Sunday, April 15, 2012

Unconscious World Building and how "Growing with the telling" might work.

I think a few posts ago I said that I had a fantasy novel in the works, and I most certainly do. I even have a short story in Walking With Summer Dreams that is set in the world that the novel will take place in (so check that out if you haven't already). And while I won't go into much detail about it now, I will say that  I've been working on this same book, with uncountable fits and false starts, ever since I started in this business in 1997. But I've yet to complete a draft of it. There are probably several thousand psychological reasons, no those early attempts just sucked and I knew it. Even back then I tried to hold myself up to high standards. As to why they sucked, Well I guess I can narrow it down to two major reasons; the first being that, in the throngs of Middle School and High School age stupidity, I thought a good story involved less characterization and more gore, tits and explosions. A notion that was quickly squashed by my Uncle and mentor Lamar Herrin, A published mainstream author and retired professor of English at Cornell University.  

The second and most important reason was simply that, when it came to the world I was trying to play with, I had no clue what I was doing. Like a lot of naive young writers I suspect, I was under the impression that "anything goes" in fantasy without a hint of critical thinking. Well to make a long story short, I learned the hard way the importance of logic and consistence within a story (lol).

Today I've gotten much better at it, and the novel is coming along nicely but slowly. But as with any aspect of this craft, nothing is ever set in stone. As the tale "grows in the telling" so dose the world it lives in. Scenes, concepts and even characters can change faster than I can blink and I don't even realize it until after I've written it.  Like for example: my magic system. Originally I had planned for my magic to be a part of nature itself, something that can be used by everyone to some degree or another, depending on what species the character was, without harm. I kept the idea for a long time until I realized that it was pretty generic and  boring. So I did what any good writer did, I revised it. I gave it flaws and limitations. I even made it deadly for humans who over use it. I showed my notes to a creative writing professor whose class I was in at the time, and he noticed that I kept using the word "Summon" to describe a person using magic (among other things), he asked me "Is your magic sentient (alive)? Why do they have to Summon it? What brings about its deadly effects for humans who over use it?"

I have to admit...I didn't have an answer for him, not really. I had just used the word "Summon" because it was the first word to popped into my head. But now that I was faced with these questions I started to ask myself "is it?" I went back over my notes and discovered, holy crap it is. How could I have done that and not known about it?!

Here's another example of what i'm getting at: I have this concept in the novel I call "The Songs on the Wind," a phrase I originally  was going to use as the books title, even though at the time I had no clue what the phrase meant or what it had to do with my story. Anyway, the original concept was that they were just beautiful songs that my variation of Fairies sung and that they were source of powerful magic. While some of that original concept still survives in the current version of the book, I recently came to a part where a minor fairy character mentions the "Songs" to one of my POV characters...but not in the context that I had originally intended. The context the character was using had to do with the "voice of the earth." I planned that scene out, put my pen down, looked at what I had just done and thought "Where the hell did that come from?" I went back over my notes  and other material I had written on the subject and then eventually I realized  "ya know, I've had this concept in the back of my head unchanged for decades now....and I just realized that, on the whole, it doesn't make an ounce of sense to me." and that thought led too: "and its not like I know how this mess would fit into the story." And that lead too "and there are parts of it that are salvageable." and then finally that thought lead to one: "did I mean for the "Songs" to be a voice of the Earth and/or magic all along?" I've since answered that question, and I think my universe is better for it.         

I've often described writing as an undiscovered country, and that the writer or storyteller is the explorer, jotting things down as they see them, and that's certainly true. But I would also go further to say that the country of writing, like my magic system, is a living sentient creature that is consistently growing and changing on and on until it sails beyond the sunset and into the dark unknown. And that pretty much describes my world building, hell maybe my writing as a whole, experience: a half explored, sometimes nonsensical, and ever changing landscape that would make Dali proud.

I don't know if i'm making any sense here to anyone but me, because there are as many ways to world build (and write for that matter) as there are writers. But maybe that gave you faithful readers some insight into how my mind works. And if not...well, feel free to tell me how full of BS I am in the comments below.
See ya later.                                                      


  1. I'm in the midst of world building myself. Prior to writing in a fantasy genre, I wrote historical. That world was already there, but I had to research the details to make it real. Same thing for fantasy, only we're creating the details. I'm amazed at the amount of files, sketches, family trees, etc... that I have amassed now that I'm taking my world building seriously.
    BTW, if your genre is middle school boys, boobs are the way to go. :) Wait, make that men in general. On that, it's surprising more men don't read romance. lol

    1. I'm amazed at how many notes I have too...but at some point I just realized that I was spending too much time world building and none of it writing. So now I make changes to And you've hit the nail on the head I think when it comes to creating details.
      And if boobs were all I needed, I would fill the book up with playboy bunnies lol.