At a recent SCBWI-Carolinas conference, I took an informative workshop with Emma Dryden on world building. First, Emma instructed us to write three tenets that govern the fictional world and/or society in which our character lives. Second, she asked us to write three tenets that govern our protagonist's personal world.
As I considered how I would review the most recent book I listened to, The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill, I thought how the historical setting played such an integral role in this story. Applying what I learned in Emma Dryden's workshop, here are some of the tenets which govern the protagonist's, Hazel Kaplantsy, world:
First of all, the bigger world in which Hazel lives in is governed by the facts that:
1. In 1954, Communism is a very real threat.
2. Fall out shelters and air raid drills are necessary.
3. Senator McCarthy has a right to search for spies in Hazel's small New England town of Maple Hill.
Second, these three tenets govern her personal world:
1. Maple Hill is a sleepy, boring town that Hazel will leave as soon she grows up.
2. It's normal to grow up living and playing in a cemetery.
3. Hazel's best friend has just moved away and most probably her next best friend will leave her too.
These tenets are the framework upon which Megan Blakemore has built Hazel's dream of showing the world that she is as good a detective as Nancy Drew. But while Hazel is always ready to find evidence that supports her pre-formed conclusions, her new friend Samuel is the voice of reason suggesting that she might not always correctly interpret the facts.
The backdrop of the McCarthy era forms a perfect canvas for this upper elementary book for girls. When Hazel's favorite librarian warns her that it is a dangerous thing when a "whisper becomes a rumor and a rumor becomes a fact" she is speaking truth not only about the McCarthy investigation at a local factory, but also to Hazel herself. Hazel's moment of truth comes when she realizes that her erroneous accusations are just as hurtful as the smashed window in her favorite Chinese restaurant.
For more information on deep world building, check out Emma Dryden's blog. As a bonus, here are two worksheets on world building from Brenda Windberg of Free Expressions Seminars.
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