So, in that little poll I did, people did say they were interested in reading me talking about my process for writing, so here’s a quick one on that topic, just an update. I am also aware that most people wanted posts about general writercraft but it’s been a long week and this is what I have right now. I’ll try and get back on topic next week.
I mentioned in a previous post that I was changing up my worldbuilding approach for this new project, and that I was doing less worldbuilding up front (or rather, keeping a lot of the worldbuilding in my head rather than having it written down).
I also know that my first drafts are often very bare of worldbuilding. I ran into this problem with tKC, when I was editing it — there was a lot of world detail that I was adding in quite late in the editing process, and I think it might be causing some problems in these final edit stages.
However, as I’ve joked to several friends over the past week or so, this new project is only 7,000 words long and a solid 1,800 words of that is dedicated entirely to bat poop.
Yes, I know the word is ‘guano’. “Bat poop” is just inherently funnier to say.
At the moment, I’m still trying to work out if that’s because of the new worldbuilding approach, or whether it’s because I’m more cognizant of it this time around. In previous books I’ve found that I’ve worried a lot about description ‘breaking the flow’ — I have always been very conscious of not ‘infodumping’, which was something I was very vocally warned against when I was learning to write in my Impressionable Teenage Years. Which I think is a good thing, at least in my case — learning to add detail back in, I think, is easier than learning to cut it out. And I also think that the pitfalls of new writers explaining too little are a bit smaller and easier to manage than new writers explaining too much — it’s much easier to find a place where you confuse readers or haven’t explained something, than to take a big chunk of information that you think is vital and either decide to cut it or, more often, find a place to move it where it isn’t obtrusive.
So I’m glad that I learned to conserve detail. But one of the things that, I think, the Ferryman’s Apprentice was not so great at was that worldbuilding description. I managed to hide a lot of sins in that book under a sort of otherworldly, ‘it’s just a mystery, let it wash over you’ sort of style, which let me get away with a lot of underexplaining. That, and the fact that a lot of it took place in a setting that’s at least passingly familiar already, but again, I avoided giving details so that it wouldn’t really stand out when I had to fudge things — a friend who is very into military history pointed out to me when I was writing it that there really should have been helicopters in the time period I was sorta-referencing. That’s very true. I was also not going to write in helicopters, mostly for tonal reasons. I hope that the story doesn’t feel the less for the omission of helicopters. Not giving details, I hoped, would mask those things a little.
But then I hit tKC and I think I slipped into that habit again at first — which is not necessarily a bad thing, for a first draft. It let me get the skeleton down. But again, I had a friend who read that early draft (back when, believe it or not, the whole book was 90,000 words, not just over 110,000 words for the first half) and told me, kindly but in no uncertain terms, that it was a great idea, but there wasn’t enough story in the story. Characters went nowhere, I sorta half-mentioned a lot of technological advances that should have been a lot more present in the story. There was a lot of world that he wanted to know more about, and some character details that he thought should have been better explored. And he was totally right. I’d tried to do the same thing as The Ferryman’s Apprentice, but I’d done it with a book that was radically different in tone and mood, where instead of feeling just slightly detached, that lack of information felt like something missing.
The book has been through about three rewrites since then, including the last one, and while I do find it frustrating and I am glad that I have finally given myself the excuse to get it done, I think that there’s a good reason that now is the time I’m finishing it, and saying ‘alright, this is the last edit’. I think that I couldn’t have done that earlier and been happy with the result, but I also think that I shouldn’t leave it any longer.
But I was talking about worldbuilding.
For The King’s City, I knew after the last draft that I had a lot of things about the world that I didn’t know, so I did the Scrivener Research Doc and wrote them all down. This time, I lost my notes and decided to just wing it. Now — the part I’ll have to figure out as I write is this: Am I writing more background detail now because I’ve recognised it’s a problem and I’m making an effort to fix it earlier in the drafting process, or because I’ve incorporated that worldbuilding into the first draft? The process of writing these scenes is now also the process of me discovering little things about the world and the story that I would have, before, written into the research notes and left there.
It could also, as with so many writing things, be both.
But the real question, I suppose, is this: When I am finished with the story, will I go back and remove all this detail, because the discovery process was important for me but not necessarily to the story? Or will I keep it in and just edit the phrasing or move some things around, because I was learning what details the story needed as I went?
I guess I’ll find that out in the editing process.
And as for whether it’s the process or the gained experience … I may never know for sure. But this is why it’s worth switching up one’s process every so often. You never know what might be just the right mentality shift to change things up.