Magic and technology, kingdoms and queendoms and distant planets, alternate universes and mysterious galaxies, magical creatures and alien races, to name but a few of all the little pieces that go into building elaborate fantasy and sci-fi worlds. World-building is a key part of writing fantasy and sci-fi, it’s a fun and creative process but also a necessary one—even magic worlds of make-believe need some sort of rules and structure, without them you’ve got nothing but chaos and your readers won’t be able to follow what’s going on let alone suspend disbelief the way they should. Still, while world-building is a lot of fun when it’s all in my head—seriously I could spend all day lost in imagining worlds of my own design—I’ve found that getting it onto the page is…less fun. The problem with putting the world-building on the page is that it, by very definition, needs to be done through exposition (the placement of often very wordy explanations of important background information into a story) and honestly, I don’t much like reading exposition let alone writing it. Don’t get me wrong, exposition, while annoying, is very important and I do actually find its contents interesting (most of the time anyway) it just has a way of completely bogging down the story.
I’m currently reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and let me tell you, the first six chapters were a pain to get through. The prologue explaining the contest was one thing, it set up the premise of the story nicely and it was all necessary information at that point in the narrative. The next six chapters however…well as interesting as I find the OASIS and I have to admit the background about Halliday is certainly necessary for Parzival’s solving of the puzzles but nothing happens in those six chapters. Parzival goes to school and does almost nothing there and the rest of the sixty-odd pages are nothing but exposition. Maybe it’s just me but personally I’d prefer the author trust the reader a little more to figure out what’s going on through context and small bits of exposition spaced out throughout the novel and interspersed with action rather than dumping everything on us all at once at the start of the story. Maybe you like your world-building all at once at the beginning of a book because when you’re finished, once you’ve earned the action after slogging through all the background muck, you at least know what’s going on and you can sit back and enjoy the ride. But I’ve got to say, I actually don’t mind being somewhat confused at the start of the book, I relish figuring things out on my own and the twists and turns in the plot that slowly reveal the secrets of the world I’m immersed in keep me coming back for more when pages upon pages of exposition exhaust me to the point of wanting to walk a way rather than keep trudging forward.
This reading preference really shows itself in my writing, I like to play things close to the vest, revealing things only when the plot demands it. Sometimes this dislike of heavy exposition and descriptive language works to my disadvantage as I sometimes struggle with making sure scenes are as descriptive as they need to be but it’s something I am constantly working on. As for world-building in The Demon of New Salem, since the novel takes place in our world—albeit our world with magic—the primary pieces I have to worry about building are my fictional town of New Salem, creating lore for the Supernaturals, and of course creating a system of magic and rules for how magic works and doesn’t work—which is what I am currently trying to work out during my writing sessions at my local coffee shop. It’s funny how given that magic is something that doesn’t exist, and can therefore theoretically operate any way I want it to, has me spending quite a bit of time researching… I’m sure my Google search history from my last writing session looks like that of a novice Wicca. Unfortunately, since magic isn’t real, it hasn’t been super helpful, but at least it helps to get some idea as to what plants and incantations supposedly do what so I have a place to jump off from when creating my system. Now to figure out how to put the pieces I have worked out to paper without falling into the trap of wordy and complicated exposition. It’s all about balance I suppose.
Every writer has been subject to the plague known as Writer’s Block at one point or another and every writer has their own way of dealing with it, methods that are, ultimately, just treatments for the symptoms and not a cure for the disease itself–no matter what you do, Writer’s Block always rears its ugly head again. Writer’s Block can manifest in many forms and can persist for varying degrees of time, sometimes it comes as a loss of inspiration, sometimes as a loss of motivation or the ability to express oneself, it can last a few hours or a week or even years in truly severe cases. My own personal struggle with Writer’s Block is a near constant wrestling match between the story I want to tell and a brain that refuses to cooperate. Rarely is it an issue of ideas but instead a sort of invisible wall in my brain that makes it near impossible to get my ideas from my head to the page. It’s a sort of anxiety I think, a feeling like what I have to say needs to be said perfectly and if it’s not perfect, it might as well not even be on the page. Even now, writing each sentence feels like trying to squeeze that last little bit of ketchup out of the bottle without it exploding everywhere in a bloody red mess. Dad told me today that I need to just relax and just write, stop worrying so much about it being perfect that nothing gets done, which is good advice, advice I’ve heard before from several college writing professors, but saying it and getting my brain to actually comply are two very different things.
