Wednesday, April 19, 2006



Okay, I know I'm not the first writer ever to invent this. In fact, I might be one of the last to discover this method and use it. But, dang, I have just had a revelation that has blown me away.

I've been world-building over the past few weeks for a fairly complex world in which I'd like to set a trilogy (or more) of paranormals. Problem was, aspects of my world kept shifting. I'd determine to do things one way, only to second guess myself or decide that things were getting too complicated. Or I wouldn't be able to work out a particular aspect or figure out how one thing was going to work in respect to another thing, only to get all confused and forget what the original goal was in the first place. In short, it was all a big muddled mess of ideas mixed up in my brain and refusing to make any better sense when I'd put it on paper. Overwhelming was an understatement.

Yesterday morning, in the shower (naturally), I came up with the idea of having a brain dump in the form of one character asking another character any question that came into her mind. The character-in-the-know explaining down to the last detail everything the character-not-in-the-know should know. God imparting his omnipotence on the ignorant. It's the kind of scene that any writer worth their salt would cut in an instant because it's 100% infodump and 0% moving story forward.

But in putting the entire world-building into the context of a conversation, with questions and answers that could be asked and answered in some reasonable facsimile of real thought processes, I ended up with twenty pages worth of material. All of it makes sense. All of the tangles I'd had fell into perfectly logical strings that lead in perfectly logical directions. Things that I'd originally planned but that had seemed far too complicated now have become explainable, some things that I'd originally planned unnecessary and now on the mental trash heap. New ideas have surfaced, better ideas. Exciting ideas.

So, yes, it's nothing new to the writing world. This method of interviewing as a process of getting it all down and organized. And I certainly know that 99% of what I've written will be unusable in its current form and that there is no way I can afford such an indulgence as this in any real book. I plan to distill what I've written into an outline format or some such that acts as a reference, to see where I still have holes. Basically, out of the 20 pages I wrote, maybe one paragraph's worth is usable in a real book and the rest nothing more than background only important for me.

But the cost of one afternoon's worth of work is miniscule compared to what I've gained from the process.


meljean brook said...

Nearing the end of the second book (and a half, I guess if the novella is counted) and I'm still figuring out how the world works. Part of it is exploring different aspects of the worlds, but the rest of it is that stuff just comes up that I hadn't considered in the first book -- and it has been challenging to work in the new information without contradicting the older stuff.

One of the characters in the current book is almost like you have described here: she's big on the questions. And I have a different file full of her questions, and the answers from various other characters (I'll eventually use these on the info website, I think -- they're in the form of e-mails, so it's a nice little gimmick) but it's been a huge relief to have a character through whom I can impart all of that info. Even if, as you note, it never shows up in the story in quite the same way.

Paul said...

That sounds pretty cool. :) Thanks for sharing. It might just come in handy some day. (If I ever get another workable story idea...)

I definitely know how useful it can be to know and fully understand the background and world of the story. Even if most of it never shows up, it helps you see things more clearly, write more logically/consistently, etc etc.

I'm not sure if this technique would work as well for someone else as it does for you, but, for the value, it's certainly worth a try.

In short... "cool! :)"


Scrivener said...

I remember Jo Beverley commenting on her Yahoo list that she does exactly the same when she's trying to figure out aspects of her novels, such as character motivation. So it's definitely a technique that gets used. Glad it worked for you!