Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wednesday Wobblers

Sorry about that title, I’m a huge fan of alliteration.

To take a break about all the ‘me’ stuff this so far this week I thought I would take a minute to talk about …er… universal truths. No, wait. I mean I want to talk about me some more.

I was thinking about how blind I can be to the quality of my own writing and then it hit me - today is my birthday. I forgot all about it and there it is. I just got a whole bunch older today. 

 Where was I? Oh yes, I believe self doubt is something common among writers, I’m at a point now in my current work in progress where I’m thinking I might have a toxic dump on my hands - and I can’t tell. I worry that I may be telling a story with too complicated a background to parcel out over the course of a single novella.

How detailed is it? I have this timeline that I started a long time ago. It goes from the moment of creation all the way into the deep future. I have these cool little points to indicate major events that happen, who they happened to, and so on. The thing is, it’s all backstory. I don’t have any real intention of having that timeline ever make its way into my created universe. So far, I’ve written a draft of a novel, the self-published novelette I’ve been pimping for the past two and a half weeks, my current novella, and another short story, all within this larger tapestry I’ve created.

So I wonder, when is it a Tolkeinesque thing of beautiful worldbuilding and when is it a giant mess? Stephen King has said previously that all his books (or maybe it was most of them) are all related through the Dark Tower novels, Larry Niven had all those Known Space novels, which included his Ringworld novels and his Man Kzin wars, so there was tons to explore. Scott Sigler tells all his stories in a single shared universe, his is very impressive to me because the tone and subject matter of his novels can be so different – he has modern day techno horror books and far future YA football stories, and they all share a common history.

I think it’s great, I love that I can read a novel, enjoy it, then pick up another story, set centuries apart in time, separated by vast distances, and have characters that are often unaware of one another each tell their self-contained tales, all while unveiling something much larger.

Oh, I guess Star Wars may count too – but with the number of writers and properties involved I’m not sure that’s good for my example… they just aren’t the creations of a single individual anymore.

So, that’s what I want to create, that larger universe that feels so real, that has its own history, so many things happening off stage that the reader just knows the author (me) has it all worked out – and it will prove to be amazing once the whole thing is made known.

You can't read that can you? Because this is the entire content of my brain

Big dreams, too ambitious perhaps. So there I am, writing happily away on my novella and it hits me, how much of this backstory is necessary for the reader to understand enough to enjoy it. Then a second revelation hits me. Are the characters and conflict even interesting enough in their own right to carry this story anyway? I mean, I’d hate to figure out that my 20,000 word story contains an 18,000 word long infodump with people staring into the distance and eating rabbit stew. Hmmm… I need perspective.

So, I think I’ll take the advice of many a writer, including Stephen King, and put this one in a drawer for a while after I finish. See how it feels when I read it again later.

I got some other stuff I need to be doing anyway.


Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

The key is making sure each story is strong enough to stand on its own.

Have you shown your current project to your beta readers yet? What do they think?

Rogue Mutt said...

Happy birthday!

I'd agree with Sandra that you want especially the first novel to be able to stand on its own. Remember that Tolkein's first was "The Hobbit" and from what I've read on Wikipedia, the initial version of that was a little different than later ones after the LOTR trilogy because I guess he went back to apply what I call retroactive continuity.

Another example is that I've read all 30-some Discworld novels, which all take place in the same universe. But that universe keeps evolving a little bit at a time. If you read the first couple books they are a bit different from later ones because it took Pratchett a few books to sort of hone things down.

Or another example is like when you watch Season 1 of "The Simpsons" or "Family Guy" and then you watch the later seasons and so much is different: the voices, the animation, the character personalities. It didn't happen right away, just a little at a time, sort of like erosion or something.

And I'm sure Michael will mention George RR Martin...

Michael Offutt said...

Happy Birthday. I agree with Sandra and you do need a beta reader to give you perspective esp if you think that your work is a toxic dump.

Creating an epic world is a real challenge, especially when you consider that you are a fledgling author. I would suggest that you focus on an area of your world in which you want to explore and do so through a couple of characters. Don't do an infodump...that's bad. Just have these characters living in the world as if they took everything for granted and in the showing will come the telling.

Andrew said...

But with Tolkien, The Hobbit wasn't initially intended as part of Middle Earth. It was simply a bedtime story for his kids. It wasn't until Lord of the Rings that he decided that it could be a part of that story. And Lord of the Rings was kind of the same way, because his real story, the real work, was the Silmarillion. That was his story of Middle Earth, and his life long work that he had been working on since way before The Hobbit.

The most impressive to me has always been Asimov. He wrote all of these short stories about robots and, later, the Galactic Empire trilogy, and, eventually, all of that stuff came together as one grand story, but I'm pretty sure it didn't start out that way. He just made it happen.

And there's Moorcock and how all of his stuff is connected.

You know, I think you can include Star Wars, becasue, initially, Lucas had this huge story, and he thought it would just be one movie, but he kept working on it and realized it was too big for that, and he kept working on it until he found this one story he could pull out and make one movie about, which is all he thought he was going to get.

So what I'm saying is just find that one story that you can tell. The one that is self-contained, and start there. That's really all it takes.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Happy birthday, dude!
What's wrong with a lot of stories that universally link together? Worked for Lovecraft.

Cindy said...

Beta reades are always a good idea. Just keep working at it, and have a great birthday. :)

Tonja said...

Happy Birthday. I don't think you should abandon it necessarily, but it's never a bad idea to step away from it for a couple of months. Doubt will destroy you.

I like Tolkien a lot, but I think my writing will be more of a Faulkneresque micrososm with characters that cross paths across stories and generations that affect the next without meaning to. Or not.

The Golden Eagle said...

Happy Birthday!

Personally, I love reading books that link to one another through a common history. There are a lot of excellent individual worlds, but it's nice to watch things unfold relative to each other. As Sandra pointed out, though, the stories have to stand out on their own--even more so than a closer-knit series.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

*smacks self on head*

I missed the part about your birthday earlier! I hope it was a good one!

Ellie Garratt said...

Happy belated birthday!

I think creating an entire world is a challenge but it is do-able. You CAN do it. If it were me, I would make extensive notes of every aspect of this new world. Get to know your world as if it were your own. Then, when you write each story, you will not info dump, but weave it into the fabric of the story bit by bit. Hope that makes sense!

Stephen Tremp said...

I've incorporated short stories into my books. Why not? They just made sense to do so. I also sit on my stuff for a while. Take a break. Catch up on things and sleep. Then read it again with a fresh perspective.

Briane P said...

You hit a nerve when you suggested that Lucas intended "Star Wars" to be a larger story. I'm convinced he didn't, for reasons I repeat too often on The Best Of Everything and won't go into here.

What I was thinking of as I read this post is Heinlein: The first book I ever read by him was "The Number Of The Beast," which was great and confusing, because it just jumps right into Heinlein's universe and assumes you know everything the people living in it do, too -- and then, as you read his other books, they all sort of take place in that universe, too, all joined by Lazarus Long and eventually it's all explained by the theory that we are all just stories that other people tell, which is kind of ingenious, but you have to read all his books to gather that, really.

What I say is that you just write what you like; don't bother explaining it to the readers. Tolkien may have info-dumped too much, but a lot of his stuff seems made up as he went along, too. If you've created a universe in which there are lots of stories, write them all and explain as you go.

Deborah Walker said...

Yep, so difficult to judge your own worker. Beta readers sound like a good idea. But for me, meh, I just sub it and see if the editor bites.

All the work you're doing is going to feed into your stories. I think it is so cool to have a world.