The Struggles of Creating an Entire World

When I first started this blog, I talked about The Society (a fantasy story I’m working on) quite frequently, and then I slowed down.  A quick search tells me that the last time I brought it up was in November 2016 (which is, admittedly, more recently than I first believed) when I discussed how the election had made me rethink the story. The last time before that was June 2016 when I discussed feeling like my own magical world would never measure up to those others had created. Ironically, that latter topic is very similar to what I wanted to discuss today without me realizing I’d already discussed it. I think I have a bit more to add though, so we’re doing this again.

Here’s the complete and honest truth: I’ve been struggling writing The Society.

This has been true for pretty much the entire five years or so that I’ve been working on this series. (Wow, actually saying that it’s been five years makes it feel even longer. In truth, I work on it on and off with more frequent “off” periods over the last several years, which is another big reason why it hasn’t been brought up recently.)

The entire basis of The Society was a short story I wrote in eighth grade, which I’ve written about before, so if we consider that the starting point, I’ve been developing this story for nearly a decade. However, absolutely nothing about that short story is in the current story except a couple absolute basics. There were three characters in that short story who all technically remain in the current version, but I can’t consider them the same characters. They don’t have the same names or personalities or anything else really. They are, however, the same types of magical beings (two witches and a werewolf). A “society” also existed in that story but is unrecognizable as the current one.

There was a roughly four year gap between writing that short story and starting The Society, and even in that first draft, very little of the short story remained. Over those four years, the short story had turned around in my head and morphed into something else.

It was when I started writing The Society that the basics of the world cemented for me, but it was only the basics. I had lots of ideas about how this world operated, but not all of it has remained the same over time.

Ultimately, it’s the world building that’s causing me so much trouble with this story.

This is why experienced authors recommend not writing a fantasy (and, while I typically see the advice directed towards fantasy, I’d say scifi as well) as your first novel. There’s so much involved in world building that you don’t have to worry about in other genres.

The Society isn’t the first novel I’ve written. When I began it five years ago, it was after I’d completed what was actually my first novel. (Okay. I had written a “novel” before that, which was a fanfiction that I wrote throughout middle and high school. Technically, that counts too.) By now, I’ve also written several others in between bouts of working on The Society. I can’t really consider it my first novel, but I am a young novelist who wouldn’t call herself experienced. I’m struggling with fantasy.

I see the advice about beginning novelists not writing fantasy, and trust me, I get it.

I still can’t bring myself to give up on The Society, especially when I see the progress I’ve made over the years.

That isn’t to say that I’ve just struggled with The Society and not accomplished anything else, though much of what else I’ve written has been fanfiction. As I’ve said, I’ve put it away repeatedly because I do recognize when I’m not getting anywhere at a particular time. But when I do that, the world continues to take up space in my brain. Eventually, I feel the need to come back to it.

Recently, I was working on The Society again. I wasn’t writing the novel itself. Instead, I was creating a list of possible subplots to add. It’s a step removed from all of the world building that was otherwise occupying my time over the past two years or so. It was nice and allowed me to return to a lot of the side characters who I hadn’t given much thought to recently.

That being said, I still view the world building as my biggest problem, and my biggest hang up might be the great fantasy worlds I’ve experienced over the years. I have a particular soft spot for the world of The Society as I created it, but I don’t expect others to have that bias. I am very much aware that I have to sell the world as much as I do anything else.

This isn’t a world where I expect people to want to escape to; it’s quite flawed, which is an important aspect of the novel. Still, it needs to be believable and hold a certain type of wonder for the book to be successful. I think of it somewhat like The Hunger Games or Brave New World. I don’t want to escape to either of those worlds, but I’m endlessly fascinated with why those societies are the way they are and how they work.

I don’t believe that I’ll be satisfied with The Society until I feel like its world is all that it can be. I have high expectations for fantasy worlds, after all I grew up with Harry Potter, so who knows if I’ll ever feel like my own world can stack up.

I’ll keep trying though. Some would probably say that I’ve reached a point where I should push it aside, if not trash it, but I have this strong aversion to giving up on writing projects. (The entirely abandoned ones I have still haunt me to be honest.) I don’t want to do so unless I truly have no hope for it, and I can’t say I’ve reached that point with The Society.

Maybe someday I will; maybe I won’t. I can’t tell you at this point. All I know is that I’m still trying.

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The Society and the 2016 Election

It’s been a while since I’ve said much of anything about The Society, which was the writing project that was my primary focus for such a long time. The silence about it on my part hasn’t been because I quit working on it. Rather, I have just shifted focus and, recently, haven’t been devoting as much time to it as I was.

