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‘As I build the characters, they build the place’

How do you build a world?

I imagine a kind of woods that the characters enter and try to navigate. The woods can be a prairie landscape or the Ottawa Valley or New York City or the Far North. Any magnetic, mysterious place they get to know as I get to know them. As I build the characters, they build the place.

I’m not sure which I see first, the characters or the setting. They seem to go hand in hand. Some old worry or unfinished business nags at me and summons up a place and two or three characters: a boy who won’t tell his mother what is bothering him; two sisters in love with the same man; a child terrorized by a teacher; a man who falls in love with a voice on the radio. Already the place is visible. A car journey; a prairie farmhouse; a classroom; a small radio station in the North. Then the fleshing out and delving deep begins, entailing too many revisions to count.