Monday, May 13, 2013

Please Welcome Author Diane Burton, World Builder

Today, I'm happy to once again have Diane Burton as my guest. Last July, Diane was celebrating the release of Switched, Too, the second in her intergalactic romance series about two sets of twins who had been separated at birth. And now she's here because the series finale, Switched Resolution is now available! I asked Diane how she writes about imaginary worlds, and she was gracious enough to share her thoughts with us:

Many people think that “world building” only applies to fantasy and science fiction, but every writer “builds” the world her characters inhabit. Sometimes we call it setting. In Patty’s The Samurai’s Garden, she had to develop the Japanese village where Hiro and Hanako live. Just as she had to reveal the remote location in Northern Michigan, site of The Christmas Phoenix, in such a way that readers feel as if they’re actually there.
Whether the location is feudal Japan or present day Michigan, the writer can research fairly easily—either by visiting the locale, museums, libraries or reading online or books. Researching alien planets or starship interiors is a little harder. (I would give anything to be able to do that research in person. LOL) Still, each writer must know the social customs of the era, the government, the land surface, weather, clothing, economics, politics, even religion of the locale.
In the case of science fiction romance, which I write, I make it up—basing my descriptions on what we have here on earth. In fact, to keep things straight, I have digital files (easy to check, easy to add to) for characters and for details, including setting. Some writers call it their “bible”. I call my files “characters” and “details”—real original, that’s me.
Now the reader doesn’t need to know everything, but the writer does. In Patty’s The Christmas Phoenix, the heroine Jess is struggling to make her landscape and snowplowing business a success on top of working a day job. That tells the reader about the weather (seasons) and economics. In my Switched series, The Elders (a group of wise ones) determine a Serenian’s career. This custom is a real problem for Marcus who desperately wants to be a farmer more than a starship captain.
Switched, the first book in the series, has three locales: a farm in present day Ann Arbor: Serenia, a planet similar to Earth in the Andromeda Galaxy; and a Serenian starship. I can drive over to Ann Arbor and check out the town, which I did to make sure of a certain detail. Since I based Serenia on Earth, I used San Francisco as the basis for the Serenian capital, with the ocean on one side and mountains beyond. But I also made up other details—fields of purple grain, for instance. While Serenia has temperate climate now, it didn’t always. Scientists can control the formerly violent weather. A little tweak that I’m sure most of us wish our scientists could do, especially in light of all the flooding we’ve had recently in West Michigan.
Most writers move from the known to the setting in their imagination. We use familiar sounds, sights, smells and tastes to bring authenticity to our locations. By using the senses, we pull the reader right into the story. I’ve read that smells evoke memories of where we were when we first smelled the scent. Or we associate the scent with a person. Smells can also make us shudder—a dumpster behind a restaurant on a hot summer day, for example. Foods can evoke good and bad memories. Hopefully, we don’t evoke bad memories unless we mean to.
But the best world building, the greatest, most evocative descriptions mean nothing if the people who inhabit the world are flat. The setting is background. It’s there because that’s where the characters are. Although it’s essential to ground the reader, the setting shouldn’t over shine the characters. While the reader recognizes certain aspects of the setting, it should be the characters with whom the reader identifies . . . and loves.

What is your favorite setting?

Diane Burton combines her love of mystery, adventure, science fiction and romance into writing science fiction romance. Besides the Switched series, she is the author of The Pilot, a series about strong women on the frontier of space. She is also a contributor to the anthology How I Met My Husband. Diane and her husband live in Michigan. They have two children and two grandchildren.
For more info and excerpts from her books, visit Diane’s website:

Connect with Diane Burton online

Here’s a glimpse into Diane’s latest book, Switched Resolution.


Actions have consequences as Space Fleet Captain Marcus Viator and NASA reject Scott Cherella discover when they switch places. Switched Resolution, which wraps up the Switched series, takes the reader from Earth—where Marcus adjusts to a pregnant Jessie—to the starship Freedom commandeered by rebels, to the chase ship with Scott and Veronese aboard.