(Lately, I have been writing more fanfiction than anything else. I recently finished the first draft of a Harry Potter fanfiction that is the longest thing I’ve ever written, and I’m quite proud of it so far.)

The Society has taken the back burner, though I am still committed to it. Now, however, I feel a new hesitancy about writing it that wasn’t there before when my lack of focus on it had more to do with Cursed Child feelings needing to be fully explored so that I could get over that disappointment.

Now the political nature of The Society is on my mind more than ever. I’m not sure how apparent this has been in what I’ve said about The Society in the past, but I’m writing a fantasy story that hinges around a fictional political system. My main character has been caught up in this political system since birth (having been born into an important family), and her relationship with the system is key to the entire plot. The story would not exist without it.

While this is very much a fictional political system that has magic as a key component, it would be foolish to suggest that it was not influenced by real life political systems. My goal is to write about a worldwide political system of the magical world, and this has meant painstakingly exploring the ways the real world politics of various regions of the world would influence a magical government in that same area and doing so in a way that’s accurate and respectful. Needless to say, that has been a lot of work, and it’s the biggest reason why this project is still in an infancy stage of sorts. While I have rough drafts of multiple stories in the series, none of them are anywhere near what I expect the finished projects to be because I have so much work to do fleshing them out and reworking them.

I have operated under the belief that the series would be set over a number of years, with the first of those years being the same year when I first began working on the series. My timeline for the series placed some of what I have planned into the current future, meaning the story I have would overlap with a Trump presidency, but that was the case long before I had any idea Trump would be running for president.

This has put me face to face with a situation I never expected. While I’m writing about fictional politics, I don’t feel like the world I am writing can be disconnecting from this election completely. With much of the story set in the United States, my characters would surely feel the impact of this election despite being magical beings.

Of course, I could set my fantasy world in some alternate reality where this election, with all of its partisan glory, never happened. I could set the world up to ignore non-magical (or “real world”) politics completely. But I can’t help but feel that that would be doing a disservice to what has happened, is currently happening, and will soon happen in the United States. It’s not how I have thus far dealt with real politics in the story, and changing that now would feel disingenuous at best.

So now I will begin the process of reworking the story in a way that I didn’t expect at the start of this process. Truth be told, even during the election I wasn’t thinking much about the impact it would have on The Society. (To be fair, I was a bit more preoccupied with its effect on the real world.) I was really only struck by it today. I’m not sure, exactly, what the ultimate influence it will exert on the story will be. Only time will tell.

And that may be quite a bit of time. While I have had this realization and know it will have an affect on the story, I don’t think I’m at the point where I can begin working on The Society again. That time will come, hopefully not in the distant future, but I cannot say when that will be. We shall see.

Writing Romantic Relationships Scares Me Sometimes

I’ve been writing on a regular basis for around a decade (and sometimes posting that writing online, primarily through fanfiction), but I still consider myself a beginner. Sure, if we went back to my preteen self’s writing (which we won’t), then we’d see that I’ve come a long way, but there’s plenty farther to go.

One of the aspects of writing I still don’t entirely understand is how to develop a great romantic relationship from beginning to end. I think the reason this is on my mind a lot is because I’m so particular about how I like romantic relationships to play out in the media I consume. (I have a relationship archetype that I’m drawn to, although I do appreciate couples that don’t fit into that archetype.) I also admit that I can get judgmental when a relationship doesn’t play out in a way that I like, especially if it falls into particular tropes I despise.

You’d think that knowing all of this would give me insight when developing romantic relationships in my own writing. Plus, I’ve written relationships from their beginning to their “happy ending” and even beyond in one case. When it comes to the fanfiction I’ve posted online, I’ve had people compliment how those relationships were developed (although I can’t forget that, in the case of fanfiction, they’ve likely sought out a story about a pairing they already cared about).

For some reason, relationship development is one of the aspects of my stories that I question the most, which is saying something as I question almost everything. Whenever I’m developing a relationship, I’m never quite sure if I’m taking things too slow or too fast. Neither of which are what I want, but where is the perfect medium? I’m never too sure while writing.

On top of that, I always wonder if the readers will see the same chemistry between the characters that I do, or am I going to leave them wondering how I could have ever thought they worked together?

There are always so many questions. Many of them are likely fueled by how much personal preference drives the fictional relationships that people celebrate. Anyone who’s been within a hundred yards of a fandom shipping war know that no modestly sized fandom consists of fans that view the romantic dynamics in their favorite story the same way. If that’s taught me anything, it’s that I’m never going to write a romantic relationship that appeals to everyone.

That should give me comfort, but as with all things, I’m still working on having the confidence to know that I’m doing what’s right for my story even if that means that some people disagree.

