I’ve been mulling this post idea over for a few days and I think that I’m finally ready to talk about it. It’s been inspired by a couple of things, really. My last post, which involved the world-building I’ve been doing for Necromantic, had me thinking some about how much is enough to make it feel real. Then Amber posted on the subject over at Limebird Writers, which made me think some more about it. Finally, the icing on the cake, I got some feedback from one of my test readers on Bound and it included a comment on my world-building in it that surprised me and turned all of my previous thinking on the subject toward a slightly different perspective.
I guess that this post is about the idea that world-building isn’t just one thing, that there isn’t just one way of doing it. I used to think that it was where you built a culture and geography, philosophies and politics and different social/racial/species groups. You know, the big picture stuff in your world that creates this massive, magnificent backdrop for a story. Being a long-time reader of fantasy, I know all about that and I kind of expect that. And it’s wonderful when someone else does it. What I’ve found is that I don’t tend to enjoy that, sitting there and inventing the world itself and the history that goes with it. I get tired of it after a while, then terribly pragmatic. If it isn’t to do with a story, I start asking myself if there’s a point to working on it. As a result of this, as I said last time, I reach a point in my own writing and world-building where, if it isn’t something that’s in the story I’m telling, I don’t care and won’t bother. Consequently, I often worry about whether I’ve done enough, whether the world feels vivid enough. I usually decide it can’t possibly be, simply because I don’t have all those reams of notes I hear others talk about creating for their own worlds. I don’t know that I envy them having made all those notes, but I have in the past decided for no reason I can point to that the giant stack of scribbles must be required to create a truly vivid and engrossing world.
In some ways, the post Amber made kind of reinforced that idea, because she starts out talking about all the work these two people she knows did to invent their world, all the time and the many words required to invent all of it. I read that post with a sense of wonder and awe at their patience (something we all now know I don’t have in great supply) to create all that without actually writing the story down at all, at their fortitude to create all those notes pertaining to something so ephemeral as a world with no manuscript. Perhaps I’m just too goal-oriented, or too concrete to do that, and it worries me sometimes, especially as a writer of fantasy, not just a reader. How can I do that if I’m too focused on the real, on the product to type/write/scribble reams of notes, to spend years, decades even, building it all in my imagination until I could almost walk in it myself if only I could find the door that would let me through? I won’t lie, it made me quail, just a little. That said, Amber goes on to make the excellent point that you have to write the story too.
And then the most unexpected thing happened. As I mentioned above, I received an email from one of my two test readers with feedback on Bound. No, that was not the unexpected part, smartasses. 🙂 The feedback was encouraging, honest and useful, which was also not unexpected, as I picked both of my test readers with some care. No, the unexpected part was the PS at the end of the email.
“PS I wanted to add, that I think you do a spectacular job on the description of place and world-building. No matter where those characters were, I could always picture it very very clearly!”
That’s a direct copy from her email. I was at work when I read that, and was utterly useless for a good ten minutes as I tried to digest that comment. Let’s get one thing out right now. I think I’m at least a pretty good writer, with the potential to be great one day if I keep at it. I probably wouldn’t bother to try publishing my work if I didn’t think so, despite doubts I may have on the current state of some of my more technical skills. But I felt very touched (and delightfully surprised) by the comment that my world, that fabulous backdrop I hadn’t spent decades crafting and refining, was so clear and present.
I am not (entirely) putting that out there to toot my own horn. Okay, maybe just a little, but there is a broader purpose to my including it in this post. Maybe I was wrong about the things that go into world-building. Maybe I don’t need every tiny detail and every cultural nuance in order to build a good, tangible world for my characters to live in. It’s possible that the important things are the details of what’s around them, and the things they directly experience. Is the backdrop maybe something that moves with them, as opposed to existing in some static state? I mean, we aren’t talking about the real world here, which exists beyond the borders of our senses and the reach of our grasp of information. This is a fictional world, a stage for the story to be acted out on. Maybe I only need to create the general, vague sense of a broader world filled with people, and fill in the things immediately surrounding them. It’s something for me to ponder at least, but it’s comforting to think that it’s possible for me to create a world that can be described as it is above without having to force myself through an exercise I find tedious. It’s possible I’m on the right track here, for me at least.
Before this post gets much longer, I’m going to give a very brief update on my progress through the first draft of The Nine, which only covers the last two days, which are coincidentally the first two days as well. It’s going well in an “I’m not driving myself crazy by driving myself too hard” sense, but the driving myself crazy usually comes later, somewhere after the first 10k, once I start getting really wrapped up and lost in the story, so I wouldn’t cross your fingers on that. I wrote 3,076 words on the first day and 3,106 last night. That puts the total at 6,182 and I haven’t started for today yet. I really wanted to get all of the above out of my system first, as it was starting to distract me.
And, finally, the picture for today: