Sunday, January 30, 2011

Short Story Worldbuilding

Short stories don't require as much worldbuilding as novels. The world doesn't have to be as large or as complete because the reader's only going to be seeing a portion of it. I start with a few ideas, usually consisting of a character, a basic view of setting and a loose direction for the plot. Often, I don't even know how or when it's going to end.

Most of the worldbuilding details come in after I've written the first draft. I add them in and shape them during editing. So, I go through a lot of edits, filling in details and revising the worldbuilding until it's streamlined to the story. Even if it's not visible to the reader, all the pieces fit together and relate back to theme and plot. Or, at least, as many of the pieces as I can get a hold on.

I build worlds around my short stories. That's not to say that the worldbuilding serves the plot, however, because the plot may change as well. The two feed off one another.

I usually don't do much research either. If I already know something's going to be important to the story, I'll do some general research on the topic. Otherwise, I wait until I have that first draft to draw from. I just never know what's going to be important to the story until I've written it.

I'm working on Fated right now--literally around writing this--and I never knew sledding was going to be at all important. Now that I've written that section, I know that there are some things I'll need to research before I edit this draft.

I think research and worldbuilding also go hand in hand for me. As I research something, sledding for example, I learn more about it and in turn more about the world. What kind of terrain is best to sled on? What kind is most challenging? Do I want their journey to be easy or challenging? Once I decide that (challenging, of course!) I have a better idea of the terrain and I can describe it in more detail.

If I built the world beforehand, I'd have tons of unnecessary details and no space to cram them in. Basically, I worldbuild short stories after the first draft because otherwise I'd end up writing a novel. ;)

How about you guys? How much of a world do you start with, before you start writing a short story?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Thoughts on Writing Prologues

I've seen several agents say that they groan at the sight of prologues. This has led to an avalanche of advice that you shouldn't write them. But I don't necessarily agree. While I do think that prologues are overused and should be well considered as part of a story's structure, I don't think they should be gotten rid of all together. They have a place in some stories.

It's not prologues that are the problem. Unnecessary prologues are the problem. For a long time they were pretty much considered part of the fantasy genre's story structure (others, too, but fantasy was hit hard) and once it becomes something you feel you have to write, it loses its purpose and usage and becomes a dumping grounds. Often, because they are considered a necessary part of the book, they're nothing more than a first chapter under another name.

Traditionally, prologues are literary devices which call attention to the theme of the story or play, or introduce a work. They might be used to introduce a narrator or reveal the thrust of the story. A prologue isn't meant to be a chapter, it's not meant to be a part of the story, it is meant to be the story, in miniature. It's meant to encapsulate the story, to give insight into it and illuminate it, without revealing it entirely.

Prologues have also been used to entice a reader into a story, perhaps by allowing the writer to bring a later section of the story up to the front. Such as when a prologue introduces a character in danger and then the first chapter begins before that event. I think this can be a valid use, but it also has its pitfalls. Putting someone in danger upfront might not matter as much to a reader if we don't know the character, and the first chapter should be able to draw readers in by itself. A prologue used this way can be a crutch.

However, there is another point to be made about prologues. Apparently not everybody reads them. Don't ask me why, I read everything including tables of contents, casts of characters, forewords and prologues. But I know several people who always skip them. *shrugs* I don't get it. But it's got to make things especially confusing in those books where the prologue is actually "chapter one."

Thus prologues present a problem. Nothing should be included that isn't necessary to understanding the story, but necessary information might get skipped if it's in the prologue.

My solution is to write the prologue if it fits, if it speaks to the theme of the story, but isn't necessary to understand the plot. I want a person to be able to read my book from the first chapter to the last chapter and understand everything that happens. However, if they read the prologue, the theme of the story will be more clear from the start. If they don't, the theme may be more cloudy. Theme is a part of story, but it isn't always necessary information. Someone can miss the theme of a book and still understand what's happened and enjoy the story.

For me, prologues are another tool in the box, and I use them when I think I can do it well. What do you think about them? Do you write prologues? If so, to what use do you put them?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Writing Update

Well, despite some health issues, I've actually gotten some writing done! I have this urban fantasy, demon hunter story idea (I don't even have a working title yet) and ideas for it keep popping into my head. I can't keep it out, so I might as well write it down! I have a scene, some description, some character interaction and even the vague stirrings of a plot!

I had planned for it to be a short story, maybe a series of short stories, so I either have to figure out where all these bits and pieces fit in a short story format, or decide to make it a book. And then figure out where all these bits and pieces fit in a book format. :D

I've also done a little editing on Sings the Distant Heart. Now, though, I'm stuck at a difficult scene. It's changed completely--in tone and events--because of the character changes I've made. Now I can't seem to wrap my head around it. I'll need to sit down and write out what I'm looking to accomplish with the scene, where it needs to go, and what needs to be included. After that, hopefully, I'll be able to get at least a draft of it down.

I also need to get some stories out on submission. I hate leave them lying around, gathering dust, but I just haven't had the time to see to them. Poor darlings.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

9 Bad Excuses to Not Write Women: Excuse #9

9) I only write what the story requires me to write, and women aren't necessary in my story.

Do you really think that women have nothing to add to your story? Really? Seriously? You don't see any value in having women in your book? You don't think they have something to say or anything to contribute? Okay, I'm not going to argue with you, there are several other posts on this topic that discuss the value of women in genre fiction.

Just let me ask you this: does your story require readers? Do you want women to buy your book? Female characters are probably a good bet in any story you want women to read. These days, most of the women I know are growing increasingly tired of seeing so little of themselves reflected in their reading material.

Last Excuse
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So, that's the end of the series. I hope you found it enjoyable, or at least vaguely interesting. ;) What are your thoughts on women in fiction? Big question, I know, so let's break it down to this: Who is your favorite female character in genre fiction?

Monday, January 3, 2011

9 Bad Excuses to Not Write Women: Excuse #8

8) I don't know if I can write women believably.

If you can write dragons, aliens, dwarves and men from a myriad of different cultures/planets, you can write women. The problem, I think, is that the definition of “woman” is somewhat in question. By that, I mean that there are a lot of different definitions out there, and we're very aware of that, whereas the varying definitions of “man” are quieter at the moment. (Though, there are just as many of them.)

To write women, just stop worrying about it and write a character, like any other. Step into her shoes the way you would step into any of your male characters. What are her concerns? What are her goals? How does society view her? How does she view society? These are the same questions you should ask all your characters. If you stop thinking about her as “a woman” and start thinking about her like any other character, her personality will start to show through.

And remember that you're writing the women of your society. These are not today's women, they are not--unless you want them to be--your sisters, mothers, aunts or daughters. They should be shaped by the culture in which they live, they may agree or disagree with that culture, but who they are will revolve around their experience in your culture.

Last Excuse | Next Excuse