Lauren Oliver Talks about World Building in DELIRIUM

In real life, I’m home drinking tea and fighting off a sore throat today.  On the blog tour, I’m visiting Jennifer Petro Roy at her group librarian blog, "Stacked Books" to talk about the accidental inspiration for my figure skating novel, SUGAR AND ICE.  And here at my own blog, I have a visitor, too.

A few weeks ago, I posted an early review of Lauren Oliver’s DELIRIUM, a book that fascinated me so much I had to send Lauren a note asking a few questions about her process.  She was traveling but got back to me with some answers that I think are great food for thought for anyone who loves dystopian literature and especially for anyone writing a book that requires world building.  Here are my original thoughts on the book:

Kate-the-reader/teacher says:

This was the first e-galley I ever read on my iPad, and even though I’m not a big fan of e-readers, I’ve never been so motivated to finish a book on one. DELIRIUM is a major league page-turner, full of romance, conflict, and action. Like Ally Condie’s MATCHED, coming out this fall, it’s about a future world where people’s mates are chosen for them by the government. In DELIRIUM, love has been identified as a deadly disease (Delirium Nervosa!) that is "cured" by a mandatory procedure performed when a person turns 18. What happens to those who resist — including main character Lena — forms the central conflict of this book, and keeps readers turning pages through a whole lot of great twists, to find out how it will all end. My 7th grade HUNGER GAMES fans are going to eat this one up.

Kate-the-writer says:

I knew this book was classified as dystopian and assumed that it was set in the future. Because I’m revising a dystopian novel right now and navigating my way through all the related world-building details relating to everyday life and technology, I pay close attention to the way other authors handle this challenge. As I was trying to figure out the time period in which DELIRIUM was set, I found myself confused by the references to present-day name brands, even though oil was strictly rationed and other elements of the novel (regulator squads, government approved music lists) felt more futuristic. It was only after I’d finished reading that I realized that the novel is actually not set in the future but in an alternate reality of our present times. (Note: I read this one quickly, and it’s entirely possible that I missed a reference to the time frame early on in the text – or perhaps I was just so sure it would be futuristic that I ignored the references. I do things like that sometimes…)

Anyway, as a writer, I find this setting choice fascinating because it allowed the author to manipulate the elements of society that needed to be changed for the story to work without reinventing the world in other areas. Now I find myself wondering how the story might have been different if it had, in fact, been set in the future instead. Would the technology changes and other futuristic elements have detracted from the main conflict and the love story? Maybe. Either way, I think it was an interesting choice, and one that worked beautifully for this particular story. 

Here are Lauren’s thoughts, in response to three quick questions I asked her:

Why did you make the choice to set this book in an alternate present day instead of the future, like much other dystopian fiction?

I chose to make it an alternate present because I wanted it to feel as real and as accessible as possible for the readers. I wanted them to perceive both the parallels and the differences between this society and ours as clearly as possible–I didn’t want to give them "space" to see this as a futuristic fantasy.

Was DELIRIUM always set in modern times, or was that something that happened during the revision process?

Yes, DELIRIUM was always meant to be in modern times. That was very important to me as I was writing.

Can you talk a little about how you handled the world building for this book?

I kept a separate document, in which I brainstormed (before beginning) all of the ways the world would have to be reconceived/altered in order to support a society of the kind i needed to create. I thought about what kind of music they would listen to, what kind of books they would and wouldn’t have, etc. As I wrote, I added to this document, and brainstormed additional aspects of this world as I got to know it better. Then I re-read the big "world-building" doc before beginning my revisions, so I could strengthen and deepen the world in edits.

Thanks, Lauren, for taking the time to share some of your process!

DELIRIUM is due out in February from Harper Teen and is definitely one that fans of MATCHED and THE HUNGER GAMES will want to read.