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October, 2009:

Art is work

Patrick Rothfuss talks about writing as work, at some length, and with plenty of snark aimed at people who think that it’s a trivial process.

He even uses a string analogy!

I’m tired of trying to juggle everything: the plotlines, the character arcs, the realistic depiction of a fantastic world, the pacing, the word choice, the tension, the tone, the stories-within-stories. Half of it would be easy, but getting everything right at once? It’s like trying to play cat’s cradle in n-dimensional space.

Worldbuilding for Amateurs

I’m working on a second-world fantasy novel. The worldbuilding is enormously fun, and also enormously challenging. I have the basics down, but am continuing to refine the details.

The big stuff: geography, climate, major political structures. These are the background to the whole thing (and not independent – geography affects climate, and both affect climate and politics). But there are a zillion other details that go into making a fully-realized and lush world.

Part of it is knowing the daily life of your protagonist, and part of it is knowing how your protagonist fits into the surrounding society, or doesn’t. All sorts of little things make up a culture, and these are the details that make the world real to a reader. The better-grounded and more plausible a world is, the more able the reader is to accept the different bits, the magic or whatever makes your world not just like ours.

  • What are the names of the constellations? Does the protagonist know them?
  • What kinds of musical instruments are common? When are they heard? Is there recording technology? What style of music does the protagonist like? Or participate in? Is that common?
  • What kind of bed does the protagonist sleep in – pallet, featherbed, mattress and springs, antigravity plate?
  • What does the protagonist hear while in bed trying to sleep? Traffic, silence, noisy neighbors, the local bar?
  • When does the protagonist usually eat? Two meals a day? Three? Four? Is that the usual pattern?
  • What does the protagonist usualy eat when at home? Travelling?
  • How often does the protagonist bathe? Using what supplies and equipment? Is that the usual pattern?
  • What’s the protagonist’s favorite season? Why?

I keep thinking of more and more, but you get the idea. Knowing these kinds of “little” details for the culture, the protagonist, and any other major characters will help you create a richer world, even if none of them actually end up in the story.

The missing link

I swear I didn’t conveniently forget the other writing link so that I could use that title. Honest. But when the opportunity arose…

The writing link that I couldn’t remember last night: How to Get Ideas: Talk to Cows by John Brown. He’s cogent, and funny. I’ll have to check out his new book.

Despite good intentions – tonight was to be for finishing a couple of nonfiction articles – nothing was accomplished. I blame the snow.

October snow

October snow

Checking in with myself

That’s a bit better: 675 words of new fiction. Then I got interrupted twice, and lost all momentum. But that ends a scene, so its okay. Sort of.

To distract you from my lack of astounding progress (rather than astounding lack of progress; that was yesterday): a writing article. That would be two links if I could figure out where I left the other one…

I had the perfect title, but forgot it

Dear World,

I haven’t written a word of fiction since the beginning of September. Lots of thinking about fiction, planning of fiction, research and note-taking, but the butt has not been in the chair. In my ideal world, I would be writing every day. But I don’t live in my ideal world, unfortunately, and I must recognize that the demands of the various things I do will ebb and flow. This has been a very busy time for my main job – you know, the one that pays the mortgage – and I’ve been reorganizing some of the weaving stuff. That leaves precious little time, and more importantly braincycles, for fiction.

But at the same time, I have to recognize that I will never have any more time than I do now, and that if I’m not writing now, then I’ll never be writing. If I want to do it, I will find the time. Just not every day, or even every week. Sometimes day-job work will eat my brain, sometimes I’ll be able to take vacation time to devote to other things

It will all work out, as long as I’m mindful of how I spend my time, and work to maintain the balance between my various obligations. Mindfulness is very important to me right now. What am I doing at this moment? Is it what I should be doing? If so, then do that thing, without worrying about any of the other myriad things begging for my attention. If it isn’t, then stop doing it. I can only do one major thing at a time, and so it must be the right one.

I think I’m not going to do NaNoWriMo this year. If you’ve missed it, it’s the communal attempt to write an entire novel in the month of November. It’s fun, but I think for me it’s counterproductive. NaNoing puts the focus entirely on wordcount and pushing for more and more, where I need to work on improving the balancing act that allows me to meet all my goals and obligations. The NaNo-push forces me to ignore other obligations, so when December 1 rolls around, I quit writing to tend to them. Not good. I will write more fiction in November, but will not push for the 50k wordcount.

Viable Paradise was last week. I didn’t get to go this year, though I plan to apply again, but I thought it would be a good time to do something else writerly. Elizabeth Bear had mentioned the Online Writing Workshop, a SF/F/H critique group, and it sounded potentially very useful. A writing group of some sort would help me to not push fiction all the way to the bottom of the pile – external motivation can be very helpful – and help me refine some of the areas I’m having trouble with.

OWW has a free month trial period, and after that is a small annual fee. The setup is simple: after your first submission, you need to provide substantive critiques of others’ works to earn enough points to submit more of your own work. Like any such group, there’s a wide range of experience and aptitude, both for writing and for critiquing. I was thrilled to discover that my technical editing skills can work for fiction as well, with only a slight shift in perspective. At least, I think so – I haven’t discussed them with the recipients of those critiques. I’ve only submitted one piece for review so far, but have gotten some useful feedback. I don’t have a regular writing group, so this could be very helpful.