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.

Advertisements

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.

A Magical World Inferiority Complex

When it comes to the magical world I’m creating for my fantasy novel, I have a bit of an inferiority complex. You see, I can’t not compare my created world to the wizarding world within Harry Potter. In my mind, Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, etc. are the quintessential fantasy world. That’s not to say I haven’t read about many other fantastic literary worlds over the years. It’s just that Harry Potter has always stood out as the paradigm.

Comparing my own creation to Harry Potter isn’t the smartest thing I could do, but it’s difficult to not sit back and find what I’ve created as inadequate in comparison.

My world is going to be different. There’s the fact that Harry Potter is considered a children’s book (despite the later books getting darker) in comparison to the young adult story I’m writing. There’s the fact that Harry Potter, while not high fantasy, is also not quite urban fantasy like what I’m writing.

They’re different. As they should be. I wouldn’t want to write something that was merely an imitation of Harry Potter. That would fail miserably. I don’t want to write Harry Potter 2.0, yet I can’t help but feel like there’s some magical essence to Harry Potter that my own world will never have its own version of.

Whether that’s due to insecurities or because my world is actually lacking in something, I doubt I could tell you without feeling biased.

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.

Character Death: When Do You Use It?

How do you know when it’s right to kill off a character and when it’s unnecessary?

That’s something I’ve asked myself countless times. I’ve been working on a story for years, and it’s one of those stories where, if I were the one reading it, I would expect some sort of death. But when you’re the writer, you have to be the one to make that decision, and I’ve never been quite sure how to do that.

Despite accusations that writers like to kill off characters for fun or to upset readers, I don’t think that’s the case. I know death should have a purpose within the story, but over the years, it’s also something I’ve come to believe should happen within any genre fiction story. Over the years, I’ve been influenced to believe that it’s necessary.

At the same time, I don’t feel like I know how to actually use character death as a writer. I don’t know when it’s the right thing for the story. It baffles me no matter how much I think about it or how much I try to figure it out.

It’s become one of my biggest issues while working on this particular project. If I write a death, I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do or if I’m just adding it in because I think I need death. If I don’t write a death, I wonder if it makes the story too unrealistic or if I’m giving in to my own desire for all the characters to make it out alive.

I just can’t figure it out.

The Society and Titles

I started writing The Society years ago, and I’ve been calling it The Society for almost as long. I’ve always considered myself to be terrible at naming things, and titling anything I write (whether it’s a novel or a blog post) takes almost as much time for me as writing it.

The Society as a title is straightforward. It almost felt too straightforward to me in the beginning, too simple. Is it appealing?

I still can’t answer that. Personally, I like simple titles such as The Society, but I know others are drawn to longer titles. I know there’s not a right or wrong answer to which is better as it’s an issue of preference. There might be an answer to which is more marketable, but I’ll admit that I don’t know. At some point, I do plan on attempting to get this story published. Then I would worry more about finding a title that’s marketable.

I haven’t done that yet. Instead, I’ve stayed half happy with the current title and half not. I don’t know if it is a good indicator of the book as a whole. I don’t know if it makes the book look boring and formal. (The society the book is about is boring and formal, but I would like to think the story isn’t.)

Sometimes I wonder if there’s a secret to naming things that I have yet to learn.

Seasons of Writing

The idea of books having a season attached to them is strange to me unless we’re talking about holiday books. If a book revolves around Christmas, I get it being labelled a Christmas book. When people start talking about summer books or winter books, I’ve never quite gotten it. I get it logically, of course. I know people tend to describe books that take place in the summer or are light-hearted as “summer books.”

It’s just that I’ve never understood the concept of reading books based on season. I don’t tend to choose books based on season. Even when it comes to Christmas books, I don’t feel the need to re-read them just because it’s the holiday. The thought doesn’t enter my mind because I’m too busy reading books irregardless of season.

I’m not sure how much of a minority I’m in on that. Maybe I’m the majority and it just seems like more people read by season than they do. I’m not sure.

What I’ve begun wondering about is how much that influences the writing of others. When it comes to a book that would be labelled as “summer,” is that on the author’s mind when they’re writing. How common is it to write a book with a season in mind for it? Since I’ve never given so much as a second of thought to it, I can’t say anything about that. I’m curious though.

What interests me even more is how important season might be for a book. Despite not paying much attention to season when choosing what to read, I do recognize the effect season can have on the story, but I don’t think I pay as much attention as I should in my writing. I’ve begun to more. I’m a stickler for having clear cut timelines in my writing. I have what’s happening planned out to the exact day. I’ve always been much more caught up in making sure events are realistically planned out that what season fits best as been secondary.

I do wonder what paying attention to season could add to my stories, and I want it to be something I pay more attention to in the future.