A lot of writers go on and on about receiving feedback. I’m one of them. Feedback is good. Feedback makes you feel like crap for a little while, but then it helps, and it helps more than any other one thing I know of in writing. It helps more than writing courses, more than reading and absorbing. I might even, on some days when I’m feeling particularly feedback-positive, say it helps more than practicing and repetition, if only because it provides a yardstick that gives a writer a direction in which to progress from practice.
Feedback is very rarely easy to take if it’s useful. And then there are those times when you get feedback that just exposes something in your writing that makes you ashamed you ever showed anybody at all, or at least that you never noticed the problem.
I said, a little while back, that I love worldbuilding. This is true. It’s a great pastime, and I love creating worlds. I especially love creating them with other people – it’s often easier, because if one of you is running a bit dry, the other one isn’t, and so forth.
In fact, I love worldbuilding so much that apparently I just don’t do it anymore.
Yup. My last round of feedback pointed out to me that I’ve walked not only head first, but heart-first, eyes-first and everything-else first into the biggest writing pitfall. I got complacent. I stopped worldbuilding the stories that weren’t written in big, sweeping secondary worlds, because I thought I knew what the world would be like. I could work out the details as I went. After all, it’s very easy to Google pictures of a 1940s coffee maker, and whether there were taxis. All I needed was to work out the details of what I was changing, right? I needed to figure out what kind of government my fictional-but-based-on-reality place has, what exactly the rules of magic are in this world, what kind of combat they have, and so on and so forth. But the rest of it? Pah, no need.
Everyone here who writes either historical fiction, urban fantasy, or historical fantasy, you can feel free to slap me now.
Sometimes it is very hard to keep perspective, especially when you can talk about the world to friends as “It’s based on [year] in [country] except for these things” and they’ll go “Hey, that sounds cool!” You feel like you’ve done enough to carry a story, rather than enough to carry a conversation. It’s easy to just sort of forget things – tack things on rather than integrate them. “I’ll fix this up in a later draft”, I think. “I’ll just figure this out and I’ll integrate it in the edits; for now, I’ll just finish the first draft”. Then, I reach the end of the first draft and suddenly the worldbuilding I have is all tangled up in the story as it should be and any tweak to the rules of the world voids huge sections of the plot, and the rewrites are huge.
“I’ll spackle this bit over and this bit,” I say, “and it’ll be fine.”
And then I give this thing, technically watertight but undeniably missing something to an unsuspecting friend. “But you never explained this,” they say. “And this makes no sense. And why did they decide to do this instead of this?”
And I go home and realise that I had become complacent. I didn’t put the work in early because I assumed it was all done, and when I came across things to do in the book, I hadn’t done the groundwork to fix them properly, and it all snowballed out of proportion.
I’d like to say that from now on I’ll be enforcing a worldbuilding period before writing anything, but really, I already do that. For a while, I thought I might be able to get away with a checklist of what I Need to Know before I start writing, but I already check off the things on that list first. I’m now thinking that everything I write needs to be kicked off with a few character and world drabbles, little myths in the world, little stories from the backstories of the King, facts about Acts of Parliament, things that will never be seen in the story, but will help me get a feel for things.
And also, to the person I got that feedback from: despite the fact that I’m like 99% certain you don’t read this blog, I hope I was clear enough about how much that feedback helped and was appreciated. I take more from the feedback you gave every time I think about the suggestions you gave.
Finally, if you’re reading this, may you always have beta readers good enough to point out these things to you, and nice enough to not be rude about it.