Thursday, September 13, 2012

An Essay on Writing - Part 1/2 (To plan a story)

How far should one go to create a backstory for a novel?  There are so many examples of how far some people have gone and its so hard to choose the distance one should take.

In my fantasy novel, I am currently writing, I knew I had to create a new world.  I then narrowed down that the action will take place only on a specific continent, so I mapped that out and just kind of glanced over some interesting places the characters were going to visit.  Then I had to try to figure out what kind of fantasy it was, did it have dragons, did it have griffins, or was it just like earth, with no real fantastical creatures?

The list just goes on and on as to how far you might want to take the preparation, but at some time, you have to stop and just write.  JRR Tolkien famously created so much backstory and world for his books that it set an odd standard for fantasy fiction.  I mean, some of his languages are such great working languages they are taught in some colleges....

For me, I wanted to work out the stuff I knew the main characters were going to see, then work at it from there.  Come up with the lore as I wrote, as it were.  I bounced the ideas around and started writing.  Note taking, when you do this, is key.  You have to remember what a character said about some region they had visited before, so there will be cohesiveness in case it is brought up again.

Finally one day I sat down and decided the best way to flesh out the ‘rest of the world’ was to write about it.  This way the world grows and expands on its own, and what better way to do that, and to drop a new character in, which may not even factor into the novel being written, that can travel the world, and experience it first hand.  Thus was the basis of Ballad of the Emerald Bard created.  It gave me something else to write, so I don’t get burned out on certain characters, while still playing and expanding this world, giving it a life beyond the book, which I think will benefit the book in the long run.

I try to approach all my works like this, working out ahead of time what will be seen and won’t, but still play a part.  Terry Goodkind wrote a series that, even though I have issues with it, is still close to my heart.  But he did a trick that I HATE when authors do.  In a particular novel, late in the series, the main character suddenly started whittling at the campfire, and another character remembered him doing it fondly the whole time....  It was never written about, never experienced by the reader until that exact moment.  Of course this was a huge plot point going forward in the book, and I fully understood why it was done.  But to me, it was jarring.  “Okay, so now I have to rewrite all the memories I had of reading this series to include some new information, instead of either having it to begin with, or just having something new to incorporate....”

(( Continue to Part 2/2 ))

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