Update on The Society (My Current Novel/Project)

In an illustration of how terrible I’ve been at keeping this blog updated, I was going to write and post this on my book blog before I realized that, obviously, this was the better place. I don’t know how my brain took so long to realize that.

I’ve talked about The Society on here before. It’s the novel I’m working on and have been working on for several years. That’s a long time, but in reality, I’ve written drafts of multiple novels that are part of a series. The Society is the current title of the first one, and it’s my largest focus right now.

The plan was to have drafts of each novel in the series written first so that I could be sure I knew where the story was going. Then I would go back and edit the first novel into something publishable, and I would attempt to get it published.

Well, I have drafts of the entire series now, and I’ve shifted my focus to The Society only for now. It’s been that way for what feels like quite a while but has been a few months in actuality. One of my goals when I started this blog was to track my progress on that series, but I haven’t followed through well. Largely because I feel self-conscious talking about this series when I don’t know what sort of fate it will have in the end. I’d love for them to be published, but I have no way of knowing whether or not that will happen.

For now though, I want to get better at talking about my progress here, so this is what is currently going on with the writing process:

Like I said, I had rough drafts of the entire series. After that, I went back to The Society and read through it after a couple of years of having it sitting away. It was as awful as I expected. That was clear in how much I had changed later in the series knowing I would have to change more in the first book.

This is an urban fantasy with a main cast of various magical beings. One of the main characters changed species at some point in writing, and I forgot about that when I picked up the first novel again. That was a surprise, so I have to fix that. The change also has huge implications for him as a character, which means it’s a big job. And there are a million other things to change. Not an exaggeration.

So, I read through the entire novel and made notes on what needed to changed or be expanded upon or be cut. Then I went through and did one round of edits.

Then I had a crisis where I felt like that draft couldn’t be fixed, so I wrote a new, partial draft that was a re-write of the first half of the novel. Then I decided that I liked the end of the previous draft well enough that I could work with it. Because of that, I’ve decided to link the newer half-draft with parts of the older draft. That’s where I’m currently at with it.

Once I finish that, I have no way of knowing what I’ll tackle next with the draft, but I know there’s a long way to go. I’ll update you in the future with where the process has taken me.

The Meaning of Huritt’s Name in The Society

This is the second post exploring the meaning of the characters’ names in my story The Society. This one is focusing on Huritt, who is tricky to talk about. In Ledia’s post, I discussed how her last name is still up for discussion. Well, Huritt’s first name (and, to a less extent, his last) is still up for discussion. (EDIT: Large portions of this post are no longer accurate to the current version of the story I am working on.)

You see, Huritt is part Native American and part white. In the same way Ledia’s family wants to use Greek names, the idea is that Huritt’s family does the same with Native American names. However, this gets tricky, and I’m still trying to figure out how best to approach certain things in the story.

I know writing about Native Americans as “magical” can be problematic. The Society in the story works through lineage. The idea is that each “region” has had one family in charge for ages because they’re the oldest, most powerful line. Because of this, the people in charge in any particular region must have descended from people who were there a long time ago. This is true for everywhere in the world, but for America, of course, this would point towards Native Americans. It’s not Native Americans as a whole, only certain families, and some of those families are only part Native today. Still, I am aware that there are plenty of ways to screw up here and do something problematic. I’m still struggling to best work out certain parts of the story and make decisions about if it works okay, and so on.

The reason that’s relevant to this post is that I want to be careful what I name Huritt was well. “Huritt” is an Algonquin name, which is a tribe not from where Huritt’s family is. In my mind, his family would have wanted any Native American name. I’m still considering giving him one related to what his particular ancestry would be. A large part of me thinks that would be a better option. (EDIT: I am changing it. This entire post is out of date at this point.)

As for the meaning though, Huritt means handsome. It’s funny now because Huritt has changed more than any other character has since I started writing. There have been times were he was a straight up villain, times when he was a straight up good guy, and times when he was a mixture of the two. I won’t say what he currently is now. Why ruin the surprise?

In the beginning though, he was going to be Ledia’s main romantic interest. That idea has come back and changed a ton of times, but it’s why I gave him a name that meant handsome. He also, at one point, was going to be a villain but was going to trick Ledia into falling in love with him anyway. (I’ll go ahead and verify right now that that’s not the route things currently go. It was an early idea that never even got written down.) So, using “handsome” felt like a good fit then too.

These days, I still like the meaning but for different reasons. These have nothing to do with Huritt’s relationship with Ledia but with his relationship with his father and the world. That’s all I’m going to say on that since I don’t want to give a massive amount of stuff away.

