Monday, March 14, 2011

I’d like to dig back into world development today. Specifically how to generate long-term potential in your novel series.

Obviously, you’re not going to plan out what every single thing means or does from the get-go; you can’t, you’d go crazy trying. And if you limit yourself to details and symbols that only have purposes in your storyworld, you’ll end up with a flat and one-dimensional experience.

Take a look at this little excerpt from The Next Progression:

“It won’t be back,” Jason waved and patted his sword. “I killed it.”
Aden stomped on his foot.
“Owe! I mean, we killed it,” Jason corrected.
“You’ve slain the beast?” the farmer’s eyes widened hopefully.
“Head down that way,” Jason gestured. “A few miles, you’ll see it.”
The farmer signaled to a few of his friends and they all charged off back the way Aden and Jason had come. Shrugging, the two wandered into the center of the small village to drink from the well, and settled down to rest for a bit.
The steps and the well itself were made from hewn stone, neatly fitted together with hardly any mortar. Aside from bits of shale used for paving here and there, they were the only masonry in the entire village.
Villages with no stonework were not uncommon. Through the Long Night in this part of the verse almost all technology was outlawed. Magic was able to develop, to produce mages, but even the technology of stonework was scarce. Why, of all things, the well was made of hewn bricks pointed to the village being much older than it initially appeared.

I have no idea what the well means. Literally. There is a well in this random village that has cut masonry and no one knows why, not even me. It could be just a little flourish that makes the story seem deeper, it could end up being some major detail at a crucial turning point in the series.

You have to scatter little details like that. Minor things, but they make the story appear more rich and full than it initially might be. Later on you connect the dots; when you are writing the lore and the history of your world.

This is one of the many lessons we can take from J.R.R. Tolkien. He scattered details all throughout the core of his work, which at the time even he didn’t really have a plan for. But he knew he was going to use it later, it was going to mean something. And that was why entire books have been written based off of some random thing Legolas said.

If your goal is to be as prolific and storied an author as Tolkien, start thinking ahead now. The Hobbit was the first story written about Middle Earth storyworld, and yet it is full of references and mentions to things the author wouldn’t work out for decades to come.

The trick is simply to let your inner creativity loose. In the Course Books I faced some unusual challenges because I was writing an entire series out of order. I had to refer to things in the first book when I had literally no idea where they were going to lead, then fill them in later. When I wrote the first book I began to mention the Kamian Succession Wars, but I had no idea how big the scope of the conflict would be. The same is true of the Gap Campaign.

So I simply added references and spoke of things without going into detail, then added the detail later. Now I’ve mapped out most of a 715-year-long conflict that changed the face of the verse.

Wikis also help tremendously on this front. Especially when you have ideas right now for what this particular detail is going to mean. I wouldn’t go so far as to write your entire novel using a wiki, but in terms of a free-form, fast, easy to organize notebook, they cannot be beat.

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