When I began meeting with my writers’ group back in 2014, I encountered a new term, worldbuilding. It seemed to be used mainly by those in the group who wrote in the science fiction or fantasy genre.
Sure enough, I found the definition online. (Whatever did we do before Wikipedia, or the internet, for that matter? But that is a discussion for another blog, perhaps.)
Worldbuilding is the process of constructing an imaginary world, sometimes associated with a whole fictional universe. The resulting world may be called a constructed world.
Well, that didn’t apply to me, I thought. I was writing stories in real places like Washington, DC, Boston, St. Louis, and Chicago. But my characters needed to go to restaurants, country clubs, and hotels. My publisher at that time didn’t allow the use of any trademarked names, and an author must be careful about using real names, especially if casting them in a negative light. (For example, if my character went to McDonald’s and got food poisoning, I could open myself to a lawsuit.)
So, I started to have fun making up names for these fictional places and things, and then one day it hit me, that even though my books take place in the real universe, I really am engaging in worldbuilding, and I discovered it’s a blast.
In my St. Clair Family series, after a very short introduction, the first book (Plan B) opens on a fictional island. How did that island come to be called St. Jardin? I’m sure the answer will surprise you.
There’s no easy way to say this. It came from bathroom freshening spray. Yes, read that again. In the restrooms at my workplace, there were white cans of “odor counteractant” (I’m quoting from the can) with green writing. The scent was called Tuscan Garden, or Jardin de Tuscan. Jardin sounded like the French or Italian word for garden to me. Voila! Add “St.” in front of it, and you have a great name for an exotic French Caribbean island. And because of its name, the island can be known for its beautiful gardens.
Fast forward to book two (Home to You). I needed a name for an elegant, trendy club for a New Year’s Eve party in Chicago. I’ve never set foot in an elegant, trendy club in Chicago or anywhere else, but I’ve seen them on TV, so I started thinking of descriptive adjectives: dark, sparkling, noisy, loud, fast. Hmm…let’s draw on my musical background…fast in Italian is allegro. The Allegro? Not quite there. Ahh…make it feminine—The Allegra. Perfect. I could almost see the name in lights and a distinctive logo everywhere (silver script on midnight blue).
Then I was writing book three, back on St. Jardin, and needed a cool name for a funky little cantina. I can’t remember exactly what I typed into my favorite search engine, but up popped Tiki Bar Name Generator (I kid you not—type it in and it will take you there). After a few clicks, I had the perfect name! I’ll let you read Bait and Switch to find out what it is.
My favorite naming experience of all was Eight Cats of Christmas. I needed a name for a little boutique hotel in North Boston. I wrote the book during the pandemic at my dining room table, and my eye landed on my new valances, the pattern name of which was Sage Wicklow.* The Sage Wicklow Inn it was.
When my editor sent the first round of edits, she reminded me, “If this is a real place, you’ll have to change the name.” I replied, “Nope, totally made up! It’s the pattern of my kitchen curtains!” She replied, “Oh good, I loved it!”
If you could make up a clever name for a fictional place, what would it be? Leave a comment below, and I’ll choose one at random to receive an eBook or PDF of Eight Cats of Christmas. You can save it until December 😊 Deadline is 5pm on Tuesday, June 27.