Tag Archives: novel

Adventures in Novelling: Worldbuilding

5310797124_810e65c51e_oI am not a patient person.

I give up on most computer games I try to play as soon as I get hard. I regularly re-read books and notice lines I missed entirely first time around because I was skim-reading. Editing is hard to me because it takes so much effort to focus on my own words, when I know what I meant to say.

A lot of writers of fantasy and science fiction talk about the prep work they do, they time spent researching and making notes and drawing maps and coming up with lore. I… don’t really do that. I don’t have the patience. I dive straight in and make things up as I go along.

Sometimes this results in magic. Sometimes it results in continuity errors. Sometimes it results in… well, one of my novels has three separate alternate worlds referred to as ‘the witching hour’, ‘the other world’ and ‘the land of fairy’ and I’m still not 100% on what the difference is. But I can use them each in a sentence, which for a first draft is the important thing.

The upside of this is, I’m very good at writing first drafts. I also know writers who spent so much time on research and map-making that they never seem to get to actually putting pen to paper.

I used to have that problem – a lot of my writing projects as a child were in actuality world building projects, with everything from drawing characters and animals to endless mapmaking to occasionally branching into lovingly constructed cardboard sculptures.

So, let’s talk about my current novel. While I’ve been working on the world of The Green and the Gathering Tide for a long time (a very long time) there’s a lot of parts of it I’m still unclear on because for most of that time, I didn’t think about them because they were boring to me.

When I finally did begin to put down an actual alternate history I ran into problems right away and ultimately had to throw most of my work out. The problem was sheer laziness. I’m not a patient person. I just slapped an extra island onto the British Isles. It doesn’t work like that!

The magic system and the fantasy material more widely I have fleshed out fully but I’m still a little hazy on how it meshes with real history – because I do want it to mesh with real history.

I just recently watched Lindsay Ellis’s video essay Bright: The Apotheosis of Lazy Worldbuilding, about the Netflix original movie Bright. Bright is set in a high fantasy world based on twenty-first century LA. The worldbuilding is, according to Ellie, not good.

Ellis describes Bright’s worldbuilding as ‘refrigerator magnet worldbuilding’: the world of Bright isn’t a fleshed out fantasy world at all. It’s just the real world, with fantasy elements stuck on top like fridge magnets.

It’s a form of bad worldbuilding I’m aware of but haven’t seen described so bluntly before. It’s something I worry about a lot in my own writing, because while I do want to write fantasy, I do also want to write about world. I’m not trying, in this novel, to create a fully immersive alternate world (not yet, anyhow).

But ‘unless otherwise stated, everything is the same’ will only go so far. At some point I’m going to have to think very seriously about the impact naturally occurring portals to other universes would have on world history. I’m going to have to think about where Wizards fit into the history of the Christian church(es). I’m going to have to think properly about non-human people and how that works.

For now I’m content having fun, laying down the bones of my plot, and exploring my characters. But a first draft can only take me so far. When it comes to my second draft – if it comes to a second draft – I’m going to have to be very patient.

Leave a comment

Filed under novel, writing

My Week In Writing (7/5/17)

20170430_205810To be quite honest, I’ve had a hellishly busy week – two job interviews + a meeting to discuss volunteering + an anthology deadline. And then next week, I have two more job interviews! And after that I’m going to Berlin. So, that’s going to be a fun ride.

Settlement 359 is now sitting just shy of 132k and I really hope it’s coming up on the climax, though as I’m still not 100% sure what said climax is I really don’t know. But I am coming up on a scene I flashed forward to earlier in the novel, which is always exciting.

Summer is coming along nicely as well. I made a proper list of all the edits I still need to make and I’m working on 1-2 a night. I’m optimistically aiming to get this draft done in a month or so.

I submitted my story for The Temporal Logbook II. I’m not 100% satisfied with the finished product – I only managed to find one person to read it at such short notice and he found it confusing, which is a difficult criticism to take on board because it was supposed to be confusing. Just, in a good way. I hope.

I started re-reading The Circle Opens by Tamora Pierce. I got through Magic Steps and Street Magic, the two I read when I was a kid, and now I’m moving into new territory with Cold Fire. Once I’m done with all four, I’ll finally be done with all my Christmas books (hurray!)… and I’ll be able to move onto the books I got for my birthday. Starting with Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay.

