When we build our worlds, we may know some fine details. We may know whys and hows and ifs and whens. We may know a thousand years into the past to explain the finest details. Even if our readers may not see some of the subtleties, its a lot of fun to know these things.
Then, when we write, we have a huge amount of data to call on – as I’ve noted before, you may even know enough that your stories almost write themselves. Knowing your world, your setting, can be a magical or even mystical experience.
However, it’s very easy to miss something in the midst of writing the present and basing it on the past – the future.
CHANGE IS THE ONLY CONSTANT:
It’s easy when we make worlds to think of history as the past – but as we write, history is happening to our characters and in our setting. Our world and characters are changing – at least they should be.
Change is a hard thing to write in our worlds – easy to forget, easy to overdo, easy to do by accident. However, change is the very essence of writing – if nothing happens, you don’t have anything to write about. All jokes that this describes too much literature aside, change is important.
Doing it right is the problem, and that’s what this column is about.
ACCUSTOM YOURSELF TO CHANGE:
First and foremost, it helps to be aware that your world and all in it will change. This may sound overly simplistic, but it’s easy to get lost – easy to push the reset button, easy to resist logical changes to preserve elements you like, easy to forget.
How do you get aware of change in your world? Well, we all write differently, but the best advice I’ve found is:
Treat your world as under construction. It’s never finished. This keeps your mind open.
With your stories, record the historical elements in your own timeline, even if your writing isn’t particularly timeline-driven.
Review your past and current history occasionally to stay aware of what has and is happening in your plots.
Be open to change. If you stifle change, you stifle your world – and your readers will know.
WRITE WITH CHANGE IN MIND:
When you write, make sure you’re aware of what happens – consciously or unconsciously. Keep track of plot outlines, notes to yourself, reread your stories – know when change is happening or just happened in your last writing binge.
Always reread your material – and for more than just spelling and grammar mistakes. Make sure there is cause and effect, make sure there is, essentially, history happening. If nothing happens, if you force your ideas down certain paths, it will affect the story negatively.
Be aware of the following:
What changes in your world – Is your world a culture of evolving technology, or hindered by superstitions that direct efforts only in certain directions? Some things change quicker or differently than others.
How fast change happens – Change may happen in your world at different rates depending on a variety of factors – if your world has a super-intellectual race, they may change quicker than others, for instance.
How far change spreads.
What barriers prevent changes – Change doesn’t always occur easily. Cultural elements may stop things from evolving, a lack of mineral resources may slow technological development, etc.
What things encourage and enhance changes – Sometimes change is abetted by various elements – a war makes people innovate, a renaissance unleashes imagination, etc.
TRAPS TO AVOID:
Aware of change or not, we can end up creating quite a few traps for ourselves. As I’m big on the “history” sense of writing, I’ve seen, analyzed, and even made these mistakes myself.
Don’t have things happen too fast. It’s very easy to write stories as punctuated bursts of activity in the history of the world, or to have the flow of events overwhelm you.
As a counterpart, don’t have things happen too slowly. You can eventually end up with nothing happening.
Don’t try and alter events to fit particular goals – you can easily destroy the proper pace of change in your stories.
Don’t step on your inspiration – being aware of history is a tool to your writing, not a trap or a snare.
Be aware of history in your world and the pace of change. You’ll find yourself with a more believable world and better stories – and be aware of the vital element that stories are about change.
A German translation is in the works at Christian Spliess’s Page
It is archived at the Way With Worlds archive.
Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Steven Savage, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.