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Entries in Carlo Gébler (2)


World building: How not to go insane

Science fiction and Fantasy author Tad Williams has some great advice about world building:

Another thing that always works is what I think of as the Keyhole Effect, although you could just as well use the old idea of one of those Easter eggs with a little diorama in it. In other words, the reader has to get glimpses of deep background to your world. You don’t have to show the entire world and all its history — show or describe too much and it gets boring — but when they do get a chance to look past the main story, they should see something of lands beyond — select glimpses of greater depth, greater history, greater vistas beyond the main story. And the good part is, you don’t have to invent every detail, just enough to have it seem real.

That’s because in ordinary life people (other than me — I’m notoriously bad about lecturing on things that interest me) seldom say, “And now we’re going down Famous Old Road, where a lot of important things happened, such as blah and blah and blah…” But if you name that thoroughfare Famous Battle Road, or Famous Citizen Road without going into much detail, you actually get more world-building mileage out of it. Because that’s how things work in the real world, and that’s something readers understand even when they don’t actually realize it consciously. Very seldom do people say, “It’s down in the Battery District, which is where they used to keep the cannons hundreds of years ago.” They just say, “It’s down in the Battery.”

Read the rest here!

If I can just keep this in mind, I might be able to write this book without going insane or (more likely) abandoning it several chapters in. 

But I still go crazy when a character I've written reaches for coin to pay for something and then I realize I haven't figured out currency, or the system of government (would someone's face or sigil be stamped on the coins?), etc. etc.

Carlo Gébler, one of the writers I studied with in grad school, used to advise just making a note for later and powering on. Then, when the first draft was finished, he would say "Right, I know that I need to research this, that, and the other," and that would be a much more fruitful use of research time for him. Instead of anticipating what he would need to know, the research (or world building) came after, when he already knew what he needed to know.

You know...?

So that, and the "keyhole effect" approach, is what I'm trying to do. How do you guys approach world building?


Reflections on Week Two

[Read the finished story here!]

That one felt like work.

Dialogue comes much easier to me than prose, so I cheated around my block by making the story in the voice of someone (the parental "we"). It helped a little, but I still spent the first half of each writing session staring numbly at my notebook, wondering why, if in fact writing is "my passion," isn't this more fun?

I talked a bit about fatigue last week, and that certainly contributed. I also set a nice trap for my perfectionist self by basing characters in the story on actual people with giant bodies of work. Again and again, I felt like I couldn't possibly write more until I had done more research. I would resolve to spend that evening reading random selections of Dante and Blake. And then I wouldn't. And then the next day I'd feel underprepared... etc. etc.

One of my teachers in grad school, Carlo Gébler, advised us to do the research after the first draft's done, because too much research at the start can turn into procrastination. He'd make note of the things he'd fudged or simply skipped to keep the story going, and afterwards he'd know exactly what research he needed to do. Until this past week, I'd always subscribed to the opposite theory: immerse yourself in research; take copious random notes; realize that you can't possibly start this story until you've found out about x, y, and z; become overwhelmed; admit defeat; ponder the futility of it all.

This time, though, as with last week, there was no time for my usual self-defeating processes -- I forced myself to work with what I knew (which wasn't much -- Dante wrote The Divine Comedy and Blake wrote Songs of Innocence and Experience, which included "The Tyger") and invent the rest. I also wanted to model the story on another I had read in college about Jesus as a small child in suburban America. Something about how he used to toss the halo around like a frisbee. I could not for the life of me find this story or figure out who wrote it, which was ultimately a good thing, since I had no choice but to let whatever I'd retained from that story inform this one without feeling influenced or intimidated by it.

Anyway, despite all of this (or perhaps because of all this), I think the story turned out well, and with a punchy ending that makes me smile. But please, please, let Week Three be easier...