[In Other Words] Unplanned Worldbuilding

I have been doing this whole “writing” thing for over half my life at this point.  I’m not a professional by a long shot, nor have I done a lot of the “right” things (going to workshops, doing outlines and meticulous planning, being part of critique groups beyond the one I joined in college — which, you know, yielded me people I’m still friends with almost a decade later (and isn’t that telling about my age)), but I like to think that along the way, I’ve picked up stuff that at least works for me pretty well.  I mentioned before that I don’t really tend to plan things when I write; I am, to steal the phrase from NaNoWriMo, a “pantser.”  I have a general idea of what the endgame will be of stories when I start them, and maybe a handful of major events, but the connecting details and the things that happen in between?  I tend to let myself go where I will, and things tend to slot into place, though sometimes it takes longer than not.  In the novel I’m working on right now, I wrote a bit more of a detailed outline, but it still basically amounts to a few clumped paragraphs in my notebook broken up by emdashes all over the place.  It’s still more planning than I think I’ve ever done on any solitary project, and possibly more than some co-projects I’ve worked on in the past.

The point of all of that is that I usually do the same thing with my worldbuilding, too.  Part of it has to do with the fact that I don’t really like immediate exposition in things — I like to do a more drawn-out sort of reveal on things, whether it’s plot or worlds or whatever.  (This is one of my issues with first person stories, but that’s probably an entry for later.)  Sometimes this is a problem, because I will actually forget to ever fit in a description of how [x] character looks; more than once, I’ve been asked by one of my betas about what characters look like, and when I mention it, their mental image comes close, but is usually off by a few key details.  I’ll take some pride in getting close, but obviously the miss is something I still need to work on.  And honestly speaking, in an original story — especially a longer one  — I feel like the world itself is also a sort of character that needs to get fleshed out by the story and the interactions the characters have with it at large.

There is a manga that I enjoy that starts out in a very narrow, claustrophobic sort of worldview:  the main character escapes from one heavily gender-segregated institution to another heavily gender-segregated institution, both male-dominated, but as he leaves that and ends up interacting with the world at large, suddenly there are women who are doing things and having impact on the story!  The empire itself is a matriarchy, waiting for its princess to officially come of age so she can properly take the throne.  It takes the series some sixty-odd chapters to explore all the political machinations that led to the civil war that happened ten years before the proper start, which is part of the plot, but also displays a lot about the world itself in general.  Some of the omake in the volumes are not silly four-panel gag strips, but actual history about the world itself, and how separate kingdoms were eventually rolled together into an empire.

The series itself has its problems and it’s certainly not flawless (my favorite characters are the side ones, who are often set aside in favor of actually advancing the plot), but it is still one of my favorites in terms of how it handled revealing its world to the reader.  Part of it is because the main character himself grows up in a sheltered separate environment, so some of it is him learning about the world — but it’s never an obvious thing; it’s never really beaten over the reader’s head that BY THE WAY, THINGS ARE LIKE THIS.  THIS IS HOW THINGS ARE.  SEE WHAT WE DID HERE?  SEE??  There are points of heavy exposition, but there are points where things are introduced and are taken without comment, even when they reveal more about the world itself.  That’s the sort of thing I would love to be able to do, though I don’t think I’m really quite there yet.

(Let’s be honest, I’m not sure I’ll ever be, because after being involved in writing and having writers for friends for this many years, I’m not actually sure it’s possible for a writer to be 100% satisfied with their work, without revisions or without things that can be improved upon the next time.  There are people who say they are, and in my heart I harbor serious doubts.)

It’s the sort of thing I am trying to do, slowly, piece by piece.  Of the nine stories I have up on Amazon right now, three of them take place in the same nebulous world, though none of them are direct sequels, and other than a single passing mention in one, there’s no crossover with characters.  But they’re part of the same group; they’re subject to the same rules of nature and society, and it’s one that I plan to return on whenever I can.  Three of them could be argued to take place in the same world, because it’s “our” world, in some unspecified modern time with no nod or hint of the supernatural involved.  Two take place in “our” world with supernatural elements as a strong aspect of the story itself, and one is almost entirely on its own, entirely fantastical.  They’re all places I would like to go back to; even if I don’t necessarily link them explicitly in the text, I would like to include easter eggs wherever I can, and eventually subgroup them that way.

(I feel like I should wait to get a few more things out there first.  I have a lot of ambitions swirling in my heart.)

Ultimately, though, like with writing plots, I can’t really sit down and say “okay, this is a world I am going to create from scratch; this is how [x] country works and how [y] system operates” — it’s always something I have a general idea about (in my novel, there is a High King and then five immediate powerful families who form a council of advisers below him; after that, there is a Senate, and so forth down the line), but not something I will explicitly plan.  Like with my plots (and my character-characters), I want to be able to leave myself some freedom for development — I want to be able to leave myself room for organic growth and movement that only comes, for me, when I don’t restrict myself to the lines I’ve drawn for myself on the page.

Possibly this will bite me in the ass at some later point, but I’ve managed so far. ヽ(;▽;)ノ

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