You can never fully understand something until you’ve done it. I’ve always known writing to be hard, time consuming and just all-round challenging.
It hasn’t been until I’ve been up to my eyeballs in fiction writing for the best part of a year that I’ve really started to understand just how hard.
I can’t settle on one single project, so I have a bunch of stories on the go right now (in case you hadn’t noticed) and my big goal for the first half of 2020 is to have one of them finished. The further in I go with them, the more aware I am that the end of that first draft is a very long way from the end of the story itself.
At least two of my stories are going to need huge amounts of cross-checking in terms of timelines, names, and world building. I’ve created a fantasy world, but it’s the good old European Middle Ages-ish sort of setting, which makes life both easier and harder.
While they are both ‘my’ worlds, and officially subject only to my imagination, they need to be able to draw on shared knowledge to be easier to understand, which means I need to get a stronger grip on the fashion, furniture, and technology of that general period in order to give the reader a shortcut into the world. It doesn’t have to be historically exact, but it does help when things make sense in the context of a world with horses, castles and no electricity.
Of course it helps that I’ve been interested in fantasy, history and general random knowledge for some time. It helps even more that I live in the UK and can run off to the Tower of London, or Cardiff Castle, or York on a free day (Covid-19 permitting, meanwhile there are always the virtual tours of museums and houses). Absorbing the world is a huge help and means that, while I know my story ‘facts’ will need checking, I’m not so worried about being so completely off that it interrupts my initial draft.
I’m one of those people who writes to find out what happened. I need to do that first draft to have any idea on where, what, who, how or why, and having to stop and research in the middle of that would be a nightmare.
Of course this means that if I ever decide to set something in places I don’t know as well – the Ottoman Empire, America, Japan, China, India, Eastern Europe – I kind of need to do some sort of immersion work before I start writing.
Weirdly, I could probably do less prep if I decided to come up with a Sci-fi story. It’s a genre I know, and I have a strong enough background in tech that I can get away with a lot. Plus, Sci-fi is less reliant on existing world cultures and norms.
On a tangent but related, I was watching a YouTube video recently on different types of writers. The vlogger is a professional editor and well worth a watch. One of the things she mentioned in this video was a key difference between writers who outline and ‘pansters’ (or discovery writers).
If a discovery writer goes through the exercise of outlining a story – plot, characters, outcome, world – they often lose the motivation to then write the story. This is exactly what happened to me with a space opera that crash landed into my brain about a year ago. I created an outline and haven’t been near it since.
Compare that with a story I kicked off with a four-line dialogue prompt. The first third to half of that story poured out of me like a dam had burst. It’s since slowed and I have only the vaguest idea of the direction and possible outcome, but I can’t wait to find out.