So how do you get that annoying invisible wall to go away long enough to actually be productive? Well, you’ve got your basic Google search of options. There’s the obvious putting it down and coming back to it later which is good for stressed out minds but not so good for productivity or lack of inspiration. Exercise such as yoga or anything that gets your blood flowing is always good–when I do have inspiration problems I like to go on nice long walks to clear my head. Some people say you need to minimize distractions but while I’m sure this works for some people, staring at a blank Word doc is the opposite of helpful to me. Listening to music is supposed to help but I always listen to music when I write (I don’t know about you but I can’t work in complete silence, I need background noise) so it’s less of a cure for Writer’s Block and more of a necessity. And then there’s the seemingly paradoxical tactic of free-writing. I mean, if you’re having problems writing it seems like you wouldn’t be able to sit down and, well, write, though I suppose it probably helps with specific problems with inspiration. You can’t figure out how to write the current project you’re working on, go write something else until you’ve loosened up enough to write what you need to write. Personally? When it comes to this particular kind of Writer’s Block, I prefer what I call the ninja method. When I’ve been staring at a blank Word doc, kind of knowing what I need to say but not quite able to say it, I need to shut my brain up so I can just relax and write. And in order to do that I need to sneak up on the problem; like a ninja. So I read. Sometimes a book, sometimes fan fiction, sometimes I just scroll on Tumblr, anything to distract my anxious foggy mind, to lull the anxiety into quieting for a bit, to clear my head and inspire me. Like the “walk away from this for a bit” option there is a very thin line between clearing up the Writer’s Block and your everyday procrastination. But, at least for me, it works better than staring at a blank Word doc getting increasingly anxious and frustrated.
Meet Baxter, my new fuzzy friend. Baxter and I have been hanging out for the past week while his mom and dad were out-of-town for their oldest daughter’s wedding. He’s a tiny little guy and even though in my experience the tinier the dog the more hyper they are, Baxter is probably the most laid-back dog I’ve ever met. He follows me around the house like a shadow with irresistible puppy-dog eyes, curls up with me on the couch and takes over the bed at night. He’s quieter and more cuddly than my cats. Smaller too.
Like my cats, Baxter has no idea how to play fetch. Apparently his idea of fetch is I throw the ball once, he chases after it, and then I chase him around the living room trying to get it back until I collapse from exhaustion. For one with such short legs he’s quite a speedy little fellow. Keeping up with him on walks has been a somewhat challenging exercise but has been great for clearing my head of all the noise my life seems to be filled with these days.
The past week has given me some much-needed alone time and I couldn’t have asked for a better companion in solitude than little Baxter, I’ll be sad to say goodbye tonight. Still, I’m ready to go home, see my cats (and my parents), and sleep in my own bed again.
When I was younger, I had a superpower. It’s a power that I believe most kids have, though based on how often I got complimented on it–even by people the same age as me–maybe it’s not so common. From grade school up through high school and even a bit into college, I had the ability to create time out of nothing. No matter how hectic my life got or how much stress school poured on I always had time to do the things I loved.
Like most writers I was (and perhaps to a lesser extent still am) a major bookworm, my average reading speed used to be about a book per week, sometimes a little longer for bigger books and sometimes less than a week when I really got into a book (I started and finished Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince a nearly 700 page book in a single day) and whenever people asked me how I found time to read as much as I did between school, homework, and other every day responsibilities I just told them that I made the time to sit down and read. Simple as that. Because to me it was that simple; if you love doing something and you really want to do it you make the time to do it no matter how crazy life gets. And yet, somewhere along the way I seemed to have lost that gift. Life becomes busier when you’re an adult, but even just two years ago I had time enough to keep up with my college courses and homework and still have time to read (although admittedly less than I used to) and keep up with my favorite shows, and just six months or so ago I made time to get out of my house and go for a walk every day in the midst of searching for a job. Now, I almost feel guilty any time I do take the time to do anything relaxing and I almost never go out for a walk anymore except on weekends.
If it were just things like television and video games or even reading that were falling by the wayside, I probably wouldn’t be making this post, but right now, the responsibilities in my life have a hierarchy with job searching being my highest priority, daily chores and/or errands next on the list followed by this blog, and finally my novel way at the bottom where it hardly ever gets the attention I want to devote to it. In the spirit of the old me, I have carved out time every Wednesday afternoon to go to a local coffee shop for some much-needed alone time in order to sit down and do nothing but write the novel. Still, it’s not nearly enough. True, I could spend time on the weekends but sue me, after a week spent cooped up inside staring at a computer screen, all I want to do on the weekend is get out of the house. So now I find myself looking back on the old me, trying to remember the secret to creating time out of thin air. If I figure it out I’ll be sure to let you know.