Huritt’s last name is Brown. I don’t think I need to go into what that means literally. For the story, it was chosen because the Brown family is in an ambiguous group, and you’re not sure how good of people they are. They’re not the Blacks or the Whites. The name’s a reference to that without using a color such as Grey for their last name. I thought Brown kept things a bit more ambiguous, but the meaning is still there. It also relates to “muddy” and things like that, which I think explain the Brown family pretty well.

The Meaning Behind Ledia’s Name in The Society

I love naming characters. It’s fun to look at different baby names and decide which one fits the character best.

I decided I wanted to talk about it here as well. At first, I was going to do one post on the meaning of all the characters in The Society. Then I decided to do a series of shorter posts on one character since that would allow me to go more in depth without it being crazy long.

We’re going to start off with Ledia as she’s the main character.

Starting with the obvious: Ledia is a form of Lydia. I honestly don’t remember if I had a clear reason for choosing the alternate spelling. I think it might have just been the spelling that caught my eye first, but either way, it’s the spelling I went with. It would feel strange if I changed it now after years of her having that name.

The only requirement I had for myself when I first set out looking for Ledia’s name was that I wanted a name of Greek origin. The idea was for her name to be a reminder of Ledia’s ancestry. Ledia’s family is obsessed with the fact they descended from Circe. In their minds, it’s an crucial part of their identity, and it legitimizes their place in the Society. For that reason, her family have almost exclusively used first names that have some sort of connection to Greek.

I fluctuated at first over choosing a name that came from Georgian, but I did decide on a Greek name in the end. It was a tough call for me. In the end, I chose Greek because it helped symbolize the obsessive nature of striving towards certain ideals. I didn’t think that would be there with a Georgian name. Ledia’s family identifies with their Georgian heritage as well, but they don’t place as much stock in it.

As for the actual meaning, Ledia means “woman of God.” I had decided early on that religion would play a significant role in Ledia’s life. Religion doesn’t play an important role in the plot. Instead, Ledia being a devout Christian was something I found humorous.

Growing up as a Harry Potter fan, I was always so frustrated by people who saw Harry Potter as being evil or anti-Christian. (This is especially irksome considering the “Christian imagery” in the books.) Making my own fantasy character both a witch and a Christian was more or less a way of poking fun at that.

At this point in the story’s progress, religion is mentioned less as things progress, as it’s pushed aside for the plot. However, I have fun playing with a character who is both a witch and a Christian, and I liked the idea of paying homage to that with her name.

When it comes to a last name, that bit is still fluctuating in the story. I have a working name that’s Georgian, and my plan is to stick to a Georgian name. I just haven’t decided on one yet.

The one I’m currently using has been a placeholder for several years. I’ve come up with several alternatives that I’m also considering. A part of me wonders if the current placeholder going to stick because I’ve reached the point where it will be difficult for me to change. It’s not set in stone though, and I want to make sure I make the best decision I can.

At this point, I don’t have any particular meaning in mind for the name. I want it to show an aspect Ledia’s heritage that is more immediate than being Circe’s descendant.

I’m conscious of the fact that picking names within a culture that isn’t your own can be tricky, and I want to go about it as best as I can. I’m not going to pretend like I’m one hundred percent sure if I’m going about it the right way.

The Back Story That’s Not in the Story

The thing about stories is that they have to start and end somewhere. They’re not all encompassing tales of the lives of every character that graces their pages. Each character is always going to have back story that the readers aren’t privy to. Although, if the story is popular enough, readers will come up with their own.

As someone who’s written fanfiction since she was eleven, this is something that has always fascinated me. There are many characters I want to know everything about even if I know it would make for a boring book.

One of the things I love about creating characters is that I know all of this back story. Now, I also subscribe to the belief that if it’s not in the book, it’s up to the reader to fill in the blank. Anything I don’t write down, isn’t part of a character’s story (unless a reader wants it to be).

Still, there are aspects of character’s back stories that influence what they do in what I write, even if it’s never explored. I love hinting at that sort of stuff.

When it comes to The Society, the various characters get varying amounts of their back story revealed. Ledia, for instance, is the narrator and gives up quite a bit of information, but for other characters, it depends.

Miles is my favorite example. While I’ve had fun dropping hints about his past, Miles is too closed off of a person, even to his best friend, to reveal much. It’s not like he has an incredibly dark past. He just doesn’t like revealing everything.

I’ve had an increasing amount of fun with Miles as I write The Society. At first, I didn’t find him all that interesting. He was a very minor character. Then, he grew in importance as I also developed a back story for him that made him much more intriguing to me.

I’m still not quite sure how much of that back story is going to wind up coming out in the story itself in the end, but it’s fun to play around with. With all the characters, just not Miles. He just happens to be the one interesting me the most at the moment.