Depth of Setting

Well, Squiders, I’ve talked about Holly Lisle’s revision class before and how helpful I have found it when putting together my own revision process. I still reference the class often, even though I’m working on my fourth revision since I took it the first time.

There’s one lesson, Lesson 7, that deals with setting. As I mentioned sometime recently, setting is something that I’ve only recently come to appreciate as an author. I normally skip lesson 7. I did it the first time through the process, but found it unhelpful, and so skipped it for the next few novels (which were, coincidentally, Shards and City of Hope and Ruin).

But as you guys know, I’m working on the revision of the first book of a high fantasy trilogy, one I’ve been working on for more than half my life at this point (sheesh). I decided I needed to do lesson 7 for this one because of the complexity of the setting. This first book takes place entirely within a non-human species and their homeland, and it’s been hard work over the years dealing with mythology, customs, geography, history, and all the miscellany that comes with building your own society from scratch.

You see, lesson 7 is about setting, but it’s not about the layout of your world–it’s about how your world works. The customs. The philosophy. The way your magic system works and its limitations. What items are available to your characters and why they’re needed/make sense. The objects that make up your world–the doors, the buildings, the plants, the animals.

And I got to tell you, I put this lesson off for a long time. I reached it at the beginning of September. I read back over the lesson. And then I avoided it for approximately three weeks. The thought of having to go back into the story and pull out what made the world work–or didn’t–was overwhelming.

But I finally got my act together and went into it. And I’m so glad I did. Just by going through how the world was designed to work and how it was presented in the current draft actually helped me work through a ton of worldbuilding issues that I’ve been struggling with for years. I hadn’t expected that at all, especially not with how useless the process was with my YA paranormal.

It just goes to show you, again, that each novel is individual and has its own needs.

Of course, now the next step in the progress is to consolidate everything that’s wrong with the novel (the list is practically novel-length itself) and then put together a plan of action for fixing things (and, to be perfectly honest, rewriting most of the dang thing).

Ever tried something in revision that proved to be way more helpful than you expected? Thoughts on setting/worldbuilding?

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2 responses to this post.

  1. This kind of thing can really spark a reader’s imagination, and enhance the experience of reading. It can also take over and minimize the story. If you think it needs to be ramped up, you’re probably right.

    Reply

    • It’s important for authors to have an understanding of how their world works, whether that makes it into the story or not. It can be the difference between a setting that feels real and a caricature that pulls the whole story down.

      Reply

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