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.

Characterization in Fanfiction

I’ve been writing fanfiction for more than ten years. One aspect of fanfiction writing that’s different from other fiction writing is characterization. While characterization is important in any fiction writing, the majority of the time you work with characters others have created when you’re writing fanfiction instead of creating your own characters. It might seem like creating characters from scratch would be more difficult, but there are challenges to writing the characters of others as well.

From the time I first started writing fanfiction, I have worried if my characterization is off. Every story I’ve posted, I’ve asked myself if the characters were acting like themselves, and I was never confident of the answer. While it took me a while to realize it, I think I always had this worry that my interpretation of the character was different from the more common interpretation others must have, which would mean my story was bad.

I’ve gotten constructive criticism (and some not-so-constructive criticism) on my fanfiction over the years but little to none of it has focused on characterization. I can’t tell you if that’s because I’ve accurately portrayed the characters or because people just don’t comment on it.

Sometimes I still wonder, though, how accurate my characterization is. I think I question it because it’s not an aspect of storytelling that I feel that I’ve improved on like I have many others, and it feels too good to be true that I’d just naturally be good at it.

As I write this post, I’m planning two new fanfictions as well as posting chapters of one I’ve already written, and with all three I have characterization on my mind. One of them is a Harry Potter and the Cursed Child fanfiction. In it, I’ve disregarded Cursed Child, and because of that, have taken some liberties with the personalities of the characters that we only got to know in that play. It’s created some interesting conversations with readers about their characterization.

For the other two stories, I intend for the characters to be fully in character based on their personalities in the books they are from. Will I do a good job? I’m honestly not sure how to tell at this point. I suppose I’ll just keep doing what feels right and hope that I’m doing a good job.

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.

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.

Deliver(ed)

You don’t have much to say. That’s your role: to pop up, advance the plot, and be gone. People are supposed to care more about what you say or do than about you.

Then the time comes. You have your big moment. You put in everything you’ve got. That’s the only thing you can do.

You deliver like no one has delivered before. With your role now played, your god puts you away, and for a while, that’s it. You’ve done all that you could. You delivered, and that was your job. Well done.

Then the skies open, and you’re looking up, not at your god but at a creature similar enough. They take you out and give you some space. They let you say more than you were created for. So you deliver again with everything within you. It’s fun to know that it’s you more than the line. You breathe easier and play, do things you never thought you would before.

And even if you go back, someone else will take you out of the box. Over and over and over again.

My Senior Letter of Reflection

Last semester (roughly five months ago) I had to present my senior portfolio to my committee. Since I did pass my defense, I’d like to think that I achieved the purpose of showing my growth through the portfolio. Because this portfolio is the best representation of my growth as a writer throughout college, I’ve decided that I’d like to share at least some of it here.

I’m starting with my letter of reflection, the first document in the portfolio. The professors on my committee told me that I was too hard on myself in this letter, but I think having to re-read all your freshman papers will put anyone in that mindset. Whether I was too hard on myself or not (or whether I’d write this letter differently just several months later), this is that letter as it appeared in my portfolio.

In grade school, I was always considered a strong writer, but regardless of any real writing skills I may or may not have possessed, what the term actually meant was that I was the student that other students came for to receive input on the grammar and mechanics of their papers. I began to focus on those areas of writing far more than anything else as well because I came to believe that that alone was what qualified my papers as “good.”

As I went through high school, the situation stayed more or less the same. My love of both reading and writing was the same as it had been as a kid, and I was drawn to the honors English classes and, eventually, AP English. Even though my writing was always treated as “good,” I still felt self-conscious about my writing. I was scared of having any mistakes in my writing, but I was more worried about my classmates seeing those mistakes than my teacher. In my mind, my classmates finding my mistakes meant that my supposed writing skills would be seen as a sham.

I was still very much in that mindset when I started college at Marian. The idea of others reading what I wrote felt like a necessary evil in the classroom. I did not doubt it being necessary either. I knew it was an important part of growing as a writer, and I wanted that. There was a strong desire to better my writing skills through listening and learning from others. It was just that allowing people to actually read my writing was stressful, especially if I had to be anywhere near them while they did so. I always had this worry that my writing was worse than everyone else’s in the class, and although I knew it was an illogical fear, I struggled to shake it. That fear has been alleviated quite a bit over my years at Marian. The idea of others reading my writing can still make me a bit nervous, but it is nothing like I felt as a freshmen.

Now that I look back over my older papers, I think about how I felt while writing them.  I know there were so many times where I censored myself or did not take risks specifically because I worried how what I wrote would be perceived by anyone else who happened to read it. No doubt many of those things I could have done would have been a bad idea anyway, but some of them could have been good ones. I am always trying to not let my fear of writing something keep me from actually writing it. That is something that I am better at on certain occasions than I am at others.

Of course, I would like to think that my writing has grown in a number of ways while at Marian. Looking back at my papers, there are a number of things I wish I could change, but making each of the mistakes I have has helped me learn. That act of learning and growing many different ways as a writer is part of what has led to me being more comfortable with people reading my writing. I am not comfortable because I think my writing is so wonderful that the people who read it will not find mistakes. I am just more comfortable making those mistakes because I have internalized even more than in high school that writing is a process for everyone. I am never going to write something that would not face any criticism. Nothing I ever write will be incapable of being improved. I think that is the biggest lesson I have received as a writer from my time at Marian.

I chose to re-write the critical essay that I did because I was not satisfied with the way it was before. It was more than just the grade it got on it. I felt like there was something there that I could explore more than I already had, and I wanted to revisit A Midsummer Night’s Dream and try it. Over the course of re-writing the paper, I changed my thesis and kept almost nothing of the original paper. It was very challenging for me, but I am glad I did it even though I am still frustrated knowing that the paper could be better. I am not sure that I would have gone the route I did as a freshmen. The path of scrapping almost an entire paper for something like this would have felt too intimidating. Back then, I looked at papers that had been graded as finished projects, and even if I was going to revise one, going as far as to almost start over again felt next to impossible. My time here at Marian helped give me the drive to do things like that and challenge myself more in my writing.