When Jessie began to work on a lamp, her fingers caught Marcus’ attention, as they usually did. Her long, tapered fingers as well as her hands bore evidence of her work. Scratches and scabs along with grease and graphite. Tonight after closing her shop, she would spend several minutes with a stiff-bristled brush removing the dirt from under her short-clipped nails until they became an angry but clean red. Later she would use those long fingers to bring him pleasure, as she had each night since he arrived three weeks ago. His body reacted in its usual manner when thinking about their mating. Lovemaking, he corrected. The Terran term was lovemaking.
Totally engrossed in her work, she opened the base of the lamp to repair its frayed cord, oblivious to his thoughts. She didn’t even look up as she spoke. “Come to think of it, even before her trip your mother wasn’t coming around as often. She’s been acting a little strange with me ever since it was obvious that I’m pregnant. Scott said she talked to him about doing the right thing. By the way, that’s Terran for marry the girl.” She chuckled.
“If I had not returned when I did, would you have committed to him?”
Something in his tone must have alerted her because she looked up. “Hey, are you still worried about that? Why didn’t you say something?” She hopped off her stool and came around the end of the workbench.
Marcus regretted expressing his uncertainty. Insecurity, a foreign concept to him, occurred only around her. As she approached, he straightened away from the doorframe. “It is nothing.”
“It is too something. Don’t go all Serenian on me, buster.” She looped her arms around his neck. “I will tell you again what I’ve told you before. You, Marcus Viator, starship captain extraordinaire, you are my one and only love.”
Marcus felt a surprising surge of relief. Despite her assurances, insecurity—an aberration in his logic—still plagued him after seeing her in his twin’s arms. Jessie was completely open with her feelings. Although he strived to be the same, ridding himself of the constraints of Serenian culture proved more difficult than he expected.
“Besides, it wouldn’t have been fair to Scott to marry him while I’m in love with you.”
Then she smiled. As always, her face lit up. Her smile touched his heart, his very soul. For that smile—no, for this woman—he would do anything, even give up his ship, his home world, his entire way of life.
She gave him a quick kiss and flashed a saucy grin before stepping away. “I always knew you’d come back for me.”
“That isn’t what I heard.” He pulled her back into his arms. He hated that war had prevented him from returning for her. More, he hated that she feared he would never come back, despite her protests to the contrary.
“Ugly rumors.” She laughed.
He speared his fingers into her fiery tresses, dislodging the broad clip holding her long hair away from her face. As she tipped her head to meet his lips, her incredibly blue eyes dilated. Desire sparked between them, as it always did. Right from the beginning. Around her, he had no defenses. He intended his kiss to be gentle, teasing, like hers. It wasn’t. Passion, always simmering between them, made him forget being gentle or teasing. She returned his hunger with that of her own. Until he was kicked low in the stomach.
Jessie broke away first. “Junior Number One is not happy to be squished.” She laughed and nipped his chin. “No making out in broad daylight. Not when a customer could interrupt.”
“My sincerest apologies. I—”
“You’re doing that Serenian thing again, going all stiff and formal. Chill. Relax. The kiddies will have to get used to us smooching.”
“Smooching?” He had never heard that term before. Bending over, he picked up the fallen hair clip that resembled interlocking claws. “Ah, you mean kissing. Perhaps we could smooch again?” he asked, trying unsuccessfully not to appear too eager.


  1. Patty, thanks for having me here. I know I've told you before, but I do love your books.

    1. It's my pleasure, Diane! I'm so honored that you've read them. I started reading Switched Resolution last night, and I'm sure I'll be finished soon. Great series!

    2. Thanks so much. I do hope you enjoy Switched Resolution.

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  3. Great post, Diane! Yes, world building is important in any genre, but even more so when the setting is someplace the reader has never been. My favorite setting would be a peaceful foreign planet. :)

    1. Peaceful would be a welcome change from Earth, wouldn't it? Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Great the way you describe what setting really is and why it's important. You do an excellent job on your world-building. I find that to be one of the more difficult things I do when writing. One of my favorite worlds I've ever been to in a book is in Gone With the Wind. I know, it's strange that I would enjoy the war torn south of 150 years ago, but I loved it!

    1. Thanks, Alicia. Margaret Mitchell certainly wove a wonderful story in with that world and made the world so real.

  5. Setting sure is important! Great world building.

  6. Interesting post, Diane. So many details to remember. And you are exactly correct, none of your setting will mean much if your characters are flat. Yours certainly aren't. You created quite a world with your series.

  7. Hi, Diane - Great points about world-building, and great excerpt. I loved the way the hero focuses first on her fingers. Vivid description!

  8. "World Builder." I like it. It suits you!
    -R.T. Wolfe

  9. Sounds like another great book, Diane.