More thoughts on worldbuilding

In an earlier post of mine, I wrote about the importance of keeping worldbuilding in perspective for speculative fiction writers. I wrote it because too often, I see speculative fiction writers (fantasy writers in particular) worrying far too often about some obscure detail about their world that may or may not be important to the story and not enough about the story itself. I was hoping to reach out to other speculative writers with similar opinions or at least let other people know what I thought.

One thing I forgot to talk about, however, is how you should worldbuild. Personally, I am against the idea of sitting down and planning out the entire world before you write the first word of the actual story. I find that method is a good way to kill your love for the story, mostly because it uses up all the creative energy that should have gone to the story itself.

Instead, I advocate worldbuilding through writing. That is, coming up with details about your fictional world or universe as they are needed in the story itself.

That’s how I’ve been approaching my upcoming novel, The Mad Voyage of Prince Malock. I started out with only the barest knowledge of the world I was writing in, enough to get the story going but not enough to crush my imagination and creativity. Beyond those few basic details, the rest of the setting was a complete mystery to me.

And boy, was writing the first and second drafts fun. Both drafts came spilling out of my fingers like the ocean tide. New worldbuilding ideas constantly came to me, both while I was writing the drafts and while I was doing other things unrelated to the novel. In fact, I’ve come up with so many ideas that I doubt I’ll be able to showcase all of them in the novel itself (which is good, actually, because not all of the ideas are important to the story and not all ideas are equally interesting). I imagine that I’ll get even more ideas when I start work on the third draft later.

Now I didn’t worldbuild entirely through writing, mind you. I took some time out of my day to do a little bit of worldbuilding outside of my writing time, but even then, I was working mostly from what I’d already written in the story itself. Also, I didn’t let these details bind me down. If I came up with a better idea while writing the story that contradicted something I wrote in my worldbuilding notes, then the idea in the story became canon and the one in my notes was deleted.

Another important point I’d like to emphasize when using this method is taking notes. You will undoubtedly come up with a lot of worldbuilding ideas when writing, some major, some minor. To keep your ideas straight, I suggest writing down these little details in your worldbuilding notes, either during or after your writing time, and referring back to them when necessary. It will cut down on revision later and make you world seem far more consistent.

If you remember to do that, you might have a lot of fun using this method. So far, it’s been a lot of fun for me, much more fun than sitting down and figuring out every last detail before I write the actual story.

As usual, I must add that this method probably doesn’t work for everyone and that if you’ve already tried it and found you don’t enjoy it that you shouldn’t do it. There are no right or wrong ways of writing a story. Only what works for you.

Nonetheless, I suggest trying it out at least once. You might just enjoy it.

How do you worldbuild? Post your thoughts in the comments!

-Tim

Writing the second draft

I’ve recently begun writing the second draft of my NaNoWriMo novel, The Mad Voyage of Prince Malock (title subject to change). It’s been an exhilarating experience, yet I can already think of several things I would like to change when I get around to writing the third draft. In particular, one of the protagonists doesn’t seem nearly as alive as the other one, although he apparently has a secret that he’s trying to keep from everyone else, so we’ll see how this goes.

For me, the second draft for longer works is always a bit hazy. With the first draft, I can pretty much do whatever I want, even (perhaps especially) if it makes no sense. The first draft let’s me play around the characters, the plot, the setting, and anything and everything else. Admittedly, the first draft can be hard because I don’t know my characters or plot as well as I’d like, but that’s why I give myself the freedom to do whatever the hell I want. I never show my first drafts to anyone anyway, so it’s never a problem if they suck.

With the third draft, I usually have a concrete idea of the characters, plot, and setting. Things can still change, of course, but while writing the third draft I rarely feel the need to strike out in a completely new direction, though I may make several minor changes along the way. The third draft is what I consider the “complete” draft, which basically means I stop rewriting the story and move onto the editing phase.

The second draft is very different from the first and third drafts. On one hand, I know the story a little bit better now than when I wrote the first draft. On the other hand, I give myself more freedom to experiment and try out new things than I would if it was the third draft. Sometimes the second draft looks absolutely nothing like the first draft or third draft, yet in my experience the second draft is every bit as important to my writing process as the first and third drafts are.

Let me use a metaphor to explain it a bit better:

Imagine the first draft is a young child. Children have not been in the world nearly long to have a concrete identity (though there are probably a few details that children are born with right away). They have their entire future ahead of them. They could be anything when they grow up. As a result, they have to make a lot of mistakes before they can find out who they really are.

