My Adventures in World-Building

A couple of weeks ago, I began to worry about the writing on my novel slowing down.  As I’ve mentioned before, it ebbs and flows. A few months back, I had felt like I was writing at the speed of a car perpetually stuck in second gear – until I realized I was slowing down to create the words, terms, and phrases for my fictional universe and that specifically was limiting the creative process.  Of course, that’s when the beta reminded me it’s all billable hours. (It just doesn’t feel like it.) The advice helped, though. I stopped worrying about it, and sure enough my writing picked back up again.  I ended up with a lot of placeholders, and that was okay.

Now, though, I’m far enough into the story that I need names for those placeholders. Otherwise I’ll create an endless sea of pink highlights, which is what I use to point out those holes in the world-building.  When I came to a natural break in the storyline, a scene I wasn’t really in love with in its initial incarnation, I started working my way back through the text to work out the details of my fictional world, Prime.

Originally the plan had been to use spreadsheets for character traits and planetary facts, but I’ve found it’s too disruptive to the flow of my writing to open another file, switch, type, and then go back to writing.  The system I’ve ended up with is nothing more than a notebook and a pen.  Currently I have a binder full of information.  Primary and secondary characters have their own page, some get two.  The planets and their cultures have pages, too. I’ve also taken up sketching out specific locations to ensure that scope and scale is appropriate. (If I start using the computer-aided drafting programs to design locales, that’s when I know the engineer has been unleashed on this story.)

My father, who has read the first act, fought in Vietnam, and he commented that I needed to blow out some more eardrums during the initial attack sequence. I need my characters to be able to hear, though. I also had a reason previously worked into my story design for why eardrums and other body parts would stay intact – it just hadn’t been revealed yet at this early point in the story.  Another comment he made was that my scale for the attack wasn’t grand enough, big enough, and on that I saw his point.  The sketches of the island at scale have helped immensely, but don’t expect to see them in the book; I’m not an artist, just a scratcher.  There were a couple times in the book I took my dad’s thoughts on scale and applied the Michael Bay mindset for battle sequences: sometimes you have to slow things down to make them cooler.

Other settings for my story I didn’t necessarily have to draw, but having traveled quite a bit around the country and the world I have a great toolbox of settings existing in my mind’s eye.  I’ve pulled out travel photos when I needed inspiration, and the capital city of Prime and Vespa’s home have come to life in my head.  In the end, this makes bringing them into vivid detail for the reader much easier.

As I was looking back through some of the characters for this world-building project, I took into account people’s thoughts and ideas from various diversity discussions I’ve read. I generally buy into the notion that for the most part authors write what they know, and that’s where I feel comfortable as a writer, too. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to reflect on the possibility of including things outside my default comfort zone, and potentially revise some characters to make them more accessible to different readers.  When I initially skimmed through the list, I noted I did have quite a bit of racial and cultural diversity in my cast already. Some of that I owed directly to the fact I grew up in so many different places that I have been exposed to quite a few cultures.  Still, I did tweak a few things, and I hope more readers will feel like they can connect with the various characters.

My cataloguing process is almost done, and then I’ll be back to writing.  If nothing else, I found a way to make the scene I didn’t love into something that feels much more epic and appropriate to the story.  I also found some of my original chicken-scratch about underlying themes and arcs for the villains in this book and for the series.  One binder full of notes that’s essentially as thick as the manuscript printed out, and I finally feel like I’ve got my head wrapped around it all.

It’s hard work, but I’m having fun.  I can’t wait to share it with everyone!