I didn’t listen to as much audio stuff as usual, because I only worked a couple of days this week, but I did start listening to the third season of Jago & Litefoot, which in a delightful twist also features Tom Baker-era companion Leela. I’m about halfway through now and it’s probably my favourite season so far.

And I listened to The Children of Seth, part of their Lost Stories range. It’s by Christopher Bailey, who wrote some of my favourite Doctor Who serials (Kinda and Snakedance) and like his other stories, it’s dizzyingly confusing. I’m still not sure if I liked it or not.

Next week I’m hoping to finish The Circle Opens and listen to The Masters of Luxor, another lost story, this time from the William Hartnell era. And I’m going to Berlin, to see some museums and (I hope) eat some cake.

Leave a comment

Filed under books, novel, television, Weekly Update, writing

How I accidentally wrote a novel

20170426_211110

The only copy of The Challenge

In July of 2016, I was in that awkward place of wanting to start a new story, but having no new ideas. I cast about for an old idea I might be able to put down on paper – and all of a sudden, remembered a sci-fi story I wrote for my GCSE English coursework. I remembered it involved time-travelling aliens, a desert, and a pretty cool used future aesthetic.

Trouble was, on investigation it turned out I’d erased my copy together with all of my old schoolwork. Well, I’d got the idea in my head now. I figured I’d just try and do it again, from memory, and see where it took me.

End result: 120,000 words and counting YA science fiction novel. I didn’t mean to write a novel. I just wanted to start a new longish short story.

This isn’t even the first time. When I sit down intending to write a novel, it fizzles out after a few pages. Almost all my novels have come about after deciding to write a thing… you know, a thing, just something, no pressure. Just write a thing. Suddenly, the thing is 200,000 words long, and I don’t know how it happened.

My sci-fi novel is work-titled Settlement 359 (which I’ll almost certainly change). It’s a story about Cobey H, a 16-year-old human-alien hybrid living on a desert planet that used to be an oil colony owned by an outerspace superpower descended from the USA. There’s a conspiracy, and an interstellar war, and a lot of hybrids with superpowers, and around about act two it all goes a bit Slaughterhouse 5 (one the time travel kicks in).

And it’s pre-novel history is pretty interesting. I through this idea around a couple of times, before committing to it and turning it into something unrecognisable.

The Challenge

I remember I was dead set on writing sci-fi for my English Language coursework. Screw literature, I wanted to have fun and be honest about myself and what I write. I’d also just got done watching Firefly and wanted to write something with a similar vibe.

The first version of The Challenge was about some kids travelling to an abadoned space station and it was basically a haunted house story in space. Which now I look back on it, is actually a pretty fun idea, but it didn’t go anywhere. At some point I realised I had no actual plot, put it aside, and started over.

20170426_212357

A space map

Same title (which might have been part of the assignment? I honestly don’t remember), same aesthetic, totally different story. The second version of The Challenge was about a girl called Callie who lives in a blended human-alien community. Callie has some alien genes, and shares their time travel powers. She spends the story trying to convince the alien priest to let her participate in their coming of age rite, which involves a select group of young people travelling back to the foundation of their society.

Like I said, I deleted my only digital copy, but while clearing out my childhood bedroom, I found a hard copy complete with notes in the margin from my teacher. It’s alright, considering. There’s a pretty glaring structural issue and the used future aesthetic I wanted so badly doesn’t even figure that highly, and the time travel doesn’t make a lick of sense – I remember being acutely aware of that last problem at the time. I’d kind of glad I didn’t get to re-read it before starting the novel. Might have put me off.

20170426_212506

Visual development for the webcomic that didn’t happen

I think I meant to make it a longer story, but at some point I accepted that I was never going to write it, because I adopted the setting (at some point dubbed Marikesh) for another project I was writing, a romance story set in an outerspace monarchy. I wanted it to contain several planets, and grabbed a ready-made one. At one point it was going to be a webcomic, so I have a lot of drawings for it, but that never got off the ground. I never intended for Marikesh to really appear in the story, and it didn’t.

But the romance story did focus on the ramifications of being an interspecies hybrid, which is the central theme of the novel I ended up writing.

Settlement 359 has not been an easy ride. For some reason, I only recently realised that when writing a novel one doesn’t actually have to include all the minutiae of one’s protagonist’s life, so the early sections are, er, a bit padded.