The third draft is an adult. Although there are still things that can change, for the most part, adults have a better grasp of their own identity than they did as a child. They’re not perfect and can still grow in many ways, but it is unlikely they will undergo any major changes in their lives or personalities from this point forward.

But I skipped an important step in the writing process here: The second draft as a teenager.

Teenagers usually have a much more solid sense of identity than children do; however, they’re still a lot more awkward and confused than adults. They are at a crossroads in their lives. Many important decisions are made during this time, decisions that shape a teenager’s identity and future for good or for ill. The second draft is much the same, although it usually has fewer pimples and angst.

Thankfully, the second draft, like adolescence, doesn’t last forever. It is a necessary step in the writing process, one I can’t just skip, at least not without producing a shoddier story than if I’d written it instead.

And just like adolescence, the second draft can be pretty fun sometimes.

-Tim

Victory!

As of this morning, I finished my NaNoWriMo novel, The Mad Voyage of Prince Malock, clocking in at 92,245 words. I expected to hit 100k, but 92k is good, too.

I’m quite surprised, to be honest. I’ve never finished NaNoWriMo a week before the end of November. Usually I find myself working on my novel well into December. That I completed it, and so quickly, too, amazes me more than anything else.

What is even better is that I think this novel can be made into something publishable. I need to do some rewriting and editing, some research and worldbuilding, of course, but I could very well see myself publishing this book sometime, maybe even next year if I don’t run into any unexpected problems.

In the meantime, I am going to work on some other projects for the rest of the year. I will talk more about them at a later time, I think.

-Tim

NaNoWriMo: Winner!

As of this morning, I hit the 50,000 word mark on my NaNoWriMo novel, The Mad Voyage of Prince Malock. I find this worth noting because it is the first time I have ever hit 50k before the month is even halfway over.

For the last four NaNos, I’ve almost always hit 50k just before, on, or right after Thanksgiving. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Whether you hit 50k on the first day or last, as long as you do it, you already have a chunk of a novel (or, in some cases, an entire novel) finished.

And that’s what NaNoWriMo is really all about anyway: Writing a novel, even if it isn’t very good. 50k is just a way to get you started. Hopefully, if you reach 50k and your novel isn’t done yet, you will try to finish it.

I’m just shocked at how fast I wrote that many words. I suspect it’s because my schedule this year has been a bit different from past years. I’ve been writing two hours a day every day and I am a very fast typist, so two hours is usually enough to get a good chunk of words down. I may blog more about other factors that contributed to this, perhaps in December when this is all over.

My novel still isn’t quite done yet, so I am going to keep writing it until I finish it. I have a feeling the entire novel will be around 100k by the time I finish, but don’t expect to see it published for some time; after all, this is only the first draft and first drafts are rarely, if ever, suited for publication.

What about the rest of y’all? Where are you in your NaNo novel? If you’ve participated in NaNo before, what is the fastest time you’ve ever hit the 50k mark?

-Tim

Write Every Day (and how to deal with procrastination)

For the past several years now I have set aside time each day solely devoted to my writing. The time and length have changed over the years, but I still keep writing every day. Currently I write for two hours in the morning; or, if I am working on a finished story, I spend those two hours editing/rewriting what I already have done.

Writing every day is how I get my work done. If I did not write daily, I am certain I would probably not be even half as good a writer as I am now. At least I would have less experience, and experience is possibly the most important commodity a writer can have. Only experience can tell you, with absolute certainty, what does and does not work for you; nothing else is nearly as true or honest as experience. Remember that.

For NaNoWriMo, writing every day is particularly important if you hope to meet the 50k limit. It’s possible to finish NaNoWriMo without writing every day, I suppose, but keep in mind that every day you miss is another 1,667 words you’ll have to write in order to catch up. That can add up quickly; miss three days and you’ll have 5,001 words to write, which is about a tenth of 50,000. If you’re a fast writer you might be able to catch up quickly, but even then, you’d have to work far harder than the writer who keeps up with his daily word count.

Even if you’re the kind of writer who doesn’t write every day — and there are some writers who are like that, though I don’t understand how they get anything done that way — you should consider writing every day for NaNo at least. It doesn’t need to be two hours, like I do. Just find a good time for you to write at and make sure you can always be there to write.

