world building woes

Recently I started reading an enormous book (700+ pages) that had, among other things, fantastic world building. History… no, it wasn’t just history. It was economic history, military history, artistic history, mythological history, the history of arcana, discrepancies between the histories and difference of opinion based on source. It spanned racial customs, clothes, weather, standards for different classes, idioms, the difference between different districts in a city, children’s skipping rhymes. It included little details, always relevant, always practical: a minor character took a room not far from a butcher, and the main character can’t help but notice the smell every time he comes by to see her. And the method of immersion into this world was so well done that finding more about it felt as if I were slipping into a steaming bath, or cuddling up to a down blanket. I get excited when the author writes a few pages of summary or explanation; I feel as if I can safely laugh at the show-don’t-tell Nazis now that I’ve seen it done so well, so efficiently, in such an entertaining and smooth fashion.

I have a difficult time reading new books. I can’t turn off my internal editor, which tends to focus on plot, theme, and composition. So when I’m trying to read for fun, I keep finding myself considering the question, ‘If I’d written this, would I be proud of myself?’. When I find that the answer is ‘no’, I tend to stop reading. And when I find something as detailed, complex, and well-done as this, I start raising my standards. My novel just got a little worse.

June was ‘Villain Month’. That seemed to go fairly well. I think I need a ‘World Building Month’ next, a concept that was mentioned a few weeks ago. I do want to finish this draft of my book first, but there are fifteen days of July left and roughly twenty thousand words to write. And I get anxious the closer I draw to the grand finale. That puts me at 1,333 words every day (including this one) until July. … On the bright side, it’s not as bad as NoNoWriMo.

Here are my goals, then:

  1. 1,333 words a day until the book is finished. I estimate that will let me finish the book before August.
  2. Finish ‘The Name of the Wind’.
  3. Write a book review.
  4. Possibly send girlish fan-letters to Patrick Rothfuss.
  5. Start the hype for ‘World Building Month’. Set it for August.

I’m imagining that World Building Month will be more useful to writers of speculative fiction than contemporary fiction. Even so, solidifying a good, living setting does deserve some attention. So, since Villain Month met with such approval, I’ll be doing the same thing. Anyone interested in signing up and joining in the event are welcome.

plot, the contortionist

My changes to plot has fixed a hundred problems that I didn’t account for when I wrote the 0-draft in NaNoWriMo. Subplots have popped up, interweave with the main storyline, the characters, even unintentionally, are changing as the story progresses. Rylan finally believes he knows what to do and is starting to act like the pseudo-noble that he is.

The problem is that in my first write (and this was one of the problems with that draft that I hadn’t specifically identified) my characters’ strength and connections had remained fairly static throughout the story. Now that I’m paying more attention to the villains, I’ve realized that if they’re going to survive, they need allies and connections.

Allies and connections means that the catalyst that brings them down is no longer going to work. Not even remotely. My characters would have to be blitheringly stupid to even get close. Which means that one of my key events is completely wrong.

Now, I could find ways to explain it off. Ick, no. I can’t even salvage part of the original plan and make it consistent and believable. I am not going to bend and twist my plot to give it a preordained mediocre pre-climax. Plot can be a contortionist in some cases, but the moment it had a foot sticking out of its stomach, something’s wrong.

My villain’s going to have to do something pretty amazing to bring them down now. I’m going to keep on writing, and see how it happens, because I’m off my outline.

little touches

I’ve just found an interesting post on Mechanical Hamster about theme (Link), and it’s gotten me thinking about not only thematic elements, but reoccurring symbols, objects, and all the little touches that you can use in a narrative to really make a piece mean something.

I think that as much as possible, elements should repeat themselves in narrative. A place with one noteworthy scene is a very good candidate for the end climax, because the audience already has a sense of familiarity. If two characters have a similar trait, or a similar handwriting, make connections. A conversation where one party is being unreasonable and winning by brute strength can be a great set up for a similar conversation where the other party has gained the upper hand: re-use some of the dialog, even, and give it an ironic twist. It doesn’t matter if these things ‘represent something’. The repetitive nature can do that for you. You shape the audience’s perspective and interpretations with your world by building it, and that’s not just background.

After reading that article on themes, I spent a few minutes thinking if my book had a theme. When I wrote it the first time, I had a goal and a feeling for what I wanted, but no laid out ‘theme’. And on consideration, I realized what Blue Crystal’s theme is.

What’s worth dying for?

… That’s it. That’s what everyone… everyone in my book is pursuing in some fashion. The spoiled king pining over his dead sister, the ambitious nobleman swaying and manipulating his peers for more power, Tyobe and his fervor to find a way to protect the sick commoners, Lady Wyrren penning booklets on an ideal government, Rylan fighting to protect her.

Perhaps now that I realize that I can better emphasize it.