Click on the images for the Goodreads description of each:

J. K. Rowling’s epic saga of the boy wizard has an equally epic world, which Rowling describes in amazing detail. The result of years of careful planning, plotting, sketching, and dreaming, there are few literary worlds that seem so real.
I’ve said it more than once, but this is one of the best–if not the best–series I’ve read since Potter. The tale of a Austrian prince and a Scottish female midshipman disguised as a boy in the British Air Force, set within a steampunk alternate World War I. There are beautiful illustrations accompanying each novel, but my imagination didn’t really need them to put visual form to Westerfeld’s words.
Whether in District 12, the arena, or deep in the woods, well before the movie came out, I had Katniss’s world in my head. And I think it bears testimony to Suzanne Collins’s descriptive ability that the version on-screen wasn’t too far removed from what I imagined.
The DIVERGENT Series (so far)
From the drabness of Abnegation, to the faction selection ceremony, to the underground world of the Dauntless, Veronica Roth does such a good job showing us her dystopian Chicago in her seemingly-effortless prose.
Speaking of underground domains, Neil Gaiman constructed a wonderful hidden world of strange people under the streets of London in NEVERWHERE. Read this, and you’ll never look at homeless people the same way again!
Stephen King’s vivid imagination takes the mundane, like an ordinary motel, and does weird and wacky things with it. From the disturbing rooms, the bar, even to the topiary outside, King’s descriptions are never cluttered, but are clear–which makes his world all the more disturbing!
I had to include Orwell’s classic dystopian because this was another book I read prior to seeing the movie (the 1980s John Hurt and Richard Burton version), and the movie setting matched pretty well what I had in my head as I read.
Edwidge Danticat’s novel set in New York and Haiti. This is such a beautifully-written book, and the scenes in Haiti evoke the sounds and smells of the country such that I can put myself there, even though I’ve never been. A team from our church made a trip to Haiti recently. I should have one of them read the book and compare it to what they experienced. From the things they’ve said about the people and the culture, it seems spot on.
This is the first of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. The creative ways in which Pratchett marries ancient myth and social parody into his fantasy world can only be admired. Pratchett says there are no maps of Discworld: “You can’t map a sense of humour.” And yet others have managed to create maps of the various countries, which says a lot about how well-realized Discworld is in the author’s head.
I had to include this BrontΓ© classic on the list because it’s probably my favorite classic novel (so far, at least). When I approached reading this book, it was with a certain trepidation. For a start, it’s not short. Also, I’ve found that often, writers of old get overly flowery and detailed in their descriptions, and such detail can actually get in the way of the story, and make it harder to keep track of what’s going on, and who’s where, etc. Not so with Charlotte BrontΓ©! I found this book to be very easy to read in terms of picturing locations, and keeping up with the story. I though she evoked the worlds of harsh boarding schools, affluent estates, and humble schoolrooms simply and with style.

What books do you think do a great job of world-building? Comment, or take part in The Broke and the Bookish‘s Top Ten Tuesday bloghop!

Note: I have included pictures of the book covers for informational/promotional purposes only, and not for my own financial gain. If you own the copyright to these pictures and object to me using them, please let me know be fore you sue me. I’ll be happy to comply with any removal requests without the need for lawyers and fines that I can’t afford.

18 thoughts on “TTT: Fictional Worlds

  1. Jenny

    I think I might love this list! I included HP in mine, and Leviathan as an honorable mention. But all of these are EXCELLENT choices! πŸ™‚

  2. Scarlett

    Great list! I’ve read the Tiffany Aching series of Pratchett’s but haven’t gotten into the actual disc world yet. I LOVED the pictures in the Leviathan series, it helped make it come that much more alive fore me.

    Here’s a link to mine!

    1. cds Post author

      Thank you, Scarlett! The pictures in LEVIATHAN are excellent, and certainly do compliment the story. Like I said, I don’t think they are necessary–but it’s nice to see how someone who can draw interprets the world, and how much that matches what you think.

      I’ll be over to check out your list in a moment! πŸ™‚

    1. cds Post author

      Thanks, Belle! JANE EYRE was such a surprise to me. I really wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did. It’s a shame Charlotte didn’t write more.

  3. Julie Dao

    Agree wholeheartedly with the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series! I haven’t read any of the others yet, except for Jane Eyre, which is also one of my all-time favorite classics. Another world I’d add is Middle Earth from the Lord of the Rings series and also Narnia.

    1. cds Post author

      Narnia definitely could have been on this list! I nearly put Middle Earth, too. I think the reason I didn’t include them is that I wanted to go with books that I’ve read within the last few years. Also, with Tolkien, while his descriptions are detailed, and his world well-realized, he was one who, for me, sometimes let the detail get in the way of the story. TLotR is great, don’t get me wrong, but that’s probably why it’s not on this list.

  4. Jaime

    You have some pretty great ones here, and at least a couple are worlds that I hadn’t thought of. I’m echoing Julie with Middle Earth. If I decide to do TTT today (thinking about it), that one will be on my list. πŸ™‚

    1. cds Post author

      Thanks, Jaime! See my comment to Julie about Tolkien. I recall reading TLotR and literally (okay, maybe not literally but close enough!) getting lost in his forests! πŸ™‚

      So, what else would be on your list? (That’s my not-so-subtle way of trying to persuade you to participate in today’s TTT) πŸ˜€

  5. katyupperman

    Fantastic choices, Colin! I wouldn’t have thought of THE SHINING, but you’re right on: Its setting is very a much another character. So chilling!

    1. cds Post author

      Thanks, Katy! These books are ones where I could see the setting clearly in my head as I read, and THE SHINING certainly qualified for that. In fact, I think this kind of simple but precise description is one of King’s strengths–at least in the few books of his that I’ve read.

    1. cds Post author

      Hello, Booksmartie! I highly highly highly recommend the LEVIATHAN series to you. I hope you get to read it soon, and love it as much as I did! πŸ˜€

      I’ll visit your list in just a moment… πŸ™‚


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