Cobey H spends a lot of the novel stuck in a rut, and not even really trying to get out. She’s a difficult protagonist, one who dodges the call to adventure at every turn because she just doesn’t want any trouble, you know? When she finally goes, she quite literally goes kicking and screaming. Why did I write her that way? I honestly don’t know, but I think it’ll work. I hope it’ll work.

Right now, I’m in part 7, Endgame, which should involve the climax, which should lead into a happy ending. I’ll keep you posted.

1 Comment

Filed under novel, writing

My Week In Writing (9/4/17)

20170409_164752

A space station & and setting

Slower progress on my novel this week – I’ve had a lot going on! But I did start part 6, which is weird because I was pretty sure part 5 was going to be climax. Oops. 6-7 parts, I think. Wordcount is currently around 108k.

Still cracking on with Summer. I’m going over a chapter a day, so I should finish this edit and be ready to move onto the more fun business of writing chapter epitaphs in about two weeks…

I finished Cry at Midnight, and its sequel, Clickfinger, and reviewed both on Goodreads. Putting off the third volume, The Snake Wand because I’m reading Fear: Essential Wisdom For Getting Through The Storm by Thich Nhat Hanh for a book group meeting on Tuesday.

I workshopped a short story called The Procedure with my writing group on Monday and it went down pretty well, I think. I haven’t look over it since I wrote it so I actually forgot how squicky it gets. Sorry, writing group.

I went along to Inky Fingers with my flatmate, where we heard a love poem delivered to a block of lard, a poem about shower gel, a story about a world where chicken korma is illegal, and we all sang head shoulders knees and toes, so that was a fun night out. Couldn’t stay till the end, unfortunately – I have to be up at six every morning for my job.

Next week I’m going to Event Horizon at Banshee Labyrinth, which is always a highlight. Will probably have to give my writing group a miss because I have a job interview the next day (yay!) but I’m hoping to get back to my book group. If I can finish the damn book…

Leave a comment

Filed under books, Weekly Update, writing

My Week In Writing (2/4/17)

settlementI hit 100,000 words on my sci-fi novel, so I’m feeling pretty proud of that right now – even if it’s 90% trash. Here’s a taste of what I wrote this week:

“What’s that word, indigenous?” said Saara.

“The natives,” said Doctor Yen. “The people who live here.”

“We are not indigenous,” said Saara. “We make our kesh here, but we are not native. This is not Marikesh.” They lowered the tablet. “We go through this cavern. After that there is – the symbols call it an old warren. There will be more symbols to lead to the waystation.”

“And the rangers? You can call them from there?” said Cobey.

“They might already be coming,” said Saara. “They might have – seen.”

“You’re a native,” said Doctor Yen, clearly not following the conversation. “But the rest of you – you’re human?”

A difficult question. A frosty silence. At length Six said, “no.”

I also started editing Summer in earnest – this should, fingers crossed, be the final draft. But first I need to make some cuts, add a new character thread, and probably re81kc5sE9pVL-organise the chapter breaks.

I finished reading Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children: Library of Souls and I also read Steven Universe: Too Cool For School, because I’m the kind of nerd that likes to watch cartoons for children. You can read my reviews of both over on my Goodreads.

I started reading Cry at Midnight by Mavis Gulliver. It’s the first in a trilogy of children’s fantasy novels set on Tiree. I got all three as a holiday gift from my mum, who thought I might be interested in the publisher – Cinnamon Press, an independent publisher based in North Wales. They’re not actually taking submissions at the moment, but they do have a novella competition that I might look into.

I finished watching Netflix’s new A Series of Unfortunate Events adaptation and have some mixed but generally positive feelings about it – more on that soon.

I went to the Edinburgh Literary Salon, which this month had speakers from the Edinburgh Society of Independent Authors and Shoreline of Infinity, Scotland’s own sci-fi magazine. I particularly enjoyed the Shoreline of Infinity talk, from editor Noel Chidwick – I really love the magazine, so it was great to learn more about how they were founded (also, they published my story – buy it here!).

Also, I made chocolate brownies for my flatmate’s birthday party, and they were delicious.

Next week, I’m going to be pressing on with my novels (should be hitting 110k soon, fingers crossed), heading along to Inky Fingers and workshopping a new (ish) short story at my writing group. It’s a very serious near-future sci-fi about abortion. It also has a super-intelligent wonder dog. It’s, um, a difficult piece to describe, and hopefully my group will enjoy it!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under books, novel, Weekly Update, writing