Worldbuilding 101

This is a post I’ve been meaning to upload for a long time. World building is an important aspect of all writing.  Fantasy usually involves maps, and I’m sure we’ve all done plenty of those.  It’s important to have a basic understanding of geography and climate so you don’t make a mistake and have two things together that wouldn’t be possible in the real world. We all suspend our disbelief for some things (eg the possibility of space travel, or indeed, existence of magic), but there’s only so far you can push this. Best to reserve your reader’s goodwill for the big stuff.  I would recommend reading a textbook on it aimed at the primary school level – easy to understand and hopefully not too dense!

Think about aspects of your world such as landscape features, food sources, trade and technology, and resources that might become a basis for trade or war. Other aspects include political structure, spiritual framework and social class. All of these things will impact on the people who live there, will shape who they are and influence who they will become.

How your protagonist and antagonist are placed in terms of these things will determine how they act, what they say, even what values they have. And you’ve probably spotted it already – they can yield the conflict that will move your story forward and make it compelling.

Of course, there’s a trap too. I have to carefully time limit my world building phase, as it’s a really lovely way of putting off writing! How much of it you need depends on the writer, but I would argue you don’t need much to start your first draft. You can always drop the detail in later, and it’s just so satisfying seeing that word count go up, isn’t it?

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Learn Your Craft, But Apply It In Moderation

About ten years ago, I announced to some friends that I wanted to do a writing course.  One person responded ‘but you can’t learn how to write – you either can or you can’t’.

WRONG!  All writers learn their craft, even if they don’t do formal study.  They learn it by reading books about writing, talking to other writers, going to their local writing centre or doing short courses.  Some learn it solely by reading, but they’re very clever people who can analyse a book’s structure and elements while they’re reading it.  Me, I chose a more formal route, because I needed class time and assignment deadlines to instill a writing discipline.

That’s not to say we should apply everything we learn as we write.  While I read about writing all the time, I have to ‘forget’ this while I’m doing my own crafting my first draft.  If I consciously try to write well, it jams me up and I stall.  For example, the other day I noticed I was baulking every time I wanted to write an adverb (-ly word) and I was stopping in my tracks while I was searching for another way of saying what I was trying to say.  These stoppages break my flow of thought and often result in my getting up from my desk.  This is dangerous, as it can lead to some serious procrastination.

So while I encourage all writers to learn their craft, there’s a time and place for everything.  The first draft is not the place for craft.  Nor is the second, if you have to do major revision and restructuring.  Leave it to the third draft, to be done right before you send it off to your critical reader.

Sometimes, you gotta do boring things

I’ve read a lot of writing advice over the years, and this weekend I decided to ditch a tenet that I’d previously thought was hard and fast.  You know that philosophy of ‘if you don’t want to write it, then others don’t want to read it’?  That’s the bit I’m talking about.

Let me set the picture.  There are some aspects of my novel that are powering ahead.  They’re mainly about my two protagonists and how they relate to each other, which I find really exciting.  And then there’s the other aspects, otherwise known as the bigger plot.  These are not quite so interesting to me, but are essential vehicles for setting the scene for the emotional life of my protagonists. 

Now, if I followed the ‘if I find it boring to write, readers find it boring to read’ thing, then I wouldn’t write the bits I don’t find as interesting.  But in reality, if I did that, I’d have a book only I’d be interested in!  That would be fine, if I was writing a book just for me.  Which I’m not.

The fact is, sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do and you have to do them well.  This is with writing, as it is with life.  We as writers have to sit down and hone our craft until we can write the things that don’t interest us personally, but are essential for the bigger picture of our book.  If we don’t, then we stall and tread water in one place, without getting anywhere.  Ultimately, everything we write will be much better for it.

So I sat down this weekend and after a couple of false starts and getting thoroughly discouraged by the ‘boring’ chapter I had to write,  I hit my stride.  I feel much better about the chapter now, and have found it wasn’t so boring after all!