I know I'm supposed to be in the middle of a blog series on revision, but I'm going to take a little detour today to talk about world-building. Frankly, I'm mid-revision right now on my secret WIP, and this is probably a subject I should add to my series anyway.
If you ever go to a Madcap Retreat (which you should definitely do if you are an aspiring writer), you might get a chance to see Tessa Gratton's excellent course on world-building. It's brilliant. The problem is that, for some incomprehensible reason, I consistently ignore her advice, and I pay the iron price for that in revisions.
Tessa begins with world, and the whole novel comes out of the world she has created. Me? I tend to start with a premise, one true thing I know about the book, and then I backfill by answering the question: What world would cause this to happen?
Um, it turns out that is always, always a difficult question to answer.
Even The Bird and the Blade caused me grief, and that's set in a world that exists or, at least, existed at one time. In that case, the firehose of historical possibilities forced me to pick and choose the details that would support the events of the novel. Infinite choice is not a human's best friend. Limited choices = happiness. Unending choices = STRESS.
Now, I'm writing a fantasy, and the possibilities are endless. I'm creating a world from scratch, and I am creating religions from scratch to go along with it. When I first started ruminating on this book, I knew how it would end. I saw clearly in my mind, what was going to happen in the final pages, and ... this thing that happens is rather odd. I asked myself, "Huh. What would cause THAT to happen?" The whole book--and therefore, the whole world I'm creating--has to answer that question.
It's so hard, that I'm sitting here writing a blog post as a mental break from the grueling work of world-building.
World isn't just the physical setting of the novel. It's about systems: political systems, religious systems, cultural systems, magical systems ... The physical world is only metaphor, really; what matters most are the ideas and beliefs of the characters. So, while I know the plot arc and the character arcs cold, I'm having a hell of a time creating a world that made of all this possible.
So, here's my advice, and it's probably worth as much as you're paying for it: Dedicate time to world-building. And by this, I mean don't write the book while you are world-building. Whether you begin with world or whether you're like me and you backfill it after the fact, step away from the manuscript and write about your world until it's solid and real. I'm on a tight deadline at the moment, but I'm dedicating two full weeks to world-building, because I know from experience that, unless I'm surefooted in this world, there's no point in pushing ahead on everything else.
I'll also say this: Step away from your computer. Break out the notebooks and pens. Stand in front of that dry erase board with your favorite color marker in hand. You use a different part of your brain for handwriting than typing, and that's the part of the brain you need to build your world.
Ask yourself what do you already have? If you've already got a draft, what is it trying to say? What's essential? What isn't? List all the pieces of your world. What connections can you make? How is it all related?
Build that world, friends. You've got this.