February 19, 2010

Uncle Stevie says...

According to good ol' Uncle Stevie himself, writers should expect to lose 10% of their word count to edits. 

As I edit (which is harder and more fun than writing the draft), I find I've not lost, but added an extra thousand words so far. At first I was worried that I was doing something wrong, but I realize that each of us has a different way of writing and revising. I have learned a lot about my style and my process as I get closer to a finished product, and what I'm noticing is that my first draft was bare bones in the sense that I got down all the action and plot and people, but lacked a lot of description. So now I'm adding a lot of description, which adds words. And in my case, good words. Necessary words. Important-to-the-story words.

Because for every time I replace a verb + adjective combo with one STRONG verb or slice away a whole paragraph, I find an area that could use more description.

Which brings me to world building, which Natalie Whipple just happened to post about yesterday.

World building is the process in which you create the "world" your characters inhabit - the world in which your story takes place. World building is important no matter what genre you write, whether it be modern romance or high fantasy, though the amount of planning and energy that goes into each would be drastically different.

Natalie's take on world building is that one should only include what is necessary to the story, and I agree 100%.

As a general rule, I believe the more "regular" your world, the less world you need to "build," and as such, the less description it requires. 

For instance, a desk is a desk.  Maybe it's cherry wood.  Maybe it's one of those awful metal ones with the basket underneath like we had in high school. Either way, a few words will suffice in providing the reader a good mental image of the desk.  There's no need to go into great detail about the desk or add that someone has scrawled "Brandon & Kelly Foreva" across it unless that tidbit is going to be important later in the story.

Here's another way of putting it - would you describe a CD in detail? Of course not. But a phonograph? Sure. Or even better, an 8-track (because really, I have no earthly idea what those things look like. It's not like 8-tracks show up in our history books. Nor were they invented by anyone as cool as Thomas Edison.). There's no need to waste precious words on things the reader is already familiar with, especially since readers often prefer their own mental images anyway.

The same goes for setting. Some of my book takes place on the East Coast, so I don't spend a lot of time describing that setting because, even if you don't live on the East Coast, you probably have an idea of what it looks like, and the color of the MC's lawn just isn't important. Later, my MC goes to Ireland. Not everyone's familiar with what Ireland looks like, so I spend a little more time describing the setting. Finally, my MC ends up within the cultural confines of a legendary people, and from there the description gets heavier because it is unfamiliar territory and important to the story.

Knowing what these legendary people's homes look like, what they eat, and how they interact with the modern world all add authenticity to the story, as well as provide a framework for how things work within the specific cultural confines (or mythology).

SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) has a useful world building checklist on their website. Looking through their checklist, the things I've focused on the most in building my story's world are customs, social organization, and daily life. I've not focused much on the physical and historical features of the world because my book takes place within the context of the modern world, so the story world's features are the same as our own.

And by the by:
An 8-track. You learn something new every day.

Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend! My husband is in a beach wedding tomorrow (I haven't seen him in a tux since our own wedding almost 4 years ago!), so it will be fun to take pictures at the ceremony. I am also looking forward to watching Olympic figure skating, SHUTTER ISLAND, and the season finale of KEEPING UP WITH THE KARDASHIANS this weekend!


Natalie Whipple said...

Great post! You explained it perfectly. You add detail when you need it, and keep it sparse when you don't. Have fun at the wedding!

Digital Kitsune said...

I think I see where are you going with the world building, but I believe there are some components missing and maybe that was intentional. You say the more “regular” the world the less it needs to be described, but how do you define “regular” and how does your audience define “regular”. Let’s work off the 8-track example. An author writes a book in the early 70s treating the world as “regular” and mentions an 8-track in a matter-of-fact way; now you have the following setups: 1) the 70s reader gets it because it is part of their daily life and 2) a reader in the future, let’s say in the year 2847, reads it and has no idea what the author is talking about because there were no details. Now, an author decides to write a period book today, does that writer get to treat this world has “regular”, even though it’s not “regular” to the author’s current time but “regular” in the sense of the period. Where do you get to draw that line in the sand on the amount that you describe and what the reader needs to research? So, yes I agree over using details with no purpose is bad, but I believe there are many more factors at work that the author must consider to help determine the level of the detail one needs to use, such as framing the world and the amount of suspension of disbelief.

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