I was going through a bunch of papers the other day and I came across an old manuscript that I had abandoned a long time ago. I got to reading it in order to get a feel for what it was and I couldn’t imagine why I never got around to finishing it. It had the potential to be a great work of art. The plot was thrilling, the characters were complex and easy to relate to, and there was enough action to keep you reading.
There was also large gaps in the narrative. And by large I mean, gaps large enough to drive a mac truck through. These gaps in the narrative, I came to realize didn’t come from holes in a pretty sound plot line, they came from the fact that the world in which my characters exist is broken.
You heard me right. I broke the world and it is going to take some doing to put it back together again. When non-fiction writers are doing their research, us fictioneers are breaking… er,,, building worlds.
World building, as it turns out, is just as important to literary works as everything else. It is way too easy to forget that the environment, both natural and otherwise, is something that characters interact with every moment of their lives, just as we do. How the world around them works, often dictates the circumstances that our hero’s find themselves in and sometimes influences the actions of our hero in the most subtle and profound ways.
As a reader, we see this in all of our great works of fiction. What purpose would Anne McCaffrey’s dragons serve if life devouring thread wasn’t falling from the sky? Would Harry Potter still be “The Boy Who lived,” if there wasn’t magic in his world? We just never really think about it.
However, as a writer, it is essential that we do think about these things and have an idea of what is going on in the worlds we create. It does have an effect on the stories we capture. When there is a hole in the over all environment that our heros inhabit, it can and in my case, did lead to massive holes within the narrative.
I will eventually go back and finish that particular manuscript. It is a story that is too epic to leave in the bottom of my sock drawer. I just have to take the time to reimagine the world where it takes place because that will determine a lot of the factors that my trusty group of heros will have to contend with.