If you decide to start a daily writing schedule — and you should if you ever want to get anything done — then you have to deal with distractions. The Internet is a particularly bad one; there are so many interesting things to do on it, so many cool blogs and web articles to read. It’s even worse because using the Internet can make us feel like we’re doing something related to our work, even though we’re usually slacking off (unless you’re doing some research, although research I think should generally be done outside your writing time unless it is a fact you need to know right away).

I know the distracting nature of the Internet well because I still struggle with it myself. I have found that a good way to deal with the Internet is to check your social media, email, and other things before you write. Do it quickly, don’t spend too much time on any one site, and then when you are done, start writing. It’s not perfect (there is always something new to do or read on the Internet, after all, and it’s easy to think “Just one more website” after I’ve checked out my usual things), but my mind is a lot more willing to focus on my writing when I have dealt with some of my more pressing Internet business.

As far as I can tell, there is no way to defeat procrastination once and for all. All writers — from the masters who have dozens of novels under their belts to amateurs just starting out — must struggle with it their entire lives. Experienced writers probably have an easier time avoiding procrastination than amateurs, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that the professionals never have to deal with it. They just know how to handle it better than the rest of us (usually, sometimes, maybe).

As with nearly everything else in writing, go with what works for you. Ultimately, you and you alone know how you can deal with your procrastination. All I can do is offer some ideas that will hopefully help you.

What do you think? How do you keep your attention on your work during your writing time? Know of any good articles, books, or writing resources to help the procrastinating/easily distracted writer?

-Tim

National Novel Writing Month 2013

Today is officially the first day of National Novel Writing Month 2013 and I am PUMPED! Already I’ve gotten 4,209 words down for my novel, currently titled The Mad Voyage of Prince Malock. I consider that remarkable because I was aiming for at least 2,500. If I keep this up, I’ll hit 50k in no time.

For NaNoWriMo this year, I am going to be updating my Twitter page with my daily word count, rather than this blog. So if you want to keep up-to-date on my word count, remember to follow me on Twitter!

Anyone else doing NaNo? Are you meeting your word count goals so far? Are you at least having fun? Share your thoughts in the comments!

-Tim

Limyaael’s Rants

I’ve read a lot of books and articles on writing. The ones I like the most I return to again and again, when I am stuck on a project, when I am bored with a project, or when I fall into complacency and laziness. The best writing guides are the ones that teach me something new every time I read them or enhance my understanding of a concept I already know.

The rants of Limyaael, a fantasy/fanfiction writer who unfortunately disappeared off the Internet in 2010, are one of my main writing guides. I discovered her rants a few years ago via the NaNoWriMo Fantasy subforum. I started reading and was hooked instantly. I now look upon her as something of a writing mentor, even though I have never met nor spoken to her even once.

In her rants, Limyaael clearly knows what she wants in a fantasy and isn’t afraid to say it. As a result, she is blunt and sometimes even vulgar in her language, yet it’s hard to dismiss her obviously well thought-out opinions. I don’t agree with everything she says, but most of what she says is spot-on and well worth taking into consideration during your own writing.

My favorite rants of hers are her rant on clichéd fantasy (her first rant, actually, and a good place to start if you want to read through them), her ten pieces of writing advice, her rant on avoiding archetypes, her rant on writing without an outline, and her rant on flaw-scrubbing. Almost all of her rants are good, however, so don’t just limit yourself to my favorites if you intend to read them. You don’t even have to read them in order, if you don’t want to.

What I like best about her rants is that she covers nearly every possible subject related to fantasy. She talks about themes, characters, worldbuilding, politics, religion, plotting, protagonists, antagonists, fantasy with and without magic, sexuality, non-human species, description, clothing, animals, the environment, geography . . . you name it, and she’s probably got a rant about it. It makes her one of the most prolific writers I’ve ever read, at least when it comes to giving out writing advice.

To be honest, I have not actually read any of her stories. That was primarily because I didn’t know where to look for them, but thanks to Curiosity Quills’ mirror, I will probably begin reading them soon. If she follows even half of her own advice, I imagine she’s probably one hell of a writer.

If you like to write at all, I suggest reading some of her rants. Even non-fantasy writers, I think, can find a wealth of great advice and ideas in some of her less fantasy-centric rants (such as her personal advice on writing, for example). Many of the principles behind her fantasy rants can probably be applied to other genres and types of writing, too.

If you need inspiration, ideas, or just a good old fashion kick in the butt, read Limyaael’s rants. You may not agree with everything she says, but if you seriously engage with her rants, you will come away a better writer for it.

-Tim