How many of you reading this right now should be writing? If that drives you to stop reading and go write, then good (but make sure you come back when you are done please). Better would be to finish reading this and then go write.
Distractions. They are the bane of the writer’s existence. There are many types of distractions: FaceBook, the Internet, the Outernet (what my daughter calls going outside), books (I know, horror of horrors that reading is a distraction), television, movies, sports, but perhaps most insidious can be our own stories. Our own stories? Really? Yes, our own stories can become a distraction of sorts if we aren’t careful with how we approach world building.
Don’t let the “cool world” be the reason you’re writing once the writing has begun
J.R.R. Tolkien took over twelve years to create the world of Middle-earth. Some reports are that he took twenty years in total. Those years could have been spent providing stories to those of us who grew up loving the Lord of the Rings. Instead we miss out on all the tales that could have been told.
You have marvelous stories to tell. Don’t get caught up in the writing of the backdrop and background to the point that you delay the telling of the tale. How can you tell if you’re falling victim to this disease (yes, it’s a disease, and it does have a cure)? For Plotters, it is easy to see the onset of Worldbuilder’s Disease. If you find you have stepped off the carefully laid path of your outline and are fleshing out some piece of minutia, that is a first sign. If you struggle to tie that minutia back to the outline to justify the many, many words you’ve written, that may be confirming it. Finally, if you really, really think it’s cool and love it because it adds such depth to your tale, that might be the final nail in the coffin. Apply the age-old rule to any prose in your story; does it advance the story to the next logical step? If the answer is no, you might be falling victim to Worldbuilder’s Disease.
For Pantsers, it is a little more difficult but the endgame is the same. If your options of where to go next with your story are becoming slimmer and slimmer, and you’re worried that you’re writing yourself into a corner, chances are that you are. If you’re carrying around that same chip, that the embellishments you’ve been penning are just too rich in detail to drop, you also might be contracting the disease. For the Pantser, the best indicator I know is to look at how much you’ve been writing and how broad or minute the detail is. Then apply the age-old question above and see where you fall.
In both cases for the Plotter and the Pantser, the solution is continuing to write. Eventually, you will either be so far off the path that you no longer recognize your story, or so far down the rabbit hole that you can no longer figure out how to write yourself back into the story. The only solution at this point will be to backtrack, figure out where you stepped out of the story. Once you determine that, you’ll have to delete the fluff and pick the story back up again. Either way, keep writing. It is the only way to cure the disease.
Don’t let the “cool world” replace the telling of the tale because you think the world is cooler than the story
The above is one possible way out of the disease, once you’ve started writing. But what about how to escape the trap if you haven’t started writing at all yet? “I’m writing! I’m laying the foundation upon which I will tell my story, so there is rich and vibrant color that stays consistent!” you exclaim. Really? How long have you been “laying the foundation?” Is the fourth cousin to the Earl of NotACoolNameAnyway really necessary to the story? Really? When does cousin Bob appear in the tale? By name? Does he even interact with the main character?
If Sir NotAppearingInThisBlog doesn’t appear, and you start looking at the lineages, histories, and place-names you’ve been annotating and all of them are far away from the story, you might be afflicted with the disease. If this is the case, that you are building out entire ecosystems, maps of continents, magic systems, and political structures, but you are not writing the actual story that is driving you to create the world in the first place, then it may be time to take a hard look at where you are right now. I’m not saying those things aren’t valuable, useful, or even needed to tell your tale. What I am saying is that it is bad when they become what you are writing rather than the story set within them.
The solution to this problem is the same as the solution above. Write. Just don’t write any more about the world and start writing the actual story. How do you know if the world is ready? It is. Promise. How can I say that with such surety? Simple. Editing. Huh?
Editing is the tool you will use if you have to go back and add or remove something after the story has been told. No writer likes editing. Heck for that matter, many editors don’t like editing, but it is a necessary evil if we want to present the absolute best story to our readers. You know you are going to have to go through an editing phase no matter what, so accept this painful fact and get on with writing the story.
For clues to understand if your world is “ready” or not, re-read the article on Where to Stop World Building. If you reduce the story to the highpoints of where you think it is going to go, and see that you’ve already fleshed those areas out, then you’re ready to write. This works great for Plotters but not so well for Pantsers. For you Pantsers, you’ll have to take your best guess as to where you think the story will go and get started anyway. The good news for Pantsers is that your story will naturally flow to the places and things you know the most about, which will be what you’ve already built. If the story needs one or two things along the way that you didn’t flesh out, you can always pause and complete them then…or continue to write and let the prose flesh out the scene and background. Your call.
In either case, we as writers need to stop obsessing over the world and start obsessing about the story. Write the story for crying out loud. That’s what you wanted to do in the first place.
What if my story isn’t good enough for the world I’ve made?
Really? If you created the world that well, the story comes from the same pen the world did. The tale will be great too.
Yes, every writer thinks the story they’re telling right now is the greatest thing they’ve ever written. They do, really. The truth is, what you’re writing right now really is the best thing you’ve ever written…right now. What it will not be is the best thing you ever write, unless it is the last or only thing you ever write.
H. Duke of thewritersaurus.com says (found HERE),
Whatever you are writing right now will not be the best thing you ever write
and she’s right. Her point is that you as a writer are continuing to hone your craft, improve your technique, and refine your style. With every word you put down on paper you get better. What you’re writing right now better not be the best thing you ever write because that means you quit writing after you finished it, and your readers want more so don’t stop. Ever. If you’re like me, writing feels more like an addiction or disease you can’t shake than a hobby or job, and the only cure is more writing, in all cases.
In next month’s Atlas’ Tool Box, we’ll talk about the five senses and how their presence can impact your World Building for better, or worse.
Mark Malcolm is a child of God, husband, father, project manager, technical writer, gamer, fiction writer, Marine (’87-’91), has practiced Shao Lin Kung Fu and Tai Chi, been published in magazines and newspapers (editorial anyway), and seen the Southern Cross.
The goals he has currently are to more accurately identify the path God has for him to walk, continue to provide for his family, establish a solid web presence, build a career writing novels through both traditional and independent publishing, and learn to better relate to the people around him.
Mark Currently has his first book out Guardians of the Herald: Angels and Demons on sale from his website where you can get an autographed copy plus short story here: http://www.firstchevalier.com/product/guardians-of-the-herald-angels-and-demons-2/.
Offers structure and content critiquing services: http://www.firstchevalier.com/the-cavliers-sword/fiction-critiquing-services-by-the-cavalier-mark-malcolm/