This is not a ‘How To’ guide.
Sorry, had to get that one out there.
This blog series is not intended to show you How Things Ought to be Done in the world of writing, with all the implications that I Know Things or feel that myself and the way I do things are Right.
This is my journey into writing my own stories, and the trials and errors that get me there.
Two years ago, I decided to stop allowing myself to be stalked by characters I’d made up in my head and started to come up with some ‘proper’ stories for them to feature in. They were very grateful, I’m sure.
But by then I was working full-time, and had neither the time or the money to go and do a proper Creative Writing course and had to make do with lots of books and that great source of knowledge, nonsense and cat videos – the Internet. And there was a lot of helpful advice (like, seriously. A lot. I will try and throw in the links to particularly helpful ones as we go through this), some utterly unhelpful stuff that made everything sound both incredibly easy and utterly mystifying, and made me think I should give up this writing thing to other people with much more talent and skills and who actually knew what they were doing.
There were a lot of false starts. Times when I mistook having a whole set of sub-plots as having one interesting plot. Times when I realised that not one single main character had any decent motivations to be engaged in the plot, and were being pushed around by the motivations of minor characters. Times when I was more interested in what one palace looked like than the people who lived in it and their actions…
I’m glad I stuck to it though and have continued to scribble in any notebook so unwise as to wander into my presence. This blog is essentially the next notebook (one with the ability to edit though, which makes it much better) and when I started to think about what I wanted to write about I promised myself something, which I am fulfilling here.
A couple of years ago I went to see Peter Pan in Stratford-Upon-Avon (very kind Christmas present, interesting re-interpretation of the book, problematic as bits were) and at one point Wendy is talking to a pirate-boy who really needs not to be on that pirate ship at all, and she says that in all her stories the characters always know where they are going and what they are doing and what is she doing wrong because she doesn’t know everything? And the pirate-boy points out that all of these stories are being told by people after the end of the story. ‘They’re cheating’, he says because they can now tidy-up the narrative and take away all those bits where they had no idea what they were doing and tada! The whole story makes much more sense and they always know what to do because the utter confusion has been taken out, but at the time they had no idea of what to do or where to go either.
I don’t think people cleaning up their story-telling after the Happily Ever After is cheating exactly, but I will acknowledge that this moment was what pulled me through when I thought that I could never put together a decent plot that didn’t peter out in the second act; when I thought I’d never get a handle on my fantasy world; when my characters wouldn’t speak to me anymore and how does this Writing Thing even work anyway?
Because as far as I can tell, all writers have these problems as they get started. They all have abandoned plot threads to edit out, and places they created to perfection and then the story just never went there, and so we, the reader, never see them. In an early draft of the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien reportedly had cast Strider as another hobbit and called him ‘Trotter’.
I too see why this did not make it through into the final draft. Good choice there, Tolkien.
So the result of all that is this blog-series. It is, as I have said, in no way a ‘How To’ and instead is essentially an account of the way I build the fantasy world my novel takes place in.
This is largely happening in real time; not a cleaned-up account put together after it’s all done from what ideas made it through to the end, or the most interesting discarded ideas. If I have to change my mind about something, you’ll see it. If I realise I’m an idiot and have put the same city in two different locations, you’ll probably find out when I do.
I have maps to draw; entire lands and people to decide the look of, and I need to really nail down a whole variety of different cultures and backstories and histories; you name it, we’re going there. We’ll be looking at why I find certain characters and plot themes compelling to me personally and therefore why I will or will not be using them. I’ll be looking at where I draw inspiration from, why I might really like something but feel that I can’t draw from it, when the plot informs the world-building and when the world I’ve built informs the plot.
I repeat my opening thesis here: I am not saying that I am right. I am (hopefully) setting out how and why I make some decisions and not others, and what the end results of all those decisions adds up to.
I hope it’s going to be entertaining, but mostly what I hope this series will be is helpful and encouraging to those of you who are right now trying to build your own worlds, your own plots and characters and are trying to make things make sense. You are not alone, and I promise that no one knows how to do everything right from the start.
Rome was not built in a day, and neither was Gondor, or Hogwarts, or the Starship Enterprise (fine well-endowed lady that she is) and for those same reasons, the development of my world will take a while to put together too.
So come with me, won’t you, as we make some hard decisions, some fun ones and throw some terrible ideas far, far out of the internet’s window…