Friday, November 4, 2011

When to Put Your Brains into Your World Building

NaNoWriMo Day 4 Tips from Harry Potter

Although I had planned to do a post today on food, a comment in yesterday's post from Farida Mestek made me think we needed a follow-up on world building.  Food will come tomorrow.

UPDATE: I realized after posting this that I hadn't made one point clear.  I'm assuming with the post below that a writer has already blocked in their large picture view of world building, and what I'm addressing are the details that sometimes only surface once the writing actually begins.

Farida points to a problem many writers face, especially when writing at the frantic pace NaNo pushes us to -- how much time do you devote to crafting the details of your world, especially when you are in writing mode rather than editing?

For many writers, when we are writing the first draft of our stories, we want the ideas to flow as freely and quickly as possible.  We don't want to impede this creative process by stopping to analyze every word choice and world building detail.  Indeed, this is part of the aim of NaNoWriMo -- to set your writing at such a fast pace that it pushes you into pure creation, past any barriers, and hold off the analytical editing for another day.

But world building involves both sets of skills -- creating and editing.  Not only do we need to come up with intriguing fresh ideas to flesh out our world, but we need to analyze how they fit and in what shape.

How much of this you do at any stage of the writing process depends on how important that bit of world building detail is to your story.  Here's a simple guideline, but it works for me -- if you cannot go forward until that piece of your world is fully fleshed out, if the determination of what shape it takes will change the course of what comes afterward, then by all means take the time to stop and get it right.  However, if you know where you're going after this detail is worked in, and while it is important it serves mainly as flavor enhancement, then insert some sort of place holder in your manuscript to remind yourself to come back to it and move along.

Not only is this an effective use of your time, but my experience has showed me that these detailed items quite often spring forth more naturally once I've rested on them a bit.  In other words, if I keep on writing, as my world comes more fully alive, when I go back to read, I'll know instinctively how to flesh out that detail that stumped me earlier.  Or, quite often, while my mind is at rest, such as when driving, trying to sleep, anywhere away from the computer, it will suddenly come to me...and then I'm scrambling to find paper.

For examples from Harry Potter -- Of course I cannot know what went through JK Rowling's mind when creating the story, but I would guess that important aspects of world building such as the location and structure of the Ministry of Magic in Order of the Phoenix was created before she got into the actual writing of those scenes.  However, I would not be a bit surprised that the important but less critical detail of the brains swimming in a tank in the Department of Mysteries was a later addition, perhaps even during a revision.

Does this mean that the Brain Room was a throw-away bit of world building?  Not at all.  Those tendrils of thoughts that shot from a brain and wrapped around Ron and caused him some mild damage are important reflections of the theme of the power of beliefs and the choice in accepting or rejecting them which JK Rowling weaves throughout her text.  Details like this, when given meaning that relate to the whole, greatly enrich the reader's experience.  But, in crafting the work, it's not one that the rest of the story thereafter hinged upon.

So, don't stress all the details when you're trying to write.  And definitely don't use research as an excuse to keep you from creating.

I hope your NaNo writing is going well.  Mine is slow, but my goal is not to get to the 50,000 word count, so I am fine with that.  My goal is to simply break through to new ground in the second book of a series I am working on.  If you want to friend me, I'm SPSipal on NaNo.

How is your story going for NaNo (or otherwise)?  Have you been keeping a pace you're happy with?  If not, what's